The Story of Oriental Philosophy by L. Adams Beck

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Title: The Story of Oriental Philosophy

Date of first publication: 1928

Author: Elizabeth Louisa Moresby (as L. Adams Beck) (1865-1931)

Date first posted: Aug. 30, 2016

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Oriental Philosophy




(E. Barrington)



The New Home Library


The New Home Library Edition Published September, 1942

By Arrangement with Farrar and Rinehart

Reprinted October, 1942

Reprinted February, 1943







All rights reserved, including that

of translation into foreign languages,

including the Scandinavian





The New Home Library, 14 West Forty-ninth Street

New York, N. Y.









In writing this book upon the thought and thinkers of
Asia my aim has been to convey what I have to tell in as
clear and simple a manner as possible to readers unaccustomed
to oriental modes of expression. This has meant
more than translation from original languages, for beyond
that lies the necessity for familiar English terms,
which sometimes do not express the full implication of
the original. I can hope only that I have not been wholly
unsuccessful and that as little as possible has been lost on
the way.

The value of the thought of Asia is daily more realized
by western thinkers. The demand for knowledge of
its riches grows more and more insistent. The caravans
still journey from the heart of Asia, carrying merchandise
more to be desired than gold or jewels.

The attainment of the West has been mainly on the
intellectual-practical side. In the Orient it has been in
the development of human consciousness, with the interesting
exception of Japan, which appears to aim at the
combination of both and to partake alike of eastern and
western mentality. Iranian thought is necessarily included
in any survey of Asiatic attainment.

The values of East and West do not clash. They are
supplementary and interchangeable; and it will be well
for the world when this is fully realized, and there is free
circulation of thought. The faith of a nation is her soul.
Her literature is her intellect. Nations who do not meet
on these grounds cannot understand one another, and
understanding is the most vital need of the present day.
In this book, readers will at least find the Asiatic thought-systems

set forth with the deep sympathy I feel for what I
regard as the highest reach of human thought in such
matters as they deal with.

In addition to my personal knowledge of the countries,
peoples, faiths, and philosophies of which I write, I must
acknowledge my sincere gratitude to the writers of the
many books that I have consulted and to the many oriental
friends with whom I have discussed these subjects.

A detailed list of authorities would form a volume
in itself and would be impossible. I can say only that in
one sense such a book as this can never be original. The
bibliography does not attempt to cover my debt in quotation,
paraphrase and spirit, or to name a tenth part of
the books to which I owe so much. It gives a few books
(under the headings of different countries), intended to
be useful to students, advanced or otherwise, who wish
to know more of the subjects treated. If any scholars
should look into this book I ask them to remember the
enormous difficulty of clarifying Asiatic thought for the
general reader. They will realize obstacles which none
can know who have not faced them.

L. Adams Beck,

(E. Barrington.)



I The Aryan People of India 1
II The Beginnings of Indian Philosophy and Social Organization 14
III The Ancient System of Education 27
IV The Stories and Parables of Ancient India 41
V Shankara, the Great Yogin and Philosopher 59
VI Concentration and Its Powers 75
VII Concentration and Its Attainment 91
VIII “The Song Celestial” and the Higher Consciousness 108
IX The Great Renunciation of the Buddha 124
X The Life and Death of the Buddha 143
XI The Great Teaching of the Buddha: Life and Death 160
XII The Great Teaching of the Buddha: The Way of Power 179
XIII Tibetan Teaching on Life After Death 192
XIV The Mystic Lovers of Persia 208
XV China: The Story of Confucius 222
XVI The Growing Power of Confucius 233
XVII Confucius and His Great Disciples 248
XVIII The Recognition of Confucius 263
XIX The Great Doctrines 275
XX The Sorrows of Confucius: His Death 285
XXI The Social Organization of Ancient China 300
XXII The Heroes of China 318
XXIII The Soul of China 336
XXIV A Great Chinese Mystic, Lao Tsŭ 339
XXV A Master of the Mystic Way, Chuang Tsŭ 357
XXVI Chuang Tsŭ, His Irony and Humor 373
XXVII Mencius, the Guide of Princes 388
XXVIII The Guide-Book for Princes 400
XXIX Buddhist Thought and Art in China and Japan: The Teachings of Zen 409
XXX Prophecy 424
Books Recommended 427


Chapter I


IF the average man were approached on the subject of
Asia and asked to state his impressions they would
probably be to the effect: that Asia is a continent with
high possibilities for romance, and film stories, and for
commercial intercourse to be conducted strictly under the
tutelage of the West; that it is inhabited by races of semi-civilized
or wholly uncivilized peoples much in need of
Christianization and civilization before they can be dealt
with at all on equal terms; that Japan, with the imitative
talent of a highly specialized monkey, has unexpectedly
and dangerously broken loose into western allotments and
has thereby inspired the rest of Asia with the unfortunate
notion that she is capable of managing her own
affairs instead of having them managed for her by western

Such a man would add a few emphatic sentences on
the menace of Asiatic cheap labor and of any Asiatic foothold
among western peoples; and if he had intellectual
aspirations might ask with some warmth what Asia’s
contribution to social philosophy, urban architecture,
thought, and the religions of the world had been. He
might concede that the Chinese make good servants and
balance that concession with the remark that Japanese
methods in trade are what you might expect—wholly untrustworthy.
And he would go off without waiting for a
rejoinder, secure in his conviction of the vast superiorities
of the West.

Such a man will soon be extinct as the dodo, but because

under every one of these so common assertions and
implications lies the question of what philosophies have
guided Asiatic nations on their way, and because Asia
becomes every day a more vital and urgent problem for
America and Europe as the narrowing of the world’s
confines draws them closer together, it is well worth while
to study their philosophic thought with its national outcome,
and the men who have been its creators, and thus to
arrive at some definite conclusion of its and their worth.
And my hope is to achieve this in words so simple that
anyone who cares for the information may have it for
use when he is obliged to consider Asia and his own relation
and reaction to its life. There is no question but
that these considerations will be thrust upon us even
violently by the force of events, and it will then be vital
that we shall understand. The interest also seems to me
and to many others profound, but that is naturally a
matter of opinion.

Lately there have been put before us in a striking way
certain ignorances and social failures of India: the bloody
sacrifices, infant marriages, shames and weaknesses of her
dark places. It cannot be denied that these exist; but the
other side was not dealt with, nor the causes given which
would have invited understanding. I wish sincerely that
equal courage and candor with a little more knowledge
could be brought to bear on our own dark places by a
qualified Asiatic and an equal shock administered. But
in either case persons of philosophic mind would know
that the whole story had not been told and that after such
fashion no true appraisal of a nation’s value to the world
can be reached. And they would desire in either case to
examine sources, before any final judgment could be
passed. Examination of sources is what I attempt now.

In a book which professes to set forth the philosophies
of Asia one is not concerned, however, with their practical
results. Philosophy does not ask what use is made
of the truths it sets forth, nor shall I. The quest of truth

has no earthly goal, and when philosophy becomes consciously
utilitarian it half renounces its own name. Nor
shall I detail all the smaller philosophies or faiths that
have occupied the ground marked out by the great men
who were the sources. That would take libraries. My
hope is to show the determinants; and I begin with India,
for in a very real sense she has been the determinant of
the highest thought of Asia. An exception must be made
here and there, as in China, but China later so whole-heartedly
accepted Indian influence and thought that too
much stress should not be laid on that exception.

With India accordingly I begin.

It is difficult at all times to draw any hard and fast
line between philosophy and religion. This has always
been the case, even in modern times, and it was especially
difficult in India, where religion was so deep a preoccupation
that it still molds the whole outer form of life even
more imperiously than among the Jews. Therefore in
writing of Indian philosophy it can never be dissevered
from religion.

The people who first shaped Indian philosophy were
a branch of that mighty race from which the Indo-European
races including the Anglo-Saxon have sprung. In
their own language they called themselves the Arya—that
is to say the “Noble People” (a word which still
survives in the German ehre, or “honor”); and with the
tradition of exclusiveness on the point of color, which is
still so strong a mark of the race in America and England,
they held themselves proudly apart for as long as
possible from the dark-skinned natives of the country
they had invaded and conquered.

Where was the cradle of the race that, dividing into
the Indo-European and Aryan branches, was to rule the
destiny of so great a part of the world? This is not certainly
known; but it is known that though the time of
separation is hidden in the mists of years we and the
Aryan settlers of India had common ancestors; and it is

now agreed by scholars that this still undivided people
were to be found circa sixty thousand years ago as nomads
or wandering shepherds on or about the lands now known
as the plateau of the Pamirs and the northern grasslands.
There or thereabouts came upon this people the two great
urges: pressure of population and that adventurous spirit
which today sends the descendants of one branch flying
across the Atlantic or climbing Himalayan peaks and
long ago committed the other to spiritual adventures
higher and more daring still. And so, probably never
in one great exodus, but in errant bands here and there
like the princes of a fairy-tale setting out to seek their
fortune, this ancient people parted and went out east and
west. Many and strange events were to happen before
they met again—with the clash of arms.

A part, let us call it the western division, went down
into Europe, probably through Southern Russia into the
(now-named) Polish and Austrian countries. Another,
deflecting eastward, pressed through the mountain passes
to India along many tracks which invaders were to follow
later, and coming down upon the glorious river Indus,
which gives its name to Hindustan, realized that here was
a fair home for a haughty and courageous people.

Thus, they left their friends and kinsmen, little guessing
what vast seas of custom, language, philosophy, and
even of color, were to divide them; though indeed both
sections carried indelible marks of identity, which would
in coming ages reveal the history of their parting.

There were deep grooves of thought traced by the
original language, in which the thought of both Indian
and European philosophers must move henceforth, however
far apart their lives. A family likeness can still be
traced between the thoughts of Indo-European philosophers,
such as the Greeks, and those of the great Aryans
of India. Their mythology is unmistakably alike in
earlier stages. There are identities of language. They
had the verbal copula that existed before the separation—in

Sanskrit asti, in Greek esti, in Latin est, in English is.
They kept (like ourselves) the relative pronoun and the
article, definite and indefinite. Those who have studied
such alien languages as Hebrew, Chinese, and Japanese
know all this implies, but there is much more. Both
branches kept the indicative and subjunctive in the verb,
the comparative and superlative in the adjective; both
use the genitive case. It would be tedious to elaborate
these points; but they are extremely interesting, and expose
the rudimentary structure of thought, as the identical
bones and teeth of animals may prove them to be of the
same species.

Philologists assert that this ancestral language common
to ourselves and the Aryans of India dates from at
least ten thousand years b.c. and must then have been
in a high state of development. We find it a strong and
beautiful variant when we catch our first glimpse of it
in Indian sacred and philosophic literature. It was for
a long time unwritten, but was handed down in the marvelously
cultivated memories of the East, and afterwards
written and codified by their learned men. It was the
opinion of Max Müller, the famous oriental scholar, that
writing for literary purposes does not appear in any nation
much before the seventh century b.c. in alphabetic

It is a curious fact that many root-words employed in
philosophic terms still connect us. In Sanskrit there is
manas, the mind, which is mens in Latin and which we
use as mentality, and so many more that it is impossible
to recapitulate them. In short, there is between the separated
Indo-European and Aryan peoples a now deeply
submerged stratum of thought—like a reef covered with
sea-water which forms a submarine bridge between islands,
and accounts for identities of animals and plants
otherwise inexplicable.

Yet we must not overrate the degree of philosophic
thought at which our common ancestors had arrived. We

know from what we see in India that it must have been
rudimentary, though marvelous, in that it held the materials
for the mighty palaces of thought which Greece
and India were to rear on the racial foundations.

It is a very much debated question whether after the
long separation Greece was indebted for some of her
highest flights of thought to India; and here there will
always be differences of opinion as there were among the
Greeks themselves. The Persians, also Aryans or Noble
People, and closely allied in faith with their Indian
cousins, entered Greece freely, and brought with them
Indian teachings. The name of their prophet Zoroaster
or Zarathustra was familiar to both Plato and Aristotle.
In the third century b.c. there existed in Greece an
analysis of his teaching.

I cannot enter into the proofs of Indian influence, but
a story of the visit of an Indian philosopher to Socrates
cannot be passed over. Aristoxenus asserts that Socrates
told the stranger that his work consisted in inquiries about
the life of men, and that the Indian smiled, replying that
none could understand things human who did not understand
things divine—a note of thought so deeply and
peculiarly Indian that Max Müller says this alone impresses
him with the probability of the truth of the story.

There is no reason why it should not be true. The
caravans came and went down the passes to India, as I
have seen them myself in the Khaibar Pass, and others
traveled down the ancient Asiatic trade-route through
Kashmir from Ladakh and Turkestan, or from China
down the mighty Burmese river, the Irawadi. Standing
in these places I have realized that it was not only the
merchandise of food, garments, and jewels which went to
and fro. Men’s thoughts have journeyed along these ways
from time immemorial, far more abundantly, I believe,
than has been allowed.

Wise men took their wisdom with them, lovers their
ardors of verse and story; and that India should have

communicated to Plato her teaching of reincarnation,
which he held so strongly, is as possible as that it sprang
up in his own mind, or in the minds of both from some
dim forgotten heritage of their once united peoples. Who
can say? It matters little. For choice I prefer to think
that the ancestral intelligence working in both countries
independently produced the greatest philosophers the
world has known.

Certain other points of resemblance are at first notable
also: a deep and reverent devotion to the unseen, destined
to fade in Europe later under the glare of unrivaled warlike
and commercial genius; a high respect for their
women as mothers and wives, to fade later in India under
the torment of foreign invaders and alien races whose
practice was very different from that of the Arya. Destiny
had decreed that the two branches were to draw
farther and farther apart, receding from the common
home and kinship until a modern poet of their blood
could write:


Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.


Yet in a fine outburst he ends:

But there is neither East nor West, Border or Breed or Birth,

When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth.

The strong men were to meet often in the clash of thought
and sword. In the former they are now meeting more
fruitfully every day.

So the eastern-traveling Aryans settled in India, and
still in their traditions and most ancient writings are
embedded hints of the fact that they came to their home
originally as strangers and pilgrims. This is not a common
racial trait. The Hebrews recorded the entry into
the Promised Land, but the Briton, the Teuton, and the
Greek, as nations hold apparently no racial memory of a

time when they were not settled in their countries, though
there were aborigines about them who might have served
as reminders. In Indian folk-lore are many hints and
reminiscences of a dark-skinned people, often beautiful
and dangerous, who opposed the advance of the Arya and
tempted them with the beauty of their women from the
Aryan tradition of race, insinuating their own lower formulas
of life into the code of the new rulers.

Still, the Indo-Aryans carried with them the sense
of an aristocracy qualified and resolute to dominate all
opposing races, and while ruling them justly to teach
them that submission was their role and obedience their
only concern with law and custom. This racial trait is
repeated in the history of America and Canada and all
the far-flung dominions of the Indo-European races.

When we first come upon India it is a comparatively
civilized country, aiming at and attaining a deep and true
sense of its relation to the Unseen and to social order as
it conceived it. These people might have quoted
Schleiermacher’s definition of religion and philosophy as
one which they frankly accepted: “Religion is the knowledge
of our absolute dependence, something which determines
us and which we cannot determine in return.” And
this presupposes great teachers, mighty minds, who gathered
together the hopes and aspirations of a race and
summed them up into the eternal question of humanity.

But in India the figures of these ancient teachers are
legendary at first. Before the days of the Buddha they
move, almost mythical and semidivine, caring profoundly
for the thoughts they loosed among the people, but nothing
for their own personalities and renown. How could
it be otherwise in a land where personality tends always
to merge in the Universal? All this is so alien to the
Indo-European mind that—if one might dream—it might
be said that possibly the great eastern and western
branches fell apart because the westerners concerned
themselves little with metaphysics and the things of the

spirit, whereas every instinct of the easterners drew them
with passion to the solution of the eternal problem of
man’s relation to the Unseen.

This is pure imagination; but it is true that the westerners
have never evolved a faith of their own and have
been compelled to import religions from the East as they
did tea and spices. They got no further than a ritual of
human or bestial sacrifice to fearful or lustful gods. They
could rise later into the great philosophies of Greece, relegating
the old stories into the inane. But for the spiritual
inspiration which rules the daily life of a nation they
have been compelled to look to the East. The gods of
Greece, Rome, early Gallia and Britannia exist no longer.
“Great Pan is dead” was the cry which rang down the
Ægean Sea as a conquering eastern faith prepared to rule
the West with scepter and sword. The East in the form
of the Galilean had conquered.

To many it seems that eastern thought as developed
in Asia is to come again to rescue the western world from
materialism, and that so the Indo-European and Aryan
races may meet once more. This innermost difference
has been a hitherto unbridgable gulf between them. The
East, haughty, aristocratic, spiritual and other-worldly,
leisured, tolerant of all faiths and philosophies, moving
on vast spiritual orbits about the central sun; the West
eager, hurried, worldly, absorbed in practical and temporary
affairs, opinionated, contemptuous of other
peoples and faiths, money-loving less for money’s sake
than its pursuit, younger, infinitely younger in tastes and
psychic development than the East—what point of fusion
can there be between the philosophies of these two divergent
branches of the same great root? That, the thoughts
recorded in this book may shadow forth.

For the growth of true philosophy such as walks hand
in hand with religion, peace is needed and the absence of
extremes of wealth and poverty. And when the Aryans
had settled themselves they found a land that philosophy

might have created for her own. Great mountain walls
rose about them, and the safeguards of hill-passes dangerous
and difficult even today. Before them rolled
mighty rivers to unknown seas. Vast forests provided
natural sanctuaries where men might meditate on the
cosmic riddle. The climate induced repose and reflection.
Commercial competition was unknown, for the
land produced all they needed, and they were a pastoral
and agricultural people content for many centuries with
very simple luxuries.

Before them lay the task of welding together a just and
prosperous social organization of themselves and their
subject races. It was necessary therefore that they should
evolve a high philosophy, for that is the foundation stone
of all social effort. They said: “Philosophy is the lamp
of all the sciences, the means of performing all works, the
support of all the duties.”

So their philosophy was not confined to the study or
lecture hall. It became a part of daily life and experience
because it was never divorced from religious experience;
it was never the possession of the rich educated
classes only. The “common people” snatched at it with
avidity for what they could understand, and where its
deeps were beyond them, what they had absorbed was
enough to color their thoughts and lives as it does today.
Why was this never the case with Europe? Why,
with all its instinct to democracy now realizing itself
along such painful roads, were the “working classes”
of the West never uplifted into a sphere of spiritual passion
at even the comparatively low level reached by their
educated classes? The answer will appear as the study
of Asiatic philosophy develops.

India has had a spiritual freedom never known until
lately to the West.

Christianity when it came offering its spiritual philosophy
of life imposed an iron dogma upon the European
peoples. Those who could not accept this dogma, whatever

it happened to be at the moment, paid so heavy a
penalty that the legend of the Car of Juggernaut (Jaganath)
is far truer of Europe than of Asia. And the
natural result of the fetter upon European passion for
freedom was the casting off of dogma and with it the
consequent loss of much that was valuable. Whereas in
India the soul was free from the beginning to choose what
it would, ranging from the dry bread of atheism to the
banquets offered by many-colored passionate gods and
goddesses, each shadowing forth some different aspect of
the One whom in the inmost chambers of her heart India
has always adored. Therefore the spiritual outlook was
universal. Each took unrebuked what he needed. The
children were at home in the house of their father, while
Europe crouched under the lash of a capricious Deity
whose ways were beyond all understanding.

But while India fixed her eyes on the Ultimate she
did not forget that objective science is the beginning of
wisdom. There the foundations of mathematical and
mechanical knowledge were well and truly laid by the
Noble Race. Professor Radhakrishnan writes: “They
measured the land, divided the year, mapped out the
heaven, traced the course of sun and planets through the
zodiacal belt, analyzed the constitution of matter, and
studied the nature of birds and beasts, plants and seeds.”

Here, written two thousand years before the birth of
Copernicus, is an interesting passage from the Aitareya

“The sun never sets or rises. When people think
the sun is setting he only changes about after reaching
the end of the day and makes night below and day to
what is on the other side. Then, when people think he
rises in the morning, he only shifts himself about after
reaching the end of the night, and makes day below and
night to what is on the other side. In truth, he does not
set at all.”

Monier Williams says that whatever conclusions we
form as to the source of the first astronomical ideas in the
world it is probable that we owe to the Hindus the invention
of algebra and its application to astronomy and
geometry. And that from them the Arabs received the
numerical symbols and decimal notation, which now used
everywhere in Europe have rendered untold service to
the cause of science.

And again: “The motions of the sun and moon were
carefully observed by the Hindus and with such success
that their determination of the moon’s synodical revolution
is a much more correct one than the Greeks ever
achieved. They introduced the period of Jupiter with
those of the sun and moon into the regulation of their calendar
in the form of sixty years common to them and the
Chaldeans. They were keenly interested in logic and
grammar, and in medicine and surgery they once
kept pace with the most enlightened people of the

As to art, I must entirely disagree with Dr. Breasted’s
opinion that either Chinese or Indian art was “transformed,”
if by transformed he means improved, as a result
of the importation of Greek civilization to India by
Alexander the Great in the fourth century b.c. Critics
who have studied the work of the Greco-Buddhist School,
as I have done in Peshawur and the neighborhood (its
center), must agree that it lacks the spiritual beauty and
nobility of primitive Buddhist art. When the smirking
Buddhas of the Greco-Buddhist School are contrasted
with the dignified and exquisite work to be seen at Amaravati,
Sanchi, and Ajanta, it is not difficult to discriminate
between a great national art and imported prettiness,
which may amuse the multitude but never deceives those
who can recognize and feel the expression of the faith of
a people.

It is the philosophies of this great race that I propose
to examine. It is interesting to wonder along what lines

it might have developed later if its ancestral heritage
had been less diffused and intermingled with other such
different stocks as it found in India on arrival, or were
forced by many invasions and conquests to accept later.

Chapter II


INDIAN philosophy may be said to begin with the “Vedanta”
(or end of the Veda), which includes the famous
books known as the Upanishads and the great
commentaries upon them, and for this reason my account
of the Vedas shall be slight, though the seeds of the philosophies
are in them.

The Vedas are not only the earliest records of Aryan
thought but also among the earliest that survive of the
human mind. The Rig and Yajur Vedas long precede
the earliest beginnings of Greek civilization. They
are posterior only to the Egyptian dynasties, of which we
know little but records interesting chiefly to the student
of dead empires. The Vedas are human and living.
There are four: the Rig, Yajur, Sâma, and Atharva.
Some Indian scholars assign the Rig-Veda to 6,000 b.c.
Others to the fifteenth century b.c. But it should be
remembered that a very long period must have elapsed
between the time when the hymns were composed and
that when they were collected. The literary age is entered
when collections are compiled.

The Rig-Veda is a collection of more than one thousand
hymns which the Aryans brought with them to
India. They were used during the sacrifices, of which the
Yajur-Veda gives the ritual. They are partly in prose,
partly in verse. The Sâma-Veda contains liturgies. The
Atharva-Veda is the latest of the four and interesting for
its relation to magic, spells, and charms. It shows a

gradual tincturing of the Aryan mind by the worships of
the subject peoples. For this reason it had not at first
the high position of the other Vedas.

Each Veda has three parts—the mantras, or hymns;
the Brahmanas, or precepts and religious duties; the
Upanishads, which discuss philosophy. The Upanishads
contain the background or foundation of the whole subsequent
thought of India, and their value to the world is
inestimable. It will be seen that the hymns represent the
poets, or aspiration of the race; the Brahmanas the
priests, and questions of conduct; the Upanishads the
philosophers, or intellect touched with spirituality; and
thus we have religion and philosophy as closely and
naturally wedded as, for the welfare of mankind, they
should always be.

The Rig-Veda is incomplete and much is lost. The
hymns are addressed to nature-gods. The poets spoke of
rain and it was considered that this implied a Rainer.
Thus indu (rain) became Indra the Rainer. They spoke
of fire and light, and these became a god Agni, whose
name we (the far-off cousins of the Aryans) take in vain
when we “ignite” anything. They spoke of a Heavenly
Father, Dyaus-pitar, whose name we repeat when we
say “Jupiter,” its latter half being preserved in our own
word “father.” Though in this way there arose many
divine agents to be propitiated, the Aryan people perceived
them at times as facets of the one truth and manifestations
in different activities of one divine spirit. Thus
some of the Vedic poets openly stated the belief that enthroned
above these many names is One. They said:

The sages called that One in many ways. They called it Agni, Yama, Matarishvan.

That One breathed breathlessly by Itself. Other than It there has been nothing since.

Here we have the germ of a monotheistic religion and a
unifying philosophy. Among bygone mythological details,

we find in these hymns passages which catch the
mind with a quick sense of human interest and presuppose
deep reflection.

I do not know what kind of thing I am.

Mysterious, bound, my mind wonders.

In that one sentence may be found the germ of philosophy.
For all philosophy begins with wonder.

Thus wondering, they conceived the gods as those who
give to men. Their collective name of Deva implies a
giver. The sun god is a giver of light and warmth. Its
secondary meaning is the Shining One. Allied with this
and springing from the same source is our own “divine.”

So even in those early hymns they were feeling after a
One Cause, and gradually as wonder increased and speculation
strengthened, the higher thought of these Indian
thinkers passed into a recognition of monotheism, which
they were to transcend later.

“Priests and poets with words make into many the
hidden reality which is One,” they said in the Rig-Veda.

As Max Müller writes: “Whatever may be the age
when the Rig-Veda collection of hymns was finished, before
that age the conviction had been formed that there is
but One Being, neither male nor female, raised high
above all conditions and limitations of personality and of
human nature. In fact the Vedic poets had arrived at a
conception of the Godhead which was reached once more
by some of the Christian philosophers at Alexandria, but
which even yet is beyond the reach of many who call
themselves Christians.”

But because the masses cannot comprehend philosophical
abstractions this Divine is sometimes called
“He” as well as “It.” It was recognized that the Divine
can be worshiped in spirit and in truth even under the
personal conception of one God, and though there were
those who could breathe in a rarer air of wisdom they
were the first to realize that the soul must seek the bread

for her own nourishing and that what will nourish one
will not nourish another who is on a different spiritual
plane. An Inquisition has always been inconceivable in

Here is a hymn of questions, very marvelous considering
its remote antiquity. The translation is Professor
Max Müller’s. It is a poem of creation.

  There was then neither what is nor what is not.

There was no sky nor the heaven beyond.

  What covered?

  Where was it and in Whose shelter?

Was the water the deep abyss?


  There was no death, hence there was nothing immortal.

There was no distinction between night and day.

That One breathed by itself without breath.

  Since then there has been nothing other than It.


  Darkness there was in the beginning, a sea without light.

From the germ that lay covered by the husk that One was born by the power of heat.


Love overcame It in the beginning, the seed springing from mind.

  Poets having searched in their heart found by wisdom the seed of what is, in what is not.

  Their ray was stretched across. Was It below or was It above?

  There were seed-bearers, there were Powers; self-power below and Will above.


Who then knows, who has declared from whence was born this creation?

The Gods came later.

  Who then knows whence it arose?

He from whom this creation arose, whether He made or did not make it only the highest seer in the highest heaven knows. Or perhaps he does not know.

That is to say perhaps the gods themselves cannot read
the riddle of the universe.

This poem conceives a period when there was no
Personal God, or rather he was as yet unmanifested by
the Absolute Reality which is beyond all finite reason or
words. This Ancient is older than and beyond any state
of life or death that we have power to conceive. The

depth of this conception is astonishing, and it will be
realized that a primitive people who could thus reflect
and state their case would certainly go far in the field
of metaphysics and philosophy.

Their thought indeed developed swiftly; but before
following it I shall say something of the social order
it developed and that in reaction developed it, because
it is difficult to realize the stories in which, as in parables,
much of the wisdom of the Upanishads is conveyed, without
setting them in their own background of the life of
the people. For this reason I now turn to “The Laws of
Manu,” that famous book which holds such a high position
in India and gives so perfect a picture of the life of
the ancient Aryan communities that it was granted a
divine origin by the beliefs of the people.

“The Laws of Manu” is a compilation of most venerable
laws and customs written in a style that insures
popular understanding. It would be impossible to say
to what antiquity they may be traced. The compilation
is variously dated at from 1200 to 500 b.c. Few
books will better repay study by those interested in social
questions and especially in those concerning the western
problems of democracy. Though named “The Laws of
Manu” it should rather be “The Laws of the Manavas.”
The word “manu” has its root in the verb “to think”; and
the collection is said to be “the quintessence of the Vedas”
and therefore of all knowledge. It gives us the dharma
of the Indian people to this day.

What is “dharma”—a word occurring so often in Indian
philosophy and having no one equivalent in English?
I should describe it as the national spirit, which
consecrates social custom, tradition, conduct, and religion,
and is a uniting force, which in greater or less degree
conditions the life and thought of every person born in
that nation. But though inside the national circle it is
a unifying energy, outside it is a dividing one and the
source of much misunderstanding; for every nation has

its own dharma, nor is it possible that any should wholly
understand that of another or that it should adopt it.
One may perhaps call it the national spirit, though that
does not give its origin.

What then are the laws and precepts which built up
the Indian dharma—so difficult for the West to understand,
so easy for it to misjudge through surface judgments?

“The Laws of Manu” saw life steadily and saw it
whole, as it applied to young and old, to men and women.
They are founded on the Four Orders and the
Four Castes. Varna, the Indian word for caste, denotes
originally color division. The Four Orders are those of
the student, the householder, the forest-dweller, and the
ascetic who has renounced the world. These are the
Ashramas, and all these are founded upon the householder.
Without him there is no cohesion. The Four
Castes are the Brahmin or teacher, the warrior, the merchant,
and the laborer. Of these the first three are the
“twice-born” castes. “And outside these is no fifth class,”
say the Laws.

It is interesting to compare this statement with the
jungle of castes that has since grown up in India with
their bewildering cruelties and fetters. Manu states that
all men naturally belong to one of these four divisions,
and that all are rooted in the life of the householder because
he nourishes and supports the others with food for
the body and the mind. “Therefore the householder
occupies the position of the eldest.”

But this division means little in India today. Brahmins
are now not only priests and teachers but are found
in almost every calling, and this is the case also with
caste artizans. Indian caste has nothing in common with
western social divisions. A servant may be of much
higher caste than his master. It is conceivable there that
it would be a most terrible mésalliance for the man servant
of a house to marry the wealthy daughter of its master.

I have known a Brahmin official who would have died
sooner than eat with his royal master, so much was his
sovereign’s caste lower than his own. Yet even in the
present aberrations of caste may be seen the original
germs of a dharma not only wise but inevitable where a
ruling race had to make good its position among races of
different color and lower racial types. The caste system
was a vital necessity to the Aryan race and still has certain

To return to “The Laws of Manu”—the caste divisions
made it possible for all to pass through the desirable
experiences of all stages of life. In earliest Vedic times
caste probably did not exist other than as a color line,
but as society became complex, organizations developed
which allotted different functions to different groups.
At first the priest had no special concern with religious
or sacrificial rites. The householder performed his own
sacrifices and oblations and there it ended.

This could not last. The Aryans perceived the need
of specialization. Therefore the Brahmin gradually
assumed that care of education and of spiritual affairs
which the people considered the most honorable in the
social system. The next caste, the Kshatriya or warrior
caste, was made responsible for war, political matters,
government and public work. The third caste, the
Vaishya, concerned itself with all affairs of trade and industry.
The fourth, the Shudra, represented labor. The
Shudras were “the feet and pedestal of all.” Some scholars
believe that the fourth caste—the Shudra—may have
been formed from the aboriginal people; some that when
the Aryans came to India they had already a laboring
caste of their own. This is not certain.

The Brahmin was the servant of all on the higher
planes of thought. The Shudra was the servant of the
community on the physical plane because he was not developed
into the higher forms of thought.

It will be seen that in the ancient caste-conception

each caste is a school for the one above it, rising from
lowly and yet preparative labor to the highest form of
human consciousness.

Dharma was the constructive and binding force for
all the castes. It constituted a brotherhood of differently
apportioned but collective and coöperative work.

The Mahabharata states that “the order of wise
men who dwell in forests and live on fruits, roots, and
air, is prescribed for the three twice-born classes, but the
order of householders is prescribed for all.”

Thus it was only when all duties to the family and
state had been accomplished that any man of the three
higher castes could betake himself to the life of contemplation.
Unless indeed he had a high and special
vocation and in that case even a Shudra was not shut out.
“Harmlessness, truthfulness, honesty, cleanliness, self-control:
these are declared by man to be the duty of all
the four castes.” Distinction between the secular and the
religious was not drawn. That with its disastrous consequences
was to be a much later development.

Naturally, because upon it all depends, the first concern
of “The Laws of Manu” is education. This ideal
involves a certain asceticism very foreign to western notions
and therefore perhaps the better worth considering.
I think there is much to be learned from it.

For different boy-types different ages were set for
the beginning. Those who were to do the high work of
the Brahmins as storers and dispensers of knowledge
must begin early. They must not spend so much time in
games. The next, the warrior and governing class, may
begin later and for them very pronounced physical development
is of more importance. The next caste the
Vaishyas, or merchants, whose intelligence is slower for
higher aims, may begin a little later than the caste above

“The Brahmin should be led up to the teacher and invested
with the sacred thread in the eighth year; the

Kshatriya boy [governing] in the eleventh, the Vaishya
boy [merchant] in the twelfth. But if a boy shows exceptional
promise and desire for the qualifications of his
vocation, such as the light of wisdom if a Brahmin; physical
vitality and might of body if a Kshatriya, commercial
enterprise and initiative, if a Vaishya, then he should
begin his studies in the fifth, sixth, and eighth years

Education must on no account be delayed beyond the
sixteenth, twenty-second and twenty-fourth years for the
three castes. After that the mind is no longer flexible.

Bhagavan Das (who has written a remarkable book
on “The Laws of Manu”) points out that the ancient
teacher was spared one serious modern difficulty. He
knew exactly to what end his pupil’s faculties were to be
directed. Not only so, but he was spared the greatest
problem of the modern world. “By one of those paradoxes
which Nature has invented to maintain her balance
the modern man, while laying all stress on differentiation
as the prime factor in human society, aims at making all
men equal.” With the Aryan teacher this question of
equality did not exist.

The western teacher must treat each pupil as a separate
and individual caste, for his place in social rank and
work is never fixed. Therefore his main view-point must
be the bread-education—the possibility of making as
much money as lies within the boy’s powers. The future
profession of the pupil, still perhaps quite undecided,
will further complicate the problem of education. What
will be his choice? Where will he best fit into a crowded

These questions were answered in India by the caste
system. It offered broad lines, within which there could
be specialization to follow later as the boy’s faculties
developed into those of the man. And it followed naturally
that much more time could be given to education,
varying for the different castes but longest for the Brahmin.

For him it was considered that the ideal demanded
thirty-six years of dwelling with his teachers. Knowledge,
which comprised the Vedas, the Trinity of Sciences,
the Science of the Trinity, and all the subsidiary sciences,
needed thirty-six years! If that were impossible it should
be eighteen. The least was nine. But, it was added, it
must in any case be until the necessary knowledge was
gained. That would vary with different pupils.

“Only after having spent the first quarter of life with
the Teacher and undergone the discipline which produces
real knowledge and consecrated his soul in the
recognized way—only after this preparation should the
twice-born man take a wife and become a householder.”

It was held that a man so trained would be trained to
cope with life at any point, spiritual, intellectual, and
physical. He would understand the reaction of temperaments
upon each other. He would have learned the uses
of silence and reflection. He would know that the procreation
of feeble and diseased thoughts is worse if possible
than the procreation of a feeble and diseased family.
He would become the mainstay of the wisdom of communities,
the counselor of kings. Such men would combine
knowledge with spiritual wisdom. They would be
the racial patriarchs. In a lesser and differing degree the
same system applied to the education of the two lower
castes who were also twice-born.

The Kshatriya, greater in physical power, qualified
for endurance and the outleap of valor, less concerned
with the training of the supernormal powers yet severely
trained in spiritual wisdom, was fitted for his great task
of government and the leadership of men.

The Vaishya, trader and agriculturalist, trained also
in spiritual insight, was fitted, so far as wisdom could fit
him for his part in life. Education was, as it were, a
fugue—the dominant was the Brahmin, but all harmonized,
each constructing and supporting the other, each
developing from the one into the full harmony.

But what was the position in education of the fourth
caste—the Shudra? Was he wholly neglected as was his
lot in Europe until comparatively late years? By no

The Shudra was considered the child of the social
system. The belief in what may roughly be called reincarnation
gave him the status of one who for reasons of a
past life was reborn in a sphere where he could scarcely
hope to understand the inner and higher wisdom to which
I shall come in later chapters. For his lifetime his status
would be that of the three twice-born castes before they
had received education and discipline.

The Laws say: “Everyone is born a Shudra and remains
such until he receives the sacrament of the Veda
and is thereby born a second time.”

The Shudra’s education was therefore necessarily
comprised in obedience to the higher castes and to the
training of a householder’s life. But there was one important
exception. Special explanations of the Vedas had
been prepared by the Rishis (sages) for the understanding
of simple folk. These are known as the Puranas, and
in them the truths of the Vedas are presented by tales and
parables suited to less evolved mentalities. Their object
was to interest the masses in the higher metaphysic, and
this object was completely achieved though not without
the consequence that the parable and analogy were often
received as final truth. At these popular lectures men,
women and children who escaped the net of the higher
caste education assembled as eager hearers. All the
necessary knowledge of the Vedas is in the Puranas and
therefore none were compelled to go ignorant of what
was then considered necessary education. The position
of the Shudra in ancient India may be compared, judging
from “The Laws of Manu,” with that of a valued house-servant
of the present day. And in case of exceptional
development he could study further, though still under
certain restrictions.

Now comes a very curious and very interesting point.
Life was to impose its hardest burden upon the higher
castes. Noblesse oblige. Where the Shudra could go
scot-free was no escape for them.

“The Shudra cannot commit a sin which degrades in
the same sense as can the twice-born person. This is his
advantage. His disadvantage is that he cannot be given
the secret mantras [the hymns and sacred formulas]. He
has no compulsory religious duty to perform but if he
does it there is no prohibition. Indeed the Shudras who
wish to gather dharma and learn its ordinances, and follow
the way of the good among the twice-born, and perform
the five daily sacrifices, etc. (but without the secret
mantras) do not infringe law but rather gain the approval
of the good and receive honor.”

But what of the education of women in such a society?

There was no question of the equality of the sexes,
for in a society so divided into separated duties such a
thought never could arise. Women were plainly differentiated
by nature for different duties, and their training
must follow those lines. It is true that all the sacraments
were prescribed for the girls also. But they, like the
Shudras, were debarred from use of the secret hymns
and formulas, not because of inferiority but because of
the differences which prevented right use of them. But
the marriage ceremony which united man and woman
was performed with the mantras, and the theory was that
the girl, now a part of her husband and living with him,
was in the position of the disciple with the master.
Otherwise, generally speaking, the girl should be nurtured
and educated in the same way and as diligently as
the boy. No prohibition exists in “The Laws of Manu”
against the education of girls on the same lines as their
brothers, but their education must follow the general lines
laid down for caste, though they were so differentiated
for girls as to give more training in the fine arts.

The Brahmin girl must have a more intellectual education.

The Kshatriya girl more physical activity, the
Vaishya girl more training in economic matters. But
it was never supposed that she could give the same time
to these subjects. Nature called her imperatively and at
a much earlier age to a quite distinct employment. Even
there, however, the different trainings tended to blend.
The wives of the Rishis (sages) are often represented as
women of learning in the great knowledge to be described
later in the philosophies. And the women of the Kshatriyas
could take part with their husbands in very different
enjoyments. Here is a classical passage from the Mahabharata,
the ancient epic of India, describing the elopement
of the Lady Subhadra with the all-beautiful, all-valorous
Prince Arjuna. They fled in his chariot and
were pursued.

“Then the sweet-voiced lady Subhadra was highly
delighted to see that force of excited elephants, rushing
cars, and horses. In great glee she said to Arjuna:

“‘For a long while I had a mind to drive your chariot
in the midst of the battle with you fighting beside me
. . . you who have a great soul and strength of limb! Let
me now be your charioteer, O son of Pritha, for I have
been well instructed in the art.’”

And so it was. He fought. She, like a well-taught
girl of the warrior caste, hurled the chariot against the
foe, and they were victorious. Great and powerful and
wise are the women of the Mahabharata! I possess
the monumental book and can truly say that, on the subject
of her heroines of old, India can well afford to speak
with her enemies in the gate. They are not surpassed in
any literature or history.

Chapter III


WHAT was the method of education for the three
great castes? The first care was to form character.
Intellectual education took a second place, but with certain
knowledge of the caste and destination of the pupil
intellectual education was a direct progress on a charted
road, and it was unnecessary to fill the mind with wagonloads
of indigestible knowledge shoveled in in case they
might come in useful later. All effort could be directed
to a clearly seen end.

“Having taken up the pupil that he may lead him to
the Highest, the teacher shall impart the ways of cleanliness,
purity and chastity of body, with good manners and
morals. And he shall teach him how to tend the fires
sacrificial and culinary and, more important than all,
how to perform his daily devotions.”

It was a part of character-building that the home of
the teacher was the university. The pupil became part of
the family—a family naturally of high standing because
of the honor attached by caste and public feeling to the
position of the Brahmin. A filial tenderness traditionally
subsisted between pupil and tutor. All this was no
small thing. It was the pupil’s duty to earn his food and
sometimes his teacher’s by the mendicancy that from remote
antiquity has been a sacred part of Indian life.

There was nothing humiliating in this, and the gift of
food was the part that citizens took in the duties of education.
To give was and is considered a boon; for that
reason the mendicant monks in Burma (who all teach the

boys) return no thanks for what is given. They have
conferred an obligation. To the student, however rich
his family, this was a training in the wealth of that Lady
Poverty whom St. Francis of Assisi adored. There were
rules, however:

“He should at first beg from his own mother or sister
or his mother’s sister, from whom he may not feel shame
or shyness in taking. Later, he should not beg among the
family and relations of his preceptor but from the houses
in the neighboring town and the good householders in
whose homes the sacrifices enjoined by the Vedas are kept
alive. And having secured the needed food and no more,
he should present it to his preceptor and then, with his
permission, should eat, facing east, after the customary
mouth-rinsing and purification.”

Much stress was laid on manners, and who can sufficiently
regret the cruel and disastrous loss of this education
in modern life? Those taught in India had not the
formalities of China and Japan, but seem to contain the
root of the matter: the selflessness of the gentleman; the
obedience which is the training for authority.

“Tell the truth, but pleasantly and gently. Do not
tell it rudely, for truth-telling that hurts and repels does
not carry conviction, but is only a display of aggressive
egotism. Yet never tell a pleasing falsehood. Such is the
ancient law.”

“Affluence, good birth and breeding, high deeds with
much experience, knowledge—these are the five titles to
honor. Each succeeding one is higher than the preceding.”

The code of manners included reverence to elders,
tenderness to the young, and affection to equals. A good
deal of friction, in both daily life and business was thus
spared, and boys were fitted to hold every position with
dignity. Health was also made an important branch of
training. The science of Yoga was devised to control
health and vitality. It included certain forms of asceticism—a

training the modern world begins very slowly
and painfully to recognize as necessary. Perfect continence
was insisted upon during student life. And it is
suggested that the total physical life will be four times
as long as the period of continence observed before the
duties of the householder as regards procreation and
family life are taken up. Manu puts this point strongly:

“Because of the neglect of Veda-knowledge and permitting
the right knowledge to decay, because of abandoning
the right way, because of mistakes in food and
because of careless failure in continence, does death prevail
over the knowers.”

Thus hunger and desire, two primal human motives,
were to receive the strictest training, and knowledge on
these points was to be a part of the education of the young.
Full directions were given as to the quality of foods and
for the disciplining of reproductive energy.

Here I must quote the interpretation by Bhagavan
Das of the Laws of Manu (though I shall return to the
subject in consideration of the system of Yoga), which
gives a strong reason for continence during pupilage.

“If any subdivisional part or cell ceases to subdivide
further and remains undivided [through continence] it
may continue to do so for an indefinitely long time and
become comparatively immortal. Such is the promise of
teaching, walking in the path of Brahma, storing up and
perfecting the germ and source of life and all vitality and
power, the potency and principle of infinite reproduction
and multiplication, and also storing up and perfecting the
seed of knowledge, which again is power and has also the
potency within it of infinite expansion.”

It will be seen that it is not this teaching which has
led to the early marriages of India and the resulting
misery and deterioration. Neither the unwholesome and
too early devoured fruit of the body nor that of the mind
had any place in the system of Manu. The duties of the
householder were enjoined when he was in his prime,

not otherwise. For those who had another vocation a
way of escape was provided to what was thought to be
an even higher sphere of duty, and the ascetic became
the power-station of the race; from him men would derive
light and strength. He would be the master of supernormal
powers. It was taught that after a certain stage
of this knowledge the energy latent in food would function
on a plane more subtle than the physical and be transmuted
into finer, more intellectual and spiritual energies.
I shall return to this most interesting subject later.

It is impossible to give details of study here. It included
the classics of the race and education as to man’s
position in relation to the universe. Nearly all this was
conveyed in the form of carefully planned aphorisms
easily remembered. Much attention was given to acoustics
and phonetics, and in teaching grammar, philology,
and physiology in a condensed form much was necessarily
included. Rhetoric, logic, and reasoning were important.
Manu says, agreeing curiously with the views of Confucius:

“All meanings, ideas, intentions, desires, emotions,
items of knowledge are embodied in speech, are rooted in
it and branch out of it. He who misappropriates, misapplies,
and mismanages speech, mismanages everything.”
A profound truth.

The study of the Vedic books was interspersed with
these secular subjects, but separate days were given to
each so that the pupil’s mind might not be hurried from
one subject to another. For posture, he must stand upright,
hands folded on the chest. Since there were no
books, memory and vocal power were highly developed
and eyesight spared. The holidays were short and frequent,
and many depended on atmospheric and magnetic
conditions, which were closely studied and given special
importance in connection with special studies.

We learn from the Puranas that martial exercises,
wrestling, fencing, archery, mock fights, foot and horse

races, the management of horses, camels, bulls, and elephants,
were all part of the training according to the type
of student. Manu taught that rhythmic and considered
movement is good. “Let him not move his hands and
feet and eyes restlessly and crookedly. Let him not think
of always outracing others and injuring them.”

It is strange to consider that all athletics were considered
to be a part of the lower division of divine knowledge.
And this belief is not wholly dead in Asia. The
ju-jutsu of Japan, for instance, has a very singular occult
side that is not known to all the Japanese who practice
it. I have had interesting talks on this, in Japan.

But we must leave the schools for adult life. It will
be easily realized what emphasis must be laid in such
communities on the perfection of family life, and it is
interesting to compare it with the later and lower Greek

“The whole duty of husband and wife to each other
is that they do not anger each other nor wander apart in
thought, word, or deed until death. And the promise is
that those who righteously fulfil this duty are not parted
by the death of the body, but shall be together beyond

“Let the widow follow the Brahmin teaching, improving
soul and body by study and the service of the
elders. Let her triumph over her body and walk in the
ways of purity. . . .”

“And if the wife be noble of soul and the husband
ignoble, and still she wills to die a widow for his sake,
then shall her giant love and sacrifice grip his soul and
drag it from the depths of sin and darkness to the kingdoms
of light. . . .”

“The mother exceeds a thousand fathers in the right
to reverence and in the function of education. Good
women should be honored and worshiped like the gods.
By the favors and powers of true women are the three
worlds upheld.”

So must the husband and wife be souls like twin
flames illumining all about them. It was not a question
of equality between them but of identity. And here is the
ideal marriage, from which noble children were to be
expected. The description is drawn from the Vishnu
Purana and the Vishnu Bhâgavata. It is great poetry as
well as great truth.

“She is Language; he is Thought. She is Prudence;
he is Law. He is Reason; she is Sense. She is Duty; he
is Right. He is Author; she is Work. He is Patience;
she is Peace. He is Will; she is Wish. He is Pity; she
is Gift. He is Song; she is the Note. She is Fuel; he is
Fire. She is Glory; he is Sun. She is Motion; he is
Wind. He is Owner; she is Wealth. He is Battle; she
is Might. He is Lamp; she is Light. He is Day; she is
Night. He is Justice; she is Pity. He is Channel; she is
River. She is Beauty; he is Strength. She is Body; he
is Soul.”

This is a passage of extraordinary beauty and insight
in its recognition of the primitive nature of women as
contrasted, not to dishonor but to honor, with that of

In a singular passage the Law of the Manavas declares
the right of primogeniture on the ground that the
eldest son is the child of dharma, i.e. of duty and necessity.
The children born after him are those of earthly
desire. He is therefore, in the absence of his father,
father of all the younger ones.

The elasticity of the caste system under the Laws of
Manu as opposed to its modern rigidity is very noticeable.
The three castes interchange food and fire, dwell
in the house of the teacher together, beg food together and
mostly from Vaishya homes, for to the Vaishya (merchant)
caste (the third) fell the special duty of providing
food for guests and the community. The Brahmin vowed
to poverty could exert himself thus for none but those in
real distress. But a rule was compelled to be laid down as

regards the Shudra, the lowest caste, and this naturally;
for the Shudras were exempt from much of the strict
discipline forced upon the three upper castes. Yet even
here the liberality of the teaching will astonish those who
know modern India.

“One’s own plowman, an old friend of the family,
one’s own cowherd, one’s own servant, one’s own barber,
and whosoever else may come for refuge and offer service;
from the hands of all such Shudras may food be

These could be trusted for good-will and cleanliness,
therefore from them nourishment could be accepted. One
is reminded of Ramakrishna, the saint of modern India
who died some thirty or forty years since. He knew by
instinct the spiritual purity or impurity of the hands from
which his food had come, and rejected or accepted it

“This comes from a good man. I can eat it,” he
would say.

“For after doubt and debate,” say the Laws of Manu,
“the gods decided that the food-gift of the money-lending
Shudra who was generous of heart was equal in quality
to the food-gift of a Brahmin who knows all the Vedas
but is small of heart. The food-gift of that Shudra is
purified by the generous heart, while that of the Brahmin
is wholly befouled by the lack of good-will.”

Much has been made, to the discredit of the ancient
system, of the ritual impurity imposed upon households
in cases of disease and death. The cause was that all
diseases were regarded as infectious in the sense that they
affected the health of those drawn into their atmosphere.
All strong disturbing emotions were infections, whether
for good or evil, and in case of fear and sorrow aloofness
was judged best. Ten days of impurity were fixed for the
Brahmin family, twelve for the Kshatriya, fifteen for the
Vaishya, thirty for the Shudra, apportioned according to
the trust the community placed in each caste.

Another strange and significant circumstance in the
Puranas is the admission that in earlier Yugas (cycles) it
was possible for whole families and tribes to change into
the higher castes; and this is followed by the confession
that the confusion of castes is now so complete that many
a gentle and noble soul born in the Shudra caste may in
truth belong to a higher. In the great and ancient epic,
the Mahabharata, the Pandava king Yudhisthira says:

“Nor birth nor sacraments nor study nor ancestry can
decide whether a person is twice-born. Character and
conduct only can decide.”

And the Laws of Manu pronounce:

“By the power of self-denial, acting selectively on the
potencies of the primal seed in all, persons born in one
caste may change into a higher or by the contradiction of
self-denial, by self-indulgence, and selfishness may descend
into a lower. The pure, the upward-aspiring, the
gentle-speaking, the free from pride, who live with and
like the Brahmins and the other twice-born castes continually—even
such Shudras shall attain those higher

India has fallen far from this grace. What might
happen in a man’s lifetime under certain conditions has
now become a matter of long evolution and rebirths.

For the learned there was a voluntary poverty which
all could understand and honor. How should a man
have time to seek wealth whose body and soul and
strength were absorbed in the effort “to follow knowledge
like a sinking star”? The Brahmin therefore was exempted
from personal effort for livelihood. His living
would come from the reverent offerings of food and clothing,
from the community which owed him so much as
the second father and educator of their children. Yet in
the extraordinary honor, as of an earthly god, paid to the
Brahmin it is easy to see the germ of what was to become
the enslavement of India. It was not so easy then. The
theory is noble. Life did not offer so many temptations.

Public opinion being small and local could concentrate
in a ray of fire upon the Brahmin who misjudged or misused
the grandeur of his position; but yet the end was
sure where human power was so exalted. Under the
Buddha India made one last despairing struggle to cast
off the yoke of Brahminism, and failing, accepted her
doom with the apathy which still dominates her.

The duty of the Kshatriya (warrior, ruler) is summed
up in the description of Kalidasa:

“He who guards the weak from injury by the strong:
how shall he be a king who does otherwise? What shall
the man do with his life if it be blasted by ill-fame and
the unanswered cry for help of the suffering?”

So it was inculcated in the Laws of Manu that the
whole duty of the Kshatriya is protection, charity, sacrifices,
study, and non-addiction to pleasure. Could such
an ideal realize itself on earth? Only here and there, and
then against an oncoming sea of temptation. Many instructions
of the highest type are given as to the care of
the people—their food, clothing, recreation, and the care
of orphans, widows, and helpless persons. A tax on the
industrial classes supported the king and the Kshatriya
class, who represented the defense of the nation. It varied
from one-fourth in times of stress to one-tenth in times of
ease. Out of this all public servants and institutions were
maintained, including the amusements of the people.
Brahmins and ascetics not supported by public gifts received
their share.

It is interesting to consider here what form of government
the Laws of Manu inculcate. Certainly not a democratic
one. Equally certainly not an autocratic one. The
Kshatriya king did not rule autocratically. He may be
described as being at the head of a council composed of
the highly educated and experienced Brahmins. He
must himself follow the teaching of the Vedas in his

“But where it is not explicit or new legislation becomes

necessary, then what the well-instructed and perfected
Brahmins declare to be the law, that shall be the
law. They are the well-instructed who have acquired
knowledge and thus have the power to make visible the
physical and superphysical truths of revelation. That
which an assembly of ten such, or of three at least, may
decide to be law shall be taken for law.”

Later this number might be increased; there might be
a number of each caste, and in an assembly of twenty-one
one Shudra must be present. It is of great interest to
consider these provisions and to contrast them with the
modern conception of untrained legislators chosen by the
votes of uneducated electors—uneducated in the truest
and possibly only real sense of the word. Coöperation
among the differentiated and disciplined is a very different
conception from government by the majority.

We now come to the system of punishments laid down
in this ancient social order, and here the view departs
strangely from that of the modern world.

“The king who punishes the innocent and does not
punish the guilty gathers infamy here and shall descend
into the hells hereafter. The first degree of punishment
he can inflict is warning by word of mouth. The second,
public warning and degradation in status. The third,
fine and forfeiture in addition to these. The last, corporal
punishment (ranging from whipping to death and including
imprisonment, infliction of wounds, branding,
and mutilation).”

Where a common man guilty of wrong-doing might be
fined a trifle, a ruler, a person in authority, should be
awarded a sentence a thousand times more heavy. The
punishment of the Vaishya (merchant) should be twice
as heavy as that of the Shudra (laborer). The punishment
of the Kshatriya (warrior, ruler) twice as heavy
again. The punishment of the Brahmin should be twice
as heavy as that of the Kshatriya or even four times as
heavy, “for he knows the far-reaching consequences of

sin and merit.” The king must restore to all four castes
the property stolen from them by thieves. If he fails to
do so the sin of the thief passes to the king. “By confession,
repentance, by self-imposed penances, study, and
gifts of charity, the sinner and the criminal wash away
their crimes. The man who is held to punishment by the
king becomes cleansed in truth from all stain of his
offense when he has paid the penalty. He is restored to
his original status and goes to heaven like the doers of
good deeds.”

In other words the criminal is not called upon to pay
twice over in the original punishment and in all loss of
public confidence. Paid is paid. The receipt is written,
and the debtor to society goes out free from henceforth.

The system of warning to first offenders has only just
been rediscovered in modern jurisprudence. The records
of English law (which certainly hold no bad preëminence)
reek with terrible punishments inflicted upon
juvenile offenders, going even so far as capital punishment
for trifling offenses, and this through the eighteenth
century. The principle of severer punishment for an educated
man also invites deep consideration. One may well
smile in remembering certain well-known cases of recent
“justice” and their result.

Even the sacred, the venerated Brahmin was not exempt
from corporal punishment. The Laws of Manu
authorize every man to kill a Brahmin in self-defense or
when caught in the act in certain cases. After he had
fallen and lost caste for repeated offenses he would hold
the position of a Shudra with regard to punishment.

With regard to the honor of different employments it
is interesting to see that after the two highest castes, those
occupied with wisdom and government, agriculture is
placed first among the employments of the Vaishya (merchant)

“Agriculture. Cow-keeping. Trade.”

Thus it will be noticed that first in honor comes provision

of the necessities of life and second its luxuries.
And this leads us to the views held in the Laws of Manu
on the subject of food. They are very well worth consideration
today, when food is a question merely of liking
and disliking and, in the long result, of the money which
can be afforded.

“Do not give the messed leavings of food to any. Do
not eat between the fixed and suitable meal-times. Do
not eat while the last meal remains undigested. Do not
go anywhere without ablution after a meal. Anxiously
avoid overeating, for it wars against health, against the
functioning of the higher mind, and therefore against
the hope of heaven and the way of the virtuous; it breeds
gross passions, and it is also against the rules of what is
seemly and the equitable division of food amongst all
who inhabit the world.

“As far as possible take the clean and bloodless foods.
It is true that the mental inclination of the world on the
path of pursuit is in the direction of flesh-foods and spirituous
drinks, and physical loves and lusts; and it may be
said there is not sin in these, especially in regulated forms
(and for the Kshatriya and Shudra). But refraining
from them brings high result. Flesh cannot be had without
the slaughter of animals, and the slaughter of breathing
beings does not lead to heaven. Therefore flesh-foods
should be avoided. The man who has no will to bind
and torture and slay innocent living beings, who wishes
well to all, shall be blessed with enduring joy. And he
who slays none shall achieve what he thinks, what he
plans, what he desires, successfully and without pain.”

It has long been clear to me that the perception involved
in this law is reached only in a certain stage of evolution
and psychic development. For this difference in
status the Law of Manu appears to make allowance. To
live by bloodshed is not a crime but an ignorance and an
almost incalculable loss. Happy are those who attain the
higher plane.

So, as to the Brahmin fell the duty of providing the
food of the spirit, to the Vaishya (merchant) fell that of
providing the no less necessary food of the body, pure,
uncontaminated, and infused by the spirit of good-will
and recognition of deep responsibility to the community.
Food itself had its aspect of divinity.

So also of the tiller of the soil:

“The dharma that any man performs, the merit of
good works that anyone gathers—three parts of the merit
belong to him who provides the food that is the support
of the worker of merit, and one only to the doer himself.”

This is high ground. Again, how far from the modern

There are errors and follies in the Laws of Manu
from many points of view. There are certain points unadaptable
to the complexities of modern life. There is,
however, much worth reflection from the point of view of
the philosophy of social organization; in nothing more
than in their conception of the right distribution of the
four castes in a state. The bulk of the people must not
be Brahmins, they must not be Kshatriyas. Least of all
must they be Shudras. They must be Vaishyas (merchants
and agriculturalists), for they represent the ultimate
needs of the community—its relation to the earth,
to concrete science and economics. They are the physical
brain and system of the community. They represent the
middle class of modern life. They, “twice-born” also,
with a high practical training in psychological science,
bound to the duties of sacrifice, charity, and study, were
by far the larger part of the population.

The Shudra was the “little brother” of the community,
and I think he compares favorably with the Greek
slave, as regards duties and rights. The higher responsibilities
were not expected from him, though he might
assume them if he could. He was the substance out of
which in other births great leaders might develop, but
not yet.

But a warning not wholly inapplicable to the democratic
ideal exists in the Laws of Manu:

“The kingdom in which Shudras preponderate over
the twice-born and in which error and lack of the higher
wisdom are therefore rampant—that kingdom shall
surely perish before long, oppressed with the horrors of

A sharp contrast between the opinions of the Indo-Europeans
and their cousins the Indo-Aryans must be
noted here. The four castes of the community were divided
by the measure of spiritual and intellectual attainment.
The wisest must lead. The laws of Solon, wisest
of the Greeks, the first codified laws of Europe, also recognized
four classes, but they were graded according to
income. The wealthy had the higher offices, the poorer
the lower. It may be said that this striking contrast in
aim marks the vast spiritual gulf still dividing Asia from

Why, with laws and aims higher than those of the Republic
of Plato, is India what it is? Many reasons may
be given. The inevitable deterioration of faith seen in
all countries, repeated invasions and the thrust of the
lower ideals of conquerors, division of races, conflicts of
religion and national spirit, and, last but not least, a
foreign ideal of education, wholly unsuited to the national
genius, imposed upon them (as far as it has gone)
in the sacred name of Lord Macaulay and others of the
same limitation in knowledge and sympathy.

Chapter IV


WE now take up the beginning of the age of philosophy.
The priestly caste to evolve strength later
(as is the case with all priestly castes) to the hurt and
danger of India was now firm in the saddle of its rights
and powers. The Brahmin had become almost a living
god. Yet it must be remembered that he was the repository
of wisdom and holiness and that his dignity was
real. He was custodian of all the people most valued,
and they valued it with all their souls and strength. So
far as we know there has never been a people in all the
world’s history that in every class concerned itself so
universally and profoundly with philosophy and the
spiritual life.

They had now reached the stage where philosophy is
seen to be latent in myth. This is the point at which the
Upanishads developed from the Vedic hymns, and in
them all the spiritual and intellectual life of India has its
roots. The Upanishads are the end and logical development
of the Vedas and are called the “Vedanta”—a name
meaning the end or summing up of the Vedas. The word
“upanishad” means “sitting near,” and thus suggests the
moments of teaching when the pupils surrounded the
Rishis or sages who taught them.

Are these Upanishads of more worth than the early
sacred books of other nations? I am so certain that they
are, knowing what I owe them, that I must buttress my
conviction with a few of those of great thinkers and
scholars of the principal European nations.

Max Müller quotes the German philosopher Schopenhauer
as saying: “In the whole world there is no study
so beneficial and elevating as that of the Upanishads. It
has been the solace of my life. It will be the solace of my
death.” Max Müller himself adds:

“If these words of Schopenhauer’s require endorsement
I shall willingly give it, as the result of my own
experience during a long life devoted to the study of
many philosophies and many religions. If philosophy is
meant to be a preparation for a happy death, I know no
better preparation for it than the Vedanta philosophy.”

Sir William Jones, the distinguished oriental and
classical scholar, writes: “It is impossible to read the
Vedanta or the many fine compositions in illustration of
it without believing that Pythagoras and Plato derived
their sublime theories from the same foundation with the
sages of India.”

Victor Cousin, eminent philosophical historian of
France, lecturing in Paris before a great audience of
men said: “When we read with attention the poetical and
philosophical monuments of the Orient, above all, those
of India, we discover there many a truth so profound and
making such a contrast with the meanness of the results
at which the European genius has sometimes halted that
we are constrained to bend the knee before the philosophy
of the East and to see in this cradle of the human race the
native land of the highest philosophy.”

And to conclude with an august name, Schlegel, one
of the greatest of German thinkers wrote: “Even the
loftiest philosophy of the Europeans, the idealism of reason
as set forth by the Greek philosophers, appears in
comparison with the abundant life and vigor of oriental
idealism like a feeble Promethean spark against the full
flood of sunlight. It is faltering, weak, and ever ready to
be extinguished. What distinguishes the Vedanta from
all other philosophies is that it is at once religion and
philosophy. In India the two are inseparable.”

It will be owned that such books are worth study.
Yet they need sifting for the average reader. There are
many repetitions, necessary at a time when in the absence
of books all knowledge had to be memorized. There are
many Sanskrit words for which there are scarcely English
equivalents, many primitive traces which have lost
interest for the majority. These things must be pruned
away before the great thought of the Upanishads can be
presented to the West, but when this is done I think its
majesty cannot fail to impress all to whom the mysteries
of life and death are dear.

There are ten chief Upanishads. Their exact date
cannot be given but the most widely held opinion assigns
the earliest to a period from 800 b.c. to 3000 b.c. Certain
of the most important follow after the life and teaching
of the Buddha at about b.c. 500. There is silence
when the names of the authors of these early Upanishads
are asked. They cared nothing for personal renown—so
little that they permitted their wisdom to be attributed
to deities and mythical sages. Biography therefore must
come later. Yet certain names will always be remembered
as associated with them—such sages as Yajna-valkya,
such kings as Janaka. From the Upanishads
spring all the ten philosophies of India.

Max Müller, Professor Radhakrishnan, and other
scholars have divided the great philosophies of India
into six systems. Behind them lies a vast reservoir of
national philosophy springing from the sacred Vedic
books, upon which all are founded and from which each
thinker drew what he would, sometimes with variants so
slight to a foreign mind as only to confuse issues. For
popular understanding it is best to follow the main currents
of thought, considering rather their essentials than
their differences, though naturally this would not be the
scholastic method. Our object is to obtain a clear and
simple view of what has been described by those qualified
to judge as the highest form of thought in the world—that

of ancient India; and it may be truly said that this
includes the diverging philosophies of modern India,
except in so far as they have been swept into the vortex
of modern western speculation.

In one respect it is easier to write of Hindu philosophy
than of any other; in another, far more difficult. The
great Indian philosophers had a commendable system,
unknown to the Greeks, of summing up their conclusions
in a series of short aphorisms known as Sutras, which he
who ran might read. Easy enough so far. But he who
ran must have acquired the habit of thinking in high
regions of the mind, more rarefied than the atmosphere
of the peak of the mountain we call Everest, and the Indians
Gaurishankar. There lies the difficulty.

And there is another profound difference between
Indian philosophers and such a thinker as Aristotle.
They will not for one moment admit that the life of man
and therefore his consciousness can be bounded by logical
reason. Man’s consciousness of self is not to be the foot-rule
of the universe. The animal is conscious but not
conscious of self. The average man is conscious of self;
but above him, as far as he stands above the animal, is
the man who is superconscious, who perceives an order
of the universe before which self-consciousness stands
dumb and dazzled. This utmost reach of thought is the
basis of the six divisions of the philosophy of India.

Let us begin with the essentials upon which the six
systems are at one. All accept the vast universe-rhythm
which consists of Creation, Maintenance, and Dissolution.
They conceive a universe without beginning.

The Books teach Darkness was at first of all,

With Brahm sole meditating in that night.

From that Thought the universe proceeds. For untold
periods it subsists. Finally it is resolved again into
the primeval dark. Much later this conception is symbolized
in the parable of the Trinity of Brahma the Creator,

Vishnu the Maintainer, and Shiva the Destroyer.
Does this re-solution of the universe compel a return
to primal chaos and wasted eons of progress? By no
means. From each “Night of Brahm,” as it is called
when the rhythmic Breath is indrawn (if I may use such
an illustration), the universe emerges remolded, but remolded
of the stuff fructified or blasted in its last emergence.
The history of universal evolution thus proceeds
as steadily and rhythmically as the second act of a well-conceived
play unfolds from the necessities of the first.
Rightly considered this is a part of the vast history of
the ascension of man along the path of realization. Realization
of what? Of whom? That explanation is the
object of the philosophies.

The six philosophies unite in their object. In all
six this is the education of man in the realization of his
part in the universe. Not in his village or city or country.
True, he has his dharma, but the whole thing is on a
far vaster scale than that conceived in Greece or in China;
though in China Taoism had a cloud-driven glimpse of
this issue, which I shall relate in its place. Aristotle and
Confucius lay down the moralities by which a man may
duly and rightly fill his place in the world. So and more
does Plato. But the Indians aim at his place in the universe,
and the difference is as great as the universe is
greater than the planet we inhabit.

There is another essential on which the six systems
agree. All accept the teaching of rebirth and preexistence.
Plato accepted this doctrine also, possibly deriving
it from Indian sources; and certain other Greek philosophers
earlier and later have done the same. It seems
indeed to have been an instinct of the human heart, for
it is found not only in Asia but among many other races
civilized and uncivilized. It has been traced in Africa.
Cæsar in his history of the Gallic wars asserts that “the
Druids inculcate this as one of their leading tenets that
souls do not become extinct but pass after death from one

body to another, and they think that men by this tenet
are in a great degree spurred on to valor, laying aside the
fear of death.”

It was held in Wales and Ireland also. The famous
Welsh bard Taliesin sings in the sixth century:

“I was a speckled snake on the hill.

I was a dragon in the lake.

I was a herdsman.

I have been in many shapes before I attained a congenial form.”

And in Rome, we have Ovid declaring:

“Death, so-called, is but old matter dressed

In some new form. And in a varied vest

From tenement to tenement though tossed,

The soul is still the same, the figure only lost.”

Many of our modern poets and writers in the West
could be quoted to the same effect—from Shakespeare (in
his fifty-ninth sonnet) to the latest comers. It may be
said that many of the greatest minds in the West have
held it. To any Asiatic philosophic mind it was impossible
to suppose that the soul of man began with conception
or birth. Very early the Katha Upanishad declared:

Never the spirit was born; the spirit shall cease to be never.

Never the time it was not. End and beginning are dreams.

Deathless and birthless and changeless abideth the spirit forever.

Death cannot touch it at all, dead though the house of it seems.

In Radhakrishnan’s fine phrase: “The development of
the soul is a continuous progress, though it is broken into
stages by the baptism of death.”

But realization of the truth can never be, where the
eyes of the intelligence and of the soul are blindfolded by
ignorance. Therefore the aim of the six philosophies,
as of all philosophy, is to tear away that bandage and to
show to the man the universe as it is. Then he will perceive
his relation to it and be at peace.

While all the systems aim at a philosophy of ethics,
ethics can and must be transcended by realization. Thus

ethics are no end in themselves but simply a condition of
the road upon which a man must travel—to the point
where roads are no longer needed or possible, for there
he develops wings. Meanwhile love (the great prison-breaker
of selfish individuality), altruism, and cleansing
of the heart are makers of the Road. Upon this point all
systems are at one. They are at one also upon the rules of
caste, such as I have described them in the Laws of Manu,
and the division then given of the different stages of life,
as the student, the householder, and the qualified ascetic.

The Buddhist philosophy, in some respects the most
interesting of all, from its world-wide influence, must be
treated separately. So we begin with the Upanishads
and in them with the earliest Vedantist parables. In these
is all Indian philosophy, as the wine is contained in the
unripe grape. Were all the philosophy based on them
to perish it could be reconstructed from those marvelous
books, though I do not deny their defects in stating their

The Upanishads turn from the bright picture of the
outer world as presented by the senses to explore the
inner and unseen. They do not deny the many gods, but
make them as it were manifestations of the One.

“The Self-Existent pierced the openings of the senses,
so that they turn outward, therefore man looks outward,
not inward into himself. Some wise man, however, with
closed eyes and desiring immortality saw the Self hidden
behind it.”

It followed from this attitude that in the Upanishads
formal and ritual religion does not hold a very high place.
It must exist, for ritual worship is an end to many people,
and in a certain sense is the scaffolding upon which divine
philosophy must be built. But the thinkers of the Upanishads
beheld these proceedings with the irony of those
who have transcended ritual and for whom it has lost
meaning. There were times when they permitted themselves
to mock at the respectably established verities of

the religion of the multitude and even of the Brahmins.
As an example: the syllable aum or om was held in
the highest veneration, for reasons to be given later, and
magical properties were ascribed to it. At this and at
what it represented the embryo philosophy of the Upanishads
mocked when it was so minded, as in the following

“Next, the Aum of the dogs! Vaka had gone forth to
study the Vedas. To him appeared a white dog. Other
dogs approached it and said: ‘O Lord, pray for abundance
of food for us. We desire to eat it.’

“To them answered the white dog: ‘Come here to me,
tomorrow morning.’

“As those who wish to pray through the hymns assemble
to set to their work, so did the little dogs come
together and march like a procession of priests, each
holding the tail of the one in front and barking out:

“‘Aum! let us eat. Aum! let us drink. Aum! may the
resplendent Sun who showers rain and grants food to all
mortals grant us food. O Lord of food, bestow food upon
us. Deign to grant it.’”

There was little fear of the priests in such utterances.

The thinkers of the Upanishads had a very different
food in view from that so satirized and on which the
average Brahmin dwelt so tenderly; and while they could
respect the Brahmin who manifested the ideal consecrated
in him, they could also perceive that it was the
ideal only which was the consecration, and that certain
qualities transcend caste, whatever the Brahmins might
teach. Hear the strange story of Jabala, relic of a primitive
time when a wife might be offered to the honored
guests of her husband:

“Satyakama Jabala asked of his mother Jabala:

“‘I wish to dwell with a teacher as a pupil in Brahma-lore.
Of what caste am I?’ (It was needful that should
be known.)

“She answered:

“‘My son, I do not know. During my youth when I
conceived you I attended on many guests who frequented
my husband’s house and I had no way of asking. So I
know not of what caste you are. Jabala is my name, and
Satyakama yours. You must therefore call yourself
“Satyakama, son of Jabala” when asked.’

“He went to Haridrumata of the Gautama clan and

“‘I approach your venerable person that I may abide
with you as a pupil in Brahman lore.’

“The teacher asked.

“‘Of what caste are you?’

“He answered:

“‘I do not know this. My mother said, “In my youth
when I conceived you I was attending upon many. You
are Satyakama, son of Jabala!”’

“Then said the other:

“‘None but a Brahmin could answer thus, for you
have not departed from the truth. I will invest you with
the Brahminical rites. Do you, child, collect the necessary
sacrificial wood.’”

So even caste, even the teaching of the Vedas, was not
sacrosanct in the eyes of the teachers of the Upanishads.
The Vedas were sacred, yes, but that sight which could
look through the self of man to the Universal Self was
more sacred still. They shared the feeling which was to
be expressed later, that “the worshipers of the Absolute
are the highest in rank; second to them are the worshipers
of the personal God; then come the worshipers of the
Incarnations like Rama, Krishna, Buddha; below them
are these who worship ancestors, deities, and sages, and
lowest of all are the worshipers of the petty forces and
spirits.” And again: “The wise man finds his God in
himself.” That is, in the realization of the Absolute, of
which he is a part. This therefore was the highest form
of knowledge. They said:

“Two kinds of knowledge are to be known, the higher

and the lower. The lower knowledge is that given by
certain Vedas. The higher knowledge is that by which
the Absolute is apprehended.”

The problem of the Upanishads is therefore the cause
and the realities of life and death. Their thinkers strove
to find the way of understanding to the infinite and central
Truth which is infinite existence and pure bliss. A famous
Upanishad prayer is:

From the unreal lead us to the Real,

From darkness lead us to Light.

From death lead us to Immortality.

But even this high ideal fell a little below that of later
Vedantic philosophy, in which any possible interpretation
of immortality as “heaven” was felt to be a little
vulgar and suited only to conceptions associated with that
of a personal God. Philosophy looked higher and

Knowledge must begin by philosophical understanding
of the self of man. It must pass from the objective,
which all could see and about which all could reason, to
the deep subjective self, felt as a dim stirring within, to be
gained only by the love and intuitions of wisdom. Philosophy,
not revelation, was the aspiration of the Upanishads.

“The soul within me; it is lighter than a corn, a barley,
a mustard seed, or the substance within it. The soul
within me is greater than this earth and the sky and the
heaven and all these united. That which performs and
wills all, to which belong all sweet juices and fragrant
odors, which envelops the world and is silent and is no
respecter of persons, that is the soul within me. It is

When this conception was rooted in belief it demanded
definition. There is a most interesting story in
the Chandogya Upanishad where Prajapati, Lord of Creation—being
approached by Indra, representative of the
Shining Ones, the Angels, and Virochana, representative

of the Dark Ones, the Demons—is questioned by them as
to what is the true, the real Self, which inhabits the body
of man. Prajapati is a personal divinity. He begins by
a statement:

“The Self free from sin, from age, and death, and
grief, and hunger, and thirst, which desires nothing but
the Desirable and imagines nothing but what it should
imagine, that is the object of our search. He who has
searched out that Self and comprehends it obtains complete

So the two served Prajapati for thirty-two years (after
the manner prescribed for pupils in the Laws of Manu)
and then came to demand knowledge as their reward.
I condense:

Testing the two he desires them to look in the
eye. The image seen there, is not that the Self?

They took his meaning not as that of the person
within who sees through the eye but as the image reflected
in the pupil; and Prajapati, seeing this, commanded
them both to dress and adorn themselves
in their best and to look into a pail of water and report
what they saw.

Both answered: “We see the Self, a picture even
to the hair and nails.”

Prajapati reflected within himself: “They both
go away without having seen the Self, and whichever
of the Shining Ones or Dark Ones follows this doctrine
will perish.”

And Virochana, his shallow mind satisfied, went
away and preached to the Dark Ones that the self
alone is to be worshiped and served, and that he who
does this gains the best of both worlds—this and the
next. But Indra, on his way to preach this doctrine
to the Shining Ones, saw a difficulty and paused.
He returned to Prajapati.

“Sir, as this self is well adorned when the body is
finely adorned, clean when this body is cleaned, so
it will be blind and lame if the body is blind and

lame, and perish as the body perishes. I see no good
in this teaching. This is not the Eternal Self.”

[Note that the word Self (with a capital) applies
in Indian philosophy to Brahm or Brahman—as
distinguished from Brahma the Creator—the Universal
Cause and only Self. Without a capital it
refers to the so-called individual self of man.]

“So it is. Live with me for another thirty-two
years,” said Prajapati. And at the end of that time
he said:

“He who moves about happy in dreams, he is the
Self, the Immortal, the Fearless. He is Brahman
[or Brahm].”

And Indra was about to return to the Shining
Ones with this doctrine when again he paused and

“Sir, it is true that the dream-self is not blind or
lame though the body may be both. Yet in dream
also that self is pain-conscious and weeps. I see no
good in that doctrine. Here is not the Eternal Self.”

“So it is indeed, Maghavat [Indra]. Live with
me for another thirty-two years.”

And at the end of this time Prajapati said:

“When a man in perfect sleep sees no dream, that
is the Self, the Immortal, the Fearless. That is

But Indra was growing wiser.

“In that state a man does not know that he is ‘I’
nor anything that exists. It is utter annihilation. I
see no good in this.”

“Live with me another five years and you shall

Then at the end of five years Prajapati said to
Indra: “This body is mortal, and death holds it. But
it is the abode of that Self which is immortal and
bodiless. When in the body, by thinking ‘This body
is I’ the Self is fettered by pleasure and pain. But
when a man knows himself apart from the body,
then neither pleasure nor pain touches him more.
The eye is but the instrument of seeing. The self

who knows, ‘Let me see this,’ it is the Self. He who
knows, ‘Let me think this,’ he is the Self; the mind is
but the divine Eye. He who knows that Self and
understands it, obtains all worlds and all desires.”

Thus said Prajapati; yea, thus said Prajapati.

This is surely a wonderful passage for such an antiquity.
As Max Müller points out it enters into the
minds of few even of philosophers to ask what the ego is,
what lies behind it and is its real substance. But here is
the question asked and answered. The body is but a
garment for the soul; age is a changing garment; the
baby of eight weeks develops into the man of eighty and
is yet the same. Nationality, all outer things, are garments
to be discarded; and behind them abides the Eternal
Self unchanged, traveling toward its inevitable goal.

The story faces life. Now let us take a story from the
Upanishads which faces death.

There is a youth, Nachiketas, who through a
sudden anger of his father is sent to the House of
Yama—the god of death. Yama is away at the time
of his arrival and on returning finds to his horror
that a young Brahmin has waited for three days
without receiving food or any of the rites of hospitality.
The gods themselves are shamed by such an

He speaks with grave courtesy:

“O Brahmin, because you, a guest to be venerated,
have waited in my house for three nights without
food, therefore be salutation to you and welfare
to me! Now choose three boons in return for those
three nights you spent without hospitality.”

What will Nachiketas choose?

“O Death, as the first of my three boons I choose
that my father’s anger toward me be appeased and
that he may remember me as his son.”

“Through my favor he will remember you with
love as before. He will sleep happily at night, and

free from anger he will see you when released from
the jaws of death.”

Nachiketas speaks again:

“In the place of heaven is no fear of any kind;
beyond all grief all rejoice in the place of heaven.
You, O Death, know the heavenly fire of the sacrifice
by which heaven and immortality must be
gained. Reveal it to me as my second boon.”

“I know the heavenly fire, Nachiketas. Know
that that fire is placed in the cavity of the heart.”

He gives directions which Nachiketas repeats.

Satisfied, the magnanimous Lord of Death speaks
to him:

“I grant another boon. That fire shall be called
after your name. Take also this many-colored chain.
Now choose the third boon, Nachiketas.”

The youth considers:

“There is this question. Some say the soul exists
after the death of man. Some that it does not. On
this I desire knowledge from you. This is my third

Then said Death, starting back in alarm:

“This question was inquired into even by the
gods; hard is it to understand. Subtle is its nature.
Choose another boon, Nachiketas. Do not compel
me to this. Release me from this boon!”

Nachiketas replies:

“There is no other boon like this. There is no
other speaker like to you.”

Death protests passionately:

“Choose sons and grandsons living a hundred
years. Choose herds of cattle, elephants, gold, and
horses. Choose the wide-spread earth, and live what
years you will. Be a king. Over the great earth I
will make you enjoyer of all desires. Nay, even the
beautiful maidens of heaven with their chariots and
instruments of music—such as are not to be gained by
mortal men—you shall be served by them. I will
give them to you. Only ask me nothing of the state
of the soul after death.”

Will Nachiketas be tempted by these great
offers? He answers:

“These things are of yesterday. All the glory of
the senses wears out, O End of Man! Short is the
life of all. Keep for yourself your horses and the
like, your dance and song! How should man rest
satisfied with wealth? Having wealth and seeing
Death, how can we live but at your pleasure? The
boon I choose is what I asked. What man living in
the world, knowing he decays and dies while beholding
the changeless Immortals, can rejoice in beauty
or love or care for long life? I ask no other boon but
that which concerns the soul. I ask the hidden

Then Death, seeing himself face to face with a
man indeed, speaks at last; the truth shall be revealed.

“The good is one thing; the pleasant, another.
Both chain man. It is well with him who chooses
the good. He who chooses what is pleasant misses
the object of man. But you, Nachiketas, considering
the objects of desire, have abandoned them. You
have not chosen the road of wealth, upon which so
many perish. You desire knowledge. For He, the
Soul, is inconceivably more subtle than the subtle.
By no reasoning can this thought be reached. Only
when a Teacher teaches can it be learned, dearest
friend. But you are stedfast and persevering in the
truth. May we have other seekers like to Nachiketas!

“You are the seeker of Him who is hard to see,
who dwells in the mysteries, who is hidden in the
caverns of the heart and the impenetrable thicket.
When a man has heard and accepted this, and has
stripped off all sense of right and wrong, when he has
attained to That Subtle One, then he rejoices. I see
in Nachiketas a dwelling whose door is open for

Says Nachiketas:

“Then make known to me this thing you see

which differs from virtue and vice, differs from the
whole of effects and causes, differs from past and
present and future.”

Death answers:

“The soul is not born nor does it die. It is not
produced from anyone nor does it produce. It is
unborn, eternal, timeless, ancient. It is not slain
when the body is slain. If the slayer thinks he slays
or the slain that he is slain, both err. The soul is
neither slain nor slays.

“The Self that lodges in the heart of each man
is smaller than the small, greater than the great. The
man whose will is at rest sees Him and is freed from
sorrow; through the serenity of the senses he sees the
glory of the Self. Who but I can know that divine
Self is joyful—yet above joy. He is bodiless yet
dwells in things incarnate. He is permanent yet
dwells in things impermanent. He is the All-Pervading.
Know the embodied soul is the rider, the
body is the car, intellect is the charioteer, and mind
is the reins. The senses, they say, are the horses,
and the objects of sense the roads. If a man is without
wisdom and uncontrolled, his senses are like the
vicious horses of the charioteer.

“If a man is without wisdom and impure, he
does not attain to his Home but goes on the road
of birth and death. If a man has wisdom he attains
that Home from which he does not return again to

“Higher than the senses are their objects, higher
than these objects is the mind, higher than the mind
is Intelligence. Higher than Intelligence is the
Great Self. Higher than the Great Self is the Unmanifested.
Higher than the Unmanifested is the
Soul. Higher than the Soul is nothing! That is
the goal.

“Arise! Awake! Receive your boons. Understand!
Hard is the way, having the sharp edge of
a razor. But he who has understood the Nature of
Brahm [the Universal Self] is freed from death.”

The wise who says and hears this eternal tale
which Nachiketas received and Death related is
honored in the world of Brahma.

Here ends this great and ancient story, wonderful in
its knowledge and insight, set forth at a time when it
seems little less than a marvel that such an analysis should
be produced. Clear and beautiful it shines as the face of
Nachiketas, the youth in the dark House of Death—to
be the foundation of mighty thoughts and great philosophies.
For what the teaching of Death conveys to Nachiketas
is nothing less than that “when the sun has set, when
the moon has set, and the fire is extinguished, the Self
alone is Light.” And why?

Because, as is told in another brief parable of the
Upanishads with which I will end this chapter, the soul
is itself the Universal. It is no child of the Divine but
the Divine itself; imprisoned in flesh but divine—the
changeless, the immortal.

A father says to his son:

“Fetch me a fruit of the nyagrodha tree.”

“Here is one, sir.”

“Break it.”

“It is broken, sir.”

“What do you see?”

“Almost infinitesimal seeds.”

“Break one.”

“It is broken, sir.”

“What do you see?”

“Nothing, sir.”

The father said:

“My son, that subtle essence there which you cannot
perceive, of that very essence this great nyagrodha
tree proceeds. Believe it, my son. In that
which is the subtle essence every existent thing has
its Self. It is the Self and you, O Shvetaketu, are

How pale beside this eternal wisdom are the bloodless
spectral worlds after death of Greece and Rome. In the
words of a great Indian thinker: “Coming and going is
all pure illusion; the soul never comes and goes. Where
is the place to which it shall go when all space is within
the soul?
When shall be the time for entering and departing
when all time is in the soul?” It must be remembered
that the story of Nachiketas not only conveys the
highest teachings of the Vedanta, but is an early and most
beautiful story of rebirth. He dies, dwells in the house
of Yama, the god of death, and returns to earth to bless
it with his wisdom in a new birth.

And it must never be forgotten that in the eastern
philosophies there is an open meaning for the many and
a hidden meaning for the few who are thus initiated and
instructed. This is emphatically so with the Vedanta
and certain teachings of the Buddha.

Moving about in India, Ceylon, Burma, and Japan,
one is much struck with the fact that these esoteric meanings
are most carefully guarded and seldom meet the observer
except in the most favorable circumstances. Yet
they are none the less there and known to those who are
able to penetrate beneath the surface.

Chapter V


“WE are but broken lights of Thee” may be taken as
the central point of the philosophy of the Upanishads,
which was to be developed by the great commentators.
But what is the Eternal Unchanging Light, reflected
as it were in broken light on the reflectors of man’s
experience? We must question what that is before
we can decide what man is. This necessity is the reason
of the already quoted Indian philosopher’s reply to Socrates,
when the greatest of the Greeks asserted that his
philosophy consisted in inquiries about the life of man.

“No one can understand things human who does not
first understand things divine.” That understanding is
the object of the Upanishads.

In the ancient Vedic stories of the passing of the soul,
standing before the Throne of Brahman after death it
makes the solemn and unshrinking assertion:

Thou art the Self, and what thou art that am I.”
There is but One.

Brahman is a neuter noun, neuter because the conception
transcends all ideas of sex. But in India then
and now, as in Europe at the present time, lower flights
of thought could circle about the image of a personal
God or gods having the attributes of humanity on a vaster
scale. Such a God was and is conceived as possessing
form or forms. Of such a God can be asserted the human
emotions of love, pity, anger, jealousy, vengeance, and
many more. He is comprehensive even in the most
tangled flights of the theologians, because humanity could

read humanity into what it worshiped. In the bewildering
mazes of the Trinity of the Athanasian creed, for
instance, the Father is felt as a dominant Sovereign, the
Son as Love which reconciles and softens power, the Holy
Spirit as an inspiration and consolation in the immensities.

So it is and was in India for those for whom the
Vedantic philosophy was too high. There the most famous
of the personal gods are Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu,
Three in One and One in Three. Brahma is the Creator,
Vishnu the Maintainer, Shiva the Destroyer, expressing
the inevitable process by which worlds are brought into
being, are sustained, and finally pass through destruction
to other forms. To humbler intellects each of these often
expresses all they can contain of godhead, and each has
his uses. None is or was condemned by those who could
perceive higher or other aspects.

“Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever way
I reach him, all men are struggling through the paths
which lead to Me,” says a Hindu scripture; and this truth
the Upanishads fully realize. But they assert that eventually
the flash of true realization destroys all doubts or
lesser loves, fuses the plurality of Godhead into the One,
and restores man instantly to knowledge of the truth that
he himself is divine and that outside the circumference
of the Divine nothing at all can have any existence.

But they teach also that the Absolute can never be
defined. It eternally escapes the reason. They assert that
when any quality, action or intelligence is suggested in
relation to the Infinite the truth-seer will shake his head
and say, “Not so. Not so.” For the clouded and fettered
divinity in man can never stretch to the comprehension
of its source, excepting only in the state known in the
West as that of the higher or cosmic consciousness. And
those who have thus beheld can make no report when they
return to the earthly plane, because earthly words cannot
cover that perception. Thus St. Paul says:

“And I knew such a man, whether in the body, or out
of the body, I cannot tell; God knoweth;

“How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard
unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to

And in the same spirit a sage, asked by King Vashkali
to explain the nature of Brahman, was silent, and when
the question was repeated answered: “By my silence I
answer but you cannot understand it. This Brahman is
Peace. Quiet.”

How did this great conception begin? Except to
scholars does it matter very greatly how such an idea
shaped itself in the growing consciousness of man? It is
Brahman, the Absolute Reality which none can apprehend
but those who know Brahman. In what spirit must
such knowledge be approached? How is that which has
hitherto only realized itself as a finite creature to draw
near to the assurance that it is infinite, that it is a wave
of the infinite ocean, only lifted for a moment by a wind
of illusion into a belief in difference?

Here the Upanishads are very explicit.

Intellect fails before the conception of Reality partly
because intellect concerns itself with the little thoughts,
dogmas, and creeds which play about like bubbles upon
the surface of thought. Intellect also is the finite creature
of the working of the human brain. It is so to speak
mechanical. It fails, as speech fails, in the presence of
the Real. Both intellect and speech depend upon the
Real, but they are in a different category. They cannot
be adjusted to this work of unification. Their very essence
is differentiation. It is not because of them or
through them that we can say, “that art thou.” With
the finite universe about us, speech and intellect can deal,
but not with the Truth which lies behind it.

At this point it is interesting to notice how true is this
statement even of the utmost flights of modern science
today. Would not its highest exponents admit that, “Veil

after veil will rise, but there must be Veil after veil behind”?

Never for one instant have they touched the Ultimate
Cause and it is probable they never can, along the road
of the physical sciences, and that the only hope is where
the Upanishads place it (together with the mystics of all
the faiths) in the developed consciousness of man. For
the Upanishads declare that there is within man a quality
which, because it is in itself Reality, enables him to conceive
it. It is a something divinely simple that entirely
transcends reason. It does not use the words “true” or
“false,” “ignorance” and “knowledge.” These are words
made for and used by reason, and they can cover the
ground reason is capable of covering. But no more. A
man perceives Reality and can only say, “It is. I am.”

The Upanishads precede the teaching of Christ on
this point by stating that only by divesting oneself of the
panoply of reason does intuition become possible.

“Let a Brahmin renounce learning and become as a

“Not by learning is the Self attained, nor by genius
nor much knowledge of books.”

“It is unknown to those who know and known to those
who do not know.”

Afterwards divine philosophy may perhaps base its
conception of the world and life on what is perceived, as
we see in the lives and teachings of the Buddha and the
Christ, but neither the one nor the other attained his perception
by learning. St. Paul was a learned man in his
way, but his experience of the state of perception never
came by that channel. It came in the blinding flash of
light outside Damascus, toward which inward processes
of simplification had doubtless long been tending.

But it may be said: “This is religion. What about
philosophy?” I answer again in the words of the Indian
philosopher. “He who does not understand the Divine—what
can he know of human life?”

This knowledge does not contradict the highest human
reason. It expands it in hitherto unknown directions by
superadding another form of vision. It will enable us to
reconcile opposites in philosophy, and see at what point
light and darkness, ignorance and knowledge, good and
evil, meet and are transcended by something including
them all—in an identity the unilluminated consciousness
is incapable of perceiving, or of admitting when others
perceive it.

The true percipient will behold with perfect tolerance
the worship of the personal God whether as Allah, Shiva,
or Yahve. He knows these beliefs are all relatively true.
They are not the whole truth, but they represent different
stages or inns on the road of percipience, where the soul
of man may put up for a night, and refreshed resume its
upward way. Certainly the intellectual faculty finds its
appointed place in this Identity as everything else does;
but it is not the gate—far otherwise. Better the loving
follies of the simplest belief than the iron ethics of dogmatic

Life, more life! is the cry. The Upanishads thirst for
what will give the whole of life a new meaning, lifting it
into the universal and making each thought and action of
a man of the same vital import to the universe as the
sweep of the mightiest planet upon its orbit. And as the
planet evolves into order and harmony from chaotic
forces, so the soul of man evolves into harmony and unity
through the psychic evolution of many lives.

Did then these mighty thinkers believe, as certain
Buddhist sects were to teach later, that the world as the
senses conceive it is only mirage to dissolve into mocking
sand and nothingness? No.

What they perceived is that there is identity. Nothing
stands alone. The thing seen is also the seer. Objective
and subjective are one. And this final truth, on
which the sciences depend as does philosophy, was realized
in India before the Buddha, before Plato.

Deussen, the great German scholar, says, and his utterance
is well worth reading:

“If we strip this thought of the various forms—figurative
in the highest degree and not seldom extravagant—in
which it appears in the Vedantic texts, and fix our attention
on it solely in its philosophical simplicity as to
the identity of the Divine and the soul, the self and the
self, it will be found to possess a significance reaching far
beyond the Upanishads, their time and country. Nay,
we claim for it an inestimable value for the whole of mankind.

“We cannot look into the future; we do not know
what revelations and discoveries await the restlessly inquiring
human spirit, but one thing we may assert with
confidence: Whatever new and unwonted paths the philosophy
of the future may strike out, this principle will
remain permanently unshaken, and no deviation can possibly
take place from it.

“If ever a general solution is reached of the great
riddle that presents itself to the philosopher in the nature
of things, the further our knowledge extends, the key can
be found only where the secret of nature lies open to us
from within, that is to say in our innermost self. It was
here that for the first time the original thinkers of the
Upanishads found it to their immortal honor, when they
recognized our self, our inmost individual being, as the
self, the inmost being of universal nature and of all her

This agrees with what I expressed above—that the
advance of the sciences must in future rest not on the extended
knowledge but the extended consciousness of man,
and that this can be attained only by realization that
man is himself one with the Inmost Being. The conceptions
of all the gods are derived from instincts that
lead to guesses at this Inmost Being, and it underlies all
the phenomena which surround us. Therefore in the
highest teaching of the Upanishads these appearances

are not what has been called in Europe maya (wrongly
attributing to that word the meaning of “illusion”) but
they are appearances uncompleted by full knowledge on
our parts; and they are therefore wrongly seen and reported—which
is a very different matter. To quote the
New Testament instance of newly restored sight: “I see
men as trees, walking.”

From this point in the development of Vedantic
thought it becomes most interesting to observe its contacts
with the conceptions and inspired guesses of modern
science, such as those of Einstein and of the mathematicians
who are dimly conceiving a new spatial consciousness,
where Riemann, Hinton, Oumoff, and Lobachevsky
have laid a trail.

It is not my purpose here to enter into this but
there are readers who will perceive the points, as they
loom through the dark of the centuries separating Vedantic
thought from our own day. That thought penetrated
to the Inmost Being of nature, saw it as the dynamo
of the universe and humanity as a part of the dynamo—not
subject to it, except in so far as every part is subject
to the whole, but changeless, deathless, eternal, dynamic
as the Source itself. And this conception and the enormous
conclusions to which it led the thinkers of India
have not yet been grasped by the western world.

So they accepted Absolute Being, which functions on
all planes, in every form of existence and is pure essence,
bliss, beauty, wisdom, instantaneous and spontaneous and
yet a Process. And having said this, thought fell lamed
on the threshold of discovery, and they could only repeat,
“Not so. Not so,” knowing that all attempt at expression
travestied the inexpressible.

Great indeed were these thinkers. They became,
though human enough, half deified in the belief of India
because of the wisdom with which they faced the conclusions
implied in the stupendous recognition of the true
place of man in the universe.

It will be interesting to give here the life-story of
Shankara, the greatest commentator and elucidator of
the thought of the Upanishads. I feel that in reading
such a story it is unwise to smile at certain incidents; for
it is easy to laugh at what one does not understand, and
we have not followed the way these men trod. We believe
such things to be impossible, but have not fulfilled
the conditions which make them possible. Western mystics
certainly have allied statements, and our accepted
Scriptures corroborate them in some important points.
At all events India has studied the science of the soul by
practice and experiment in ways we have never tried.

Shankara’s very date is uncertain, but scholars give
their vote for his birth in a.d. 788 and at that we may
perhaps leave it.

He was a Brahmin of Malabar and went early to a
Vedic school where he was imbued with the Vedantic
knowledge of the Universal Self. In the Hindu account
of his life he is credited with miraculous feats of scholarship
as a child and of vision as a saint. It is told that at
the age of two he learned to read, at three he studied the
Puranas and understood many portions of them by intuition.
Here may be recalled the early wisdom of the
Christ. His mother had practiced many austerities before
his birth to gain the gift of a son from the favor of
the gods, and Shankara’s devotion to her was very great.
His story must be considered as that of a great adept in
Yoga, as a prophet destined to lead his people to truth,
and as a most learned man, though according to his horoscope
he was fated to die in boyhood.

At the age of seven he returned from the house of his
teacher and not long after his mother was seized with a
dangerous illness. It is told that she fainted from the
heat and that the child, by his power of Yoga—which
must have been intuitive rather than disciplined if he
possessed it at that age—caused the river to rise and cool
the burning heat from which she suffered.

The fame of the young saint and yogin went far and
wide over India, even as such would and does today,
though there are none now who can lay claim to the towering
genius of Shankara.

Messages came from the King of Kerala, offering gold
and elephants if he would shed the light of his presence
upon the court, and not content with sending these messages
by a minister he came himself to pay reverence and
plead his desire for a son, hoping that the Yoga of Shankara
might open the way to his heart’s longing. The
king received instruction on the discipline to be followed;
and I may note that a chapter of the Brihadaranyaka
Upanishad is devoted to this subject, and for that reason
is left either in Sanskrit or Latin. It gives directions as
to food ceremonials and recitation of mantras, and prescribes
the ritual to be followed before and after the birth
of the child. These secrets are never publicly taught,
but are verbally conveyed from master to disciple.

About this time a great Rishi (sage) foretold that the
wonder boy would die at the early age of thirty-two, and
it was perhaps this knowledge that determined him to renounce
home-life and become a wandering sannyasin, or
holy man who embraces the life of ascetic contemplation.
This is a part of the discipline of a yogin. His mother
wept bitterly desiring that he should marry and beget a
son before resigning the world for the life of quiet. It
is told that a miracle was needed to defeat her yearning
and that it was forthcoming, for as he bathed, a crocodile
caught his foot, and when her son and the bystanders
assured her that the crocodile would not let him
go until she herself released him, she consented though
with bitter grief. Shankara gave her into the care of
relations, and promising to return if she ever needed him
melted into the wandering millions of India.

And now begins the interesting part of his short life.
Wandering with his begging bowl through towns and
forests, by lonely hills and wide rivers, he came at last

as though drawn by one desire to a cave in a hill, on
the banks of the holy Narbada River, where a saint
named Govinda Yati had fixed his hermitage. With him
Shankara became a pupil and received instruction concerning
the Universal Self, which is named IT or Brahman.
It was given in four great sentences:

“Knowledge is Brahman. The soul is Brahman.
Thou art That. I am Brahman.”

Here again he manifested a great Yoga. One day
when his teacher was lost in the trance of the higher consciousness
Shankara calmed a furious tempest of rain,
thunder, and lightning; and his master, returning to
earthly consciousness, was overjoyed, and bade him go
instantly to the holy city of Benares and receive the
divine benediction.

So the young Shankara set forth in the yellow garment
of the sannyasin, his face illumined by the twin lights of
peace and power, going toward the sacred city, which is
the goal of the highest Hindu pilgrimage. There many
strange events met him. There his beloved friend and
pupil Padmapada came to his class—the friend for whom
he reserved his deepest thoughts and teachings.

A strange story, not unfamiliar to western ears, is told
of this friendship. Once Shankara, standing on the bank
of the Ganges, called Padmapada to come to him from
the opposite shore, and without fear Padmapada walked
the shining surface, and wherever he set foot a lotus
sprang from the depths, and from this grace came the
name of Padmapada—or Lotus-Foot.

At Benares the young philosopher composed his
masterpiece and one of the masterpieces of the world—his
commentary on the Brahman Sutras—and not only
this but his mighty commentary on the Upanishads and
also on that Song of the Lord (the Bhagavad Gîta) which
is known and loved even in the West.

It yet remains for western thinkers to gage the mind
of Shankara though these commentaries have been

brought before scholars by the devoted work of Max
Müller, Radhakrishnan and others, including some distinguished
Germans. His learning was vast, but it was
informed by the spirit of the higher consciousness and
the power of the yogin; and it is this combination which
sets him apart even in India from the great scholar or the
great yogin. It was said of him that in himself he combined
all knowledge, all wisdom.

It was his habit to hold disputations and debates with
learned men, and it was believed in India that one of the
ancient and legendary sages, Vyasa, returned to life in the
appearance of an ascetic Brahmin, to sift his learning by
contradicting the propositions of his glorious commentary
on the Brahman Sutras. But not even by unearthly
wisdom could Shankara be conquered. Again
like the young Christ in the Temple he answered and justified
all, and for the prize of his victory received an
addition of sixteen years to his life as ordained by his
karma. This fulfilled the thirty-two years promised by
the prophet.

Wandering on from Benares he came to the house of
the learned Mandana Mishra, and there a hot argument
took place between Shankara and his host, while the wife
of Mandana Mishra stood by as umpire: a story which
illustrates the higher position of women at the time. So
wise was she that she was believed by many to be an
incarnation of Saraswati, the Indian Athena. As she
stood by, the fire kindled in her, and after the first debate
was ended she invited him to dispute with her.

One may imagine the beautiful woman and the young
scholar in stern debate; he, cold and calm; she, angry,
baffled, casting about to find some rift in his shining
armor. With a woman’s wit she found it and her sword
flashed! What could the young ascetic know of the nature
and spirit of earthly love? Not the spiritual love which
is a part of Vedantic teaching—there he could foil her
easily—but the love of man and woman.

She drove her question at him, and he was dumb. He
could not answer. He begged a month in which to
consider her question and left the house a beaten man
for the first time in his life. A rather humorous dilemma!

Very anxiously he considered what to do? How could
such a question be answered by a yogin in whom the
sexual forces had been transformed into high and incomprehensible
energies? How could his disciplined body,
clean as a cup to hold the wine of the gods, be soiled by
an earthly experience common to man and the lower
planes of consciousness? Yet how could any sphere of
knowledge be left unexperienced and unanswerable?
Now comes a solution very strange to western thought,
but a declared stage in the highest India Yoga.

As he wandered through the forest meditating the
problem of Saraswati he beheld a king named Amaraka
lying dead at the foot of a great tree, surrounded by
mourners, men and women. Instantly the solution, the
way, flashed upon the mind of Shankara.

It is believed to be within the power of the highly
trained yogin to cast his spirit into the body of another,
as we shall see in my chapter on the Yoga of Patanjali.
Shankara knew that he could enter the corpse of Amaraka
and so doing taste without wrong the experiences of a
king. He committed his own empty shell to the charge
of his pupils, and the corpse of Amaraka, enlightened and
inspired by one of the greatest spirits that ever lived on
earth, renewed its life to the joy of the mourners. They
could not know. Their king had awakened from a death-like
trance; but it was past, and this was all that concerned
them. With song and shout they bore him back
to the royal city.

It is told that the queen was bewildered by certain
changes in the spirit and intellect of her husband. Yet
the man was the same—who could doubt it? As a royal
and loyal wife she met him, radiant with love and joy,
and so on the highest earthly plane Shankara learned the

lesson of earthly love—which is a stage also in the evolution
of the soul. And he knew that he could answer the
question of Saraswati. Not only so, but he wrote a treatise
on that strange and fascinating subject which has
been more studied in its delicacies and grossnesses in
India than perhaps in any other country in the world.

But still the queen doubted, and the high ministers
recognized the new greatness of the king. It is significant
that an order was given, inspired by the queen, that every
corpse to be found in the city should forthwith be burned
to ashes and that the king should know nothing of this
order. The heavenly bird they had caged for the glory
and good of the kingdom must not be allowed to flit away
again on his own ethereal errands. His body must be
destroyed lest he should seize it and be gone.

Meanwhile his disciples, headed by the loyal Padmapada,
longed for him. How could they live without him?
Had he forgotten them in the queen’s arms? They set
out to the city of King Amaraka in the guise of a group
of singers who would perform before the king. Their
petition was granted, and they were ushered into the hall
hidden in gold garments and heavy head-dresses fringed
and veiled with gold. And they sang of high things and
noble until the courtiers were spellbound—believing the
very music of the spheres was sounding in the palace.
Had it become the dwelling of Indra, Lord of the Shining
Ones? Were these the musicians who play for the
rejoicing of the gods?

And the king heard, and the silver arrows found his
heart. With great gifts and in silence he dismissed the
musicians, and in doubt and dismay they retreated. But
that night the sleep of King Amaraka deepened into the
sleep that has no dawn, and that night Shankara opened
his eyes among his rejoicing disciples—wiser, gladder
than of old, as one to whom no page of human experience
has been closed. And returning with his disciples he
answered the question of Saraswati and went on his way.

It is told that a little later by the power of his yoga
he knew that his beloved mother was dying, and traveling
by that power as one who runs a race with death he came
to her side. She implored him to share his light with
her, and very patiently unbending to her ignorance he
tried to instruct her in the great Brahman knowledge,
over which death has no dominion. She could not understand
more than that Love underlies Law. For her his
experiences and knowledge were too high, but thus
quieted and holding the hand of her son she entered the

Then ensued a difficulty. Like the Greek gods the
purity of the yogin or sannyasin must not be tarnished by
contact with death. Yet in his great love for her he
would not be shut out from the last observances, and confronted
the angry disapproval of relatives and friends.
Did he not know that he himself was a divine—a flaming
fire in which all impurity could be burned up as her body
would be? He raised his right hand, and a tongue of
fire shot from it which consumed her body into ashes as
it lay, and there was a great silence.

He passed from place to place doing deeds of power,
debating, spreading the great Vedantic knowledge, composing
treatise after treatise to make clear the revelations
of the Upanishads. So at last he came to Kashmir and to
a temple with four portals of which one, the southern,
had never been opened. Could it have been that mysterious
little temple of Pandranthan, which stands beyond
the great curving bend of the Jhelam that has given the
sweeping design for so many decorations? I have
thought this should be, even when I knew it could not.

The priests would not suffer the entrance of the austere
young scholar until they had examined him as to his
life—in which indeed their scrutiny could find no flaw.
But when he entered the temple, pacing quietly with
downcast eyes, the voice of the goddess Saraswati was
heard as a great cry.

“Omniscient you are. There is no knowledge which
escapes you. But in this holy place more is required.
The man who enters this sanctuary must never have lain
in the arms of a woman. What then is your case?”

Shankara answered, still with downcast eyes:

“This body is pure. It has never lain in the arms of a
woman. It is clean from brow to heel.” And he passed
into the sanctuary.

A very little more toil was left to him, and he had
then entered his thirty-second year which he knew limited
the time allowed to him in this incarnation. Anandagiri
relates the end:

“In the city of Kanchi, the place of absolution, as he
was seated he absorbed his gross body into the subtle one
and became Existence, then destroying this subtle one he
became pure reason; then, attaining to the world of Ishvara
[the personal God], with full happiness completed
like a perfect circle, he passed on into the Intelligence
which pervades the Universe, and in this he still exists.
And the Brahmins of the place and his pupils and their
pupils, reciting the Upanishads and the Song Celestial
and the Brahman Sutras, then excavated a grave in a very
clean place and making due offerings to his body raised a

They buried him but did not burn him; for so pure is
the body of a yogin that it needs no purifying flame.

I have told this story as it is told in India and not
after the manner of western scholars, who cautiously confine
themselves to an account of his young asceticism and
scholarship. It can be taken on that plane, and there also
it will mean much. Perhaps to some it may mean more.
But I prefer to take it as it is told in the love and worship
of his own land; surely the strangest story of a philosopher
that ever was told in any. I have given it, though it
dates so long after the Vedas and earlier Vedanta, because
it undoubtedly gives the type of man to whom we
owe them. The lives of those men can never be recovered,

except in so far as they may or may not be the
originals of some of the wonderful stories of the oldest
Upanishads such as I have quoted and reluctantly left
unquoted. But in Shankara we see their living likeness.

One should not end this chapter without some words
of his own which may help to send students to his books:

“Owing to the appearance of a rope in the twilight it
seems to be a serpent. In the same way the unhappy condition
of the individual soul is imposed upon it by want
of realization. When the illusion of the serpent is dispelled
by the admonition of a friend only the familiar
rope remains. So, by the admonition of my own Master
I am no longer the individual soul but the Immutable
Self that is the Seer. I am the Supreme Bliss. Such a
man lives in bliss because his mind is freed from all contrasts
(of happiness and misery, gain and loss, etc.), ever
pure, devoid of my-ness and I-ness, always contented,
steady in thought, imperturbable, cleansed of all illusions.”

His Century of Verses is a very beautiful little devotional
book. His philosophy is an exercise for the highest

Chapter VI


WE now come to a very remarkable development of
the Vedanta—one which to many will seem incredible,
but which must have a profound interest to those in
the West who have made even a preliminary study of
Indian philosophy and modern psychology.

The word “yogi” is well known in the West as connoting
a roving imposter who will stand on his head for
ten years or more with a watchful eye for gain, who will
cheat and lie and juggle with the same end in view, who
must be despised yet to a certain extent feared as the
possessor of some possible power of black or white magic,
by which he may rival the palmist in foretelling an amatory
or wealthy future. He is vaguely confused with the
juggler who charms serpents or produces the sleeve-hidden
mango tree, which grows at your feet while you
do your best to believe the growth is spontaneous.

The true yogin is really the exponent of a wonderful
and ancient system of psychology, one far more highly
developed than any known in the West. He is the representative
of the occult sciences taught in the great Buddhist
University of Nalanda in the ancient days of India.
He is the man who in mastering the secrets of the phenomenal
life of the senses prepares us for the approach
through death to Reality. In India he survives for those
who know how to find him. In Tibet he is thought to
hold the key to the inmost meaning of the teachings of
the Buddha and therefore it may almost be said of the

In this matter India took her straight and fearless
flight to the inmost and outermost confines of thought and
experience. You may or may not believe—that does not
concern her thinkers. They unhesitatingly assert that
they have made their experiments and know. You can do
likewise if you are so minded. But if without doing this
you condemn, if you say a thing is impossible because it
is unexpected and highly incredible, if you deny the
supremacy of the psychic over the physical, then India
smiles and passes on.

What is Yoga? Who are its great exponents in India?

The word “Yoga,” like words of our own, is differently
used in different connections. Sometimes it means
“a method”—which indeed it is: a method of freeing
the intelligence to higher perception. Sometimes it
means “yoking” in the sense of yoking-up or union with
the Supreme Self set forth in the chapter on Shankara’s
philosophy. Sometimes it is a word used to express
“effort”—hard, persistent, strenuous endeavor to restrain
the senses and the mind; so that the essential in man imprisoned
behind them shall go free, to achieve that realization
of its oneness with the Supreme, on which Shankara
lays such stress in his teaching. Sometimes it may
mean “division” in the sense of division from the imputed

The aims of the royal or Raja Yoga, as it is called, are
high and noble even from the physical side; and they are
wide as high. The body must be brought to heel as an
obedient dog, the reasoning and logical mind the same.
Therefore it becomes necessary to secure a great tranquillity
in the nervous system, and to that end the body
must be freed of any impurities which would clog the
circulation and irritate the nerves. It follows that practices
are enjoined to secure these ends, and the extraordinary
health and longevity thus gained are to be used like
a sort of compound interest in the furtherance of the quest
for spiritual freedom.

There are other systems of Yoga: Mantra Yoga—healing
by mantras or a kind of spells, likely to be very
efficacious in nervous cases; Hatha Yoga, which is almost
wholly medical and not wholly commendable. But
none have the interest of the Raja Yoga of Pantanjali.

We need not fear that we are in bad company in considering
this form of Yoga. It was founded on the Vedanta
and closely allied to the famous Shankhya Vedantic
philosophy, which differed from Shankara on points only
those deeply skilled in Vedantic lore could think of vital
consequence. The Buddha himself was a yogin in the
fullest and deepest sense of the word. His famous teacher
Alara was a master of the science, and Alara’s pupil the
Buddha practiced the ascetic austerities to an even terrible
point. He completed these with the highest contemplation
and possessed “the powers.” The same may be said
of other masters of Indian thought. Of Buddhist Yoga
I shall speak in its own place.

How ancient the science of Yoga (or a disciplined
search to attain perfection) may be, none can say. The
Rig-Veda—the earliest poetic collection of documents of
the Indo-Aryans—mentions its possibilities of ecstasy and
the hypnotic trance, though in a crude form. The Upanishads
accept the Yoga practice in the sense of a conscious
inward search for the true knowledge of Reality. One
of the most famous Upanishads, the Katha, speaks of the
highest condition of Yoga as a state where the senses together
with the mind and intellect are fettered into immobility.
These are the terms it uses:

“Immortal are those who know it. The state which
ensues when the five organs of knowledge remain alone
with the mind, and the intellect does not strive, is called
the highest aim.”

“This they call Yoga which is the firm keeping-down
of the senses.”

I will give as succinctly as possible the means whereby
it can be practiced.

Patanjali is said to have codified the ancient systems
and knowledge of Yoga in the second century b.c., though
some scholars put the codification later. By some the codifier,
who never laid claim to be the author, was believed
to be the great grammarian Patanjali, author of a famous
book known as the “Mahabhashya,” but this is
doubtful. In any case the collection represents no author—but
an era.

It consists of four parts. First is treated the nature
of the ecstasy to be attained. Second, the means of attaining
it. Third, an account of the supernormal powers to
be had through Yoga. Fourth, the nature of the liberation
of the soul, which is of course the highest aim of Yoga.
I shall speak of Patanjali throughout, since he is the recognized
exponent of this Yoga; but it must always be
remembered it is no system of his own. It is a codification.

The seventh aphorism in the first part should be carefully
remembered because it indicates the spirit in which
the task of understanding or practicing Yoga (this latter
should never be done without a skilled teacher) must be
approached. Its sound is strangely modern.

“Direct perception, inference, and competent evidence
are proofs of right knowledge.”

I mention this because in reading what is to follow it
might be thought absurd that some of the statements
should be classed under the title of philosophy. Here I
must fortify myself with the support of Professor Max
Müller who says:

“What we must guard against in those studies is rejecting
as absurd what we cannot understand at once or
what to us seems fanciful and irrational. I know from
my own experience how what often seemed to me for a
long time unmeaning, nay, absurd, disclosed after a time
a far deeper meaning than I should ever have expected.”

Professor Radhakrishnan also treats the Yoga system
with respect.

I begin with the second aphorism of Patanjali and I
shall condense the explanations given by Vivekananda
with my own.

“Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff from taking different

In other words it asserts the dominance of mind. The
mind-stuff may be imagined as a calm, translucent lake
with waves or ripples running over the surface when external
thoughts or causes affect it. These ripples form
our phenomenal universe—i.e., the universe as it is presented
to us by our senses. If we can make these ripples
cease, we can pass beyond thought or reason and attain
the Absolute State.

Does it sound impossible to restrain or avert these
ripples? No, for it may happen daily and by chance.
If you are deeply engaged in work—or even in subjugating
emotion—noises may roar down the street, and
you will not consciously hear them, or if you do will
receive no impression whatever from them. It is the
You behind the mind, which is for the moment detached,
and the mind-stuff being in itself unintelligent receives
no impression, while the real You is busy elsewhere.
This proves that the possibility exists. As a rule, however,
you are not fixed in any profound work or contemplation
and are at the mercy of the outer breezes, which
blow over your mind-stuff and obscure the surface with
foolish, useless passing impressions and thoughts—if they
deserve the name of thought at all.

Continuing the image of the mind-stuff as a lake, let
us take the bottom of the lake to represent the true, the
Absolute Self in man. We can never hope to see the bottom
unless the water is clear and the surface perfectly
calm. All living creatures possess mind-stuff in varying
degree, but so far as we know it is only man who can
inspire his mind-stuff with intellect, and so use it as an
instrument by which he can pass through the various
stages of Yoga to the liberation of the soul.

Third aphorism: “At the time of concentration the
seer rests in his own (unmodified) state.” In other words,
when we begin to concentrate and the mind-stuff is calm
and we no longer need to identify ourselves with it, it is
as when the ripples on a lake cease. We can then see
down through the quiet translucency to what is beneath it.

Fourth aphorism: “At other times he who sees identifies
himself with the alterations of the mind-stuff.”

For instance, a grief comes and sets up a ripple in the
mind-stuff. You can then no longer see the bottom of the
lake (the true Self), which is quite undisturbed by the
ripples of grief on the surface. When one loses sight of
the true and immobile Self and identifies oneself with disturbed
mind-stuff, the result is grief.

Fifth aphorism: “There are five classes of modifications
(ripples) of the mind-stuff, some painful, others

Sixth aphorism: “These are right knowledge, indiscrimination,
verbal delusion, sleep, and memory.”

Seventh Aphorism: “Direct perception, inference,
and competent evidence are proofs of right knowledge.”

This is an important aphorism. When two of our perceptions
do not contradict each other we call it proof.
But there are three kinds of proof. Direct perception is
the first, unless the senses have been misled. Inference
is the second, which is to say you see an indication and
from that deduce the thing indicated. Third, is the direct
perception of the yogin, which is of quite a different
order from the normal perception. The two first forms
of proof demand reason. The yogin need not reason; he
sees and knows. For him time in the ordinary sense does
not exist. In other words it does not flow past him, he
beholds it like a picture, like something in which past,
present, and future can be read at a glance, and his sight
becomes proof. No ripples in or on the mind-stuff disturb
him. He sees to the bottom of the lake; i.e., to the
true Self in which all knowledge abides in calm forever.

What proof have we of the declarations of a person
who says he thus sees? It is necessary that he should be
an entirely disinterested and saintly person, that he should
have passed beyond the illusions of the senses, and that
what he says does not contradict the past certain knowledge
of mankind, for no new truth can contradict any
old truth. It can only amplify it. It is also necessary
that the truth he utters should be verifiable. The seer
must be one who does not sell his knowledge, and he
should offer only what it is possible for all men to attain
if they will. In these ways we can have direct perception,
inference, and competent evidence as regards the true

There follow several aphorisms on the various sorts
of ripples; memory, sleep, dream, etc., which disturb the

Twelfth aphorism: “Their control is by practice and
non-attachment.” Why should this practice be needed?
Because when a large number of impressions of one kind
are left on the mind-stuff they form habits. This is consolatory,
for if a man is a bundle of habits made up by
himself he can unmake and remake the bundle. Character
is nothing but repeated habits.

Thirteenth aphorism: “Continuous struggle to keep
the ripples perfectly restrained is practice.”

Fifteenth aphorism: “The state of mind which comes
as the effect of giving up sense-desires and in which one
becomes conscious of power of control over these desires
is called non-attachment.”

Non-attachment (or renunciation) means that the
mind-stuff may be kept in the tranquil state in spite of
the breezes of outer circumstance, which tend to blow it
into ripples. Renunciation is the only means of attaining
this end. Example: A man snatches your watch in the
street. A wave of anger instantly rises on the mind-stuff.
With all your strength withstand the rising of that wave.
Fling your impulse elsewhere. Difficult? Yes. But

when it is done and no angry word is said and the mind-stuff
remains unruffled—that is renunciation. So with
the sensual enjoyments prized by the ignorant as happiness.
To deny access to them, to forbid their ruffling the
mind-stuff with their images—that is renunciation. If
you do not govern the waves or ripples on the mind-stuff,
they will govern you. Governing them you attain power.

Seventeenth aphorism: “The concentration called
Perfect Knowledge is that which is still related to reasoning
discrimination, bliss, and unqualified egoism.”

This is a very interesting aphorism. It declares that
two sorts of attainment, known as Samadhi or ecstasy, are
attainable by the yogin. The one described in this
aphorism is the lower and has dangers. This one offers
perfect knowledge of the subject of meditation—let us
say, if that were the chosen subject, of the categories or
elements of nature—and when this point of concentration
is reached the mind-stuff will take in the forces of nature
and project them as thought. In other words as power.

But Patanjali warns us that to practice Yoga only for
the purpose of attaining the powers gained by complete
knowledge of the forces of nature is a very dangerous
thing. None but the entirely freed soul is fitted to use
the powers, and this first state of Samadhi does not free
the soul. It is still allied with reasoning discrimination,
and egoism. The effect is to gift a man with the powers
of a god, and what may not happen!

Can it be possible that some of the great manifestations
of uncontrolled and evil power in the world have
sprung from this source? For no man of spiritual instinct
would enter Yoga with this end in view, and he who attains
it thus has reached the stage which is called “bereft
of body,” i.e., is freed from the limitations of the flesh and
becomes pure intellect. The dangers of this are obvious
if it is not joined to what in Europe we call perfect spirituality,
and India understands much more by this phrase
than we. Thus this lower Samadhi may be called the

ecstasy of intellect. The yogin may attain all powers yet
fail as a spiritual entity.

Eighteenth aphorism: “There is another spiritual
Samadhi, which is attained by the constant practice of
cessation of all mental activity, the mind-stuff then retaining
only the unmanifested impressions.”

This is the highest state of all. This is the perfect
superconsciousness, which gives all powers and perfect
freedom, perfect union with the Absolute, as taught in
the philosophy of the Vedanta. The man who has attained
this can fall no more, can return to no more rebirths.
He does not need them—has passed as completely
beyond them as the Absolute itself of which he is a part.
The means to this end is to hold the mind-stuff free of all
impressions of thought thus making it a perfect vacuum.

An English poet expresses the reason in words perhaps
more comprehensible to the western mind:

If thou couldst empty all thyself of self,

Like to a shell dishabited,

Then would He fill it with Himself instead.

But thou art all fulfilled with very thou,

And hast such shrewd activity

That when He comes He says, “It is enow.

The place is full. There is no room for Me.”

All our own small activities and “busynesses” of mind
must be banished. There must be motionless stillness, or
banishment of thought and reason, before what is higher
than either—higher, no, but the only—can take their
place. In lower forms of consciousness the waves or
ripples in the mind-stuff still remain in the form of tendencies.
In this highest are no tendencies, nothing remains
out of which proceed the seeds of rebirth and

Do you ask what remains if consciousness and knowledge
are transcended? They are low states compared to
what lies beyond both. To the ignorant mind they may

seem to be Nothing, because extremes most truly meet.
In the very low vibrations of ether we get darkness; the
very high are also called darkness, for there also we cannot
see; but the one is darkness, the other perfect light.

“So”—to quote Vivekananda’s words—“though ignorance
is the lowest state and knowledge the highest, yet
the state of ignorance and that beyond knowledge appear
alike to us. . . . Then will the Soul know it had neither
birth nor death, want of neither heaven nor earth. That
it never went nor came, that it was only the phenomena
of nature, apparently moving past it, which convinced it
that in itself were change and movement. . . . Then the
freed soul can command, not pray. What it wills will
be fulfilled. What it wants it can do.”

Twentieth aphorism: “To some [this Samadhi]
comes through faith, memory, energy, concentration.”
In other words, by perfect spirituality. Those who study
the Christian scriptures carefully will in a measure understand
this aphorism, for there one may see it exemplified
in certain cases without the Yoga training.

Twenty-first aphorism: “Success is speedy for those
who long to attain Samadhi [the highest form of consciousness].”

Passing over many aphorisms I will come now to the
physical means of attainment.

The first physical step is changing the mental attitude.
This in India would be considered a physical step because
the mind belongs to the phenomenal world, the
world as reported by the senses. There must be feelings
of good-will to all—“peace on earth, good-will to men.”
We must react to no evil, to no ill-will, and that side of
renunciation being active stores up good energy in our

Next comes the government of the breath. The word
used in the aphorisms belonging to this section is prana.
Prana represents the sum total of energy in the Universe.
Whatever has life—and what has not?—is a manifestation

or prana. All is therefore according to Patanjali a
combination of prana (energy) and akasha (omnipresent
existence). But prana is not breath; it is that which
causes the breath. Mind-stuff draws in the prana or vital
energy, and manufactures from it the various mental
forces which preserve the body. And by controlling the
breathing processes the various motions in the body and
the nerve-currents can be controlled. It is the earliest way
in Yoga of getting in touch with vital processes.

Later yogins state that there are three main currents
of this vital energy in the body. One, they teach, flows
through the right side of the spinal column, another
through the left, and the third through a channel in the
middle of the spinal column. The right and left are vital
currents in every man, and through them all the functions
of life are performed. The third, that through the
middle, is latent in all but is used only by the yogin.

As Yoga is practiced, the body and its powers change.
It makes, as it were, new channels for its power, on the
same principle that formed habits may be said to make
such ruts in the brain that they become automatic. It is
obvious then that great and stedfast practice is needed
to form the new bodily and spiritual habits. I should
point out here that the directions as to deep and rhythmic
breathing and the utmost simplicity of eating and drinking
are more and more endorsed by modern medical
science. They endorse them empirically—that is from
watching the effects—for they do not know all the reasons
these things are needful; but that perhaps makes their
agreement more impressive.

How is this breathing to be done? The change must
be gradual at first, for we are accustomed only to surface-breathing
and this is a very different matter. We must
remember that the center which controls the breathing
system has a sort of controlling action over the nerve-currents,
and that this center is placed in our body in the
spinal column opposite to the thorax.

This is why breathing-practice is enjoined in Raja
Yoga. From rhythmic breathing comes a tendency for all
the molecules in the body to move in the same direction;
and this is needed, for when the mind is focused into will
the nerve-currents change into a motion resembling that
of electricity. The nerves have been proved to show
polarity under the action of electric currents. This indicates
the fact that when the will is transformed into nerve-currents
it has something of the force of electricity. So
the rhythmic breathing helps to transform the body into
a gigantic battery of will. When this is gained, the yogin
speaks of rousing the coiled-up power latent at the lower
end of the spinal cord.

Now the point of rousing that power into action is as

We know there are two kinds of action of the nerve-currents;
one sensory and one motor; one centripetal and
the other centrifugal. One carries sensation inward to
the brain; the other outward to the body; but all are connected
with the brain. Electric motion is produced only
when the molecules all move in the same direction. Now
when the force at the base of the spinal column is roused
it rises through the center of the spinal column, and reaching
that end of the canal which opens on the brain it helps
to bring about what is known in Yoga as the perception
which has no object.

All the sensations and motions are sent to the brain
through the network of nerve-fibers. The right and left
sides of the spinal column are the main channels through
which the efferent and afferent currents travel. But Yoga
teaches that the mind can send nerve-currents without
any network of nervous system, if you can break the bad
habit of depending only on the right and left channels.
Yoga states that if you can train yourself to use the central
channel in the spinal column you will solve this problem
and be rid of the problem of matter. It is taught that
when men pray with passionate fervor they unconsciously

loose a little of this coiled-up power and so receive the
answer—from outside as they suppose, but in reality from
the latent power within themselves.

When the released power travels upward to the brain
the reaction is tremendous; and when it reaches the brain
the centers of perception become as it were illuminated
with a great light.

The exercises are as follows:

Posture is important, for the body must be aware and
alert. Sit straight upright, the chest, neck, and head must
be in a straight line. First breathe in and out in a rhythmic
way. That brings harmony and tranquillity. Then
join to this the inward repetition of some sacred word.
Repetition is advised because the act of repetition sets up
certain rhythms and vibrations. The sacred word AUM
is chosen in India because of its mystic meanings. It is a
great sound-symbol and sums up all world sounds. It is
composed of three letters A, U, M. The first letter “A”
(pronounce as in French) is a root sound pronounced
without touching any part of the tongue or palate. The
“U” sound rolls from the very root to the end of the
sounding-board of the mouth. “M” concludes the series
and closes the lips on sound. And, for this and other reasons
relating to various trinities of thought and worship,
religious discipline in India has centered about this word.

Rhythm, concentration, and skilled breathing all tend
to banish the enemies of progress in the science of Yoga.
These are disease, sluggishness, doubt, indifference, pursuit
of sense-enjoyments, stupor, false perception, diffused
will, and restlessness. Grief, mental distress,
tremor of the body, and irregular breathing are hindrances

Concentration will bring perfect repose to body and
mind where it is rightly practiced.

Now for the first lesson in breathing after simple
rhythmic breathing has been attained.

Let the word AUM flow in and out with the breath

rhythmically. This is instead of the system of counting
to regulate the breath. Gradually you will perceive the
restful effect. It is better than sleep.

The second lesson when the first is learned is to
breathe rhythmically, using the nostrils alternately. Close
the right nostril. Draw the air slowly in through the left.
When the lungs are full, close the left nostril and exhale
the air slowly by the right. Repeat this process with
alternate nostrils. This must be practiced for a considerable
time to fit the pupil for higher breathing exercises.

The effect of this process will appear in the disappearance
of harsh lines from the face and mental calm.
It improves the voice immensely.

Then comes the third lesson. Fill the lungs with
breath through the left nostril and at the same time concentrate
the mind on the nerve-current it produces. Believe—know—that
you are sending this nerve-current
down the spinal column until it strikes with strength on
the last plexus at the base of the spine where is stored the
coiled-up energy alluded to. Hold the current there for
a while; then realize that you are slowly drawing out that
nerve-current with the breath into the other side and
slowly expel it through the right nostril. Since this is
difficult stop the right nostril with the thumb, and draw
in the breath through the left. Stop both nostrils with
thumb and forefinger while you realize you are sending
the current down the spinal column and striking the latent
force at its base. Then take the thumb off the right nostril,
still stopping the left, and thus exhale the air. And
so alternately.

At first begin by retaining the breath for four seconds.
Thus. Draw air in for four seconds, hold it for sixteen.
Throw it out in eight. Let all this be lessened if it is a
strain. This done three times and with alternate nostrils
represents one pranayama as it is called. Remember to
concentrate on the strength at the base of the spinal column.
Let the whole process be extremely gradual.

The next lesson is to inhale slowly and immediately
exhale slowly. Then do not inhale for the same number
of repetitions of AUM as in the previous lesson. At first
begin all these exercises with only four in the morning
and four in the evening.

One day the knowledge will come that the stored
force at the base of the spinal column is aroused and at
work. Then the whole aspect of nature will be changed,
and the book of knowledge will be opened. The highest
force in the body is ojas. This form of energy is stored-up
in the brain, and its quantity determines intellectuality
and spirituality. All forces in the body when not
frittered away go to form ojas. And especially the reproductive
and sexual energies when controlled are easily
transmuted into ojas. Thus chastity and continence are
an integral part of Yoga.

I think it should be noticed how in all the faiths when
it is desired to form spiritual experts this form of austerity
is not only recommended but enjoined. I believe
this to be instinct in the western developments of monasticism,
but in India it is science, for Yoga is the science of
religion. I have no space here to follow this thought
further, but I have found it well repays consideration.
Yoga insists upon the chastity of Hippolytus or Galahad
and issues the warning that without it there is danger.

We now come to concentration—a process most difficult
in the West yet necessary for achievement. I noted
in Count Keyserling’s “Travel Diary of a Philosopher”
that he recommends that this particular practice should
be taught in all our schools. If I may venture a personal
experience I may say I have found it invaluable. The
mind springs about like a monkey in a tree. One thought
slips over into another and dilutes it. You start a train of
thought and unconsciously are in another in a moment.
Impossible! Yet the thing can be controlled.

You first sit and let the mind run on. Watch the monkey
jumping. Take note of its tricks. Thoughts terrible,

even hideous, may flash past. Watch. But you must
sit as a spectator and distinct from what you watch. It
is the mind-stuff which is rippling, waving, wavering,
presenting distorted reflections. It is not you. You will
observe the distinction. Gradually the motion of the
mind-stuff will become less violent. While you watch, it
will tend to calm. It will slow down. Thought will be
less confused, mixed, and rapid. At last, and under the
influence also of stedfast resolution, it will calm gradually.
Finally it will be controlled. Then it can be
concentrated. This process, it will be noted, is to watch
and analyze the mind by focusing the ray of its own light
on itself and examining it by that illumination, a process
extremely rare in the West, where the power of the mind
is almost invariably directed to objective or outside

I may say here that I believe one value of the almost
universal practice of prayer is that, however poor and
small, for however unworthy objects, it is a form of concentration.
There may be—I firmly believe there is—truth
in the statements of great spiritual experts as to its
might when realized as a power.

Of course, as in all else, all depends upon practice—stedfast,
unhindered. The prize is great, but again the
warning of Patanjali should be repeated. Nothing can
be done without a teacher and one of the highest spirituality.

Chapter VII


WHEN the mind is controlled it must next be focused
on certain chosen points. Let us say certain parts
of the body to begin with. Say you concentrate on the
nose; after a while wonderful perfumes are smelled. If
on the tongue, strange and delicate flavors. On the ears
or eyes, beautiful sounds or lights may be perceived.
And since Yoga asks no one to take anything for granted
it puts forward these experiences that they may form tests
of truth. Concentration should later be on high and
sacred objects. Everyone will know what is his highest
and will choose that.

Indeed, in the whole of Yoga there is selection. Certain
points of it will for deep inherent reasons appeal to
some more than to others. Follow those. But certain
broad rules of high morality are the gateway for all, and
a very simple diet, avoiding flesh and alcohol is necessary.
There again I can add personal testimony to the value
of a food system which I have practiced for very many

This must be true. As the organism purifies itself
you must the more avoid disturbance. As a wise doctor
said to me, “You see mud best in a clean wineglass.” And
it is true that the finest organisms are most easily thrown
out of gear if foreign matter is thrust into them. But
here again, great is the reward, even on lower planes than
the beginnings of Yoga. I would say, indeed, that to
simplify the food with the right motive, and as far as
possible to exclude cruelties from it, is in itself a form

of Yoga and has fine results. I have set this forth in my
novel “The House of Fulfilment,” which is concerned
with the whole subject of Yoga, and shall say no more on
that special point here.

Now when concentration and meditation become systematic
and instinctive a very high point indeed is
reached. The three planes of meditation are, first, the
body as I have said above; then the mind-stuff and the intellectual
world; lastly the Absolute—at first in its various
aspects then in its one and unchanging. And, in meditating,
the yogin becomes a part of what he meditates
upon, as a crystal with red or blue behind it becomes red
or blue. Realizing that he shares its nature he absorbs
its powers. Here I quote a fine passage from Tennyson
which is pure Yoga and should be deeply considered as
a remarkable western experience of an oriental scientific

        For more than once when I

Sat all alone revolving in myself

The word that is the symbol of myself, [i.e., “I.”]

The mortal limit of the self was loosed,

And passed into the Nameless, as a cloud

Melts into Heaven. I touched my limbs—the limbs

Were strange, not mine—and yet no shade of doubt

But utter clearness, and through loss of self

The gain of such large life as matched with ours,

Were Sun to spark—unshadowable in words,

Themselves but shadows of a shadow world.

That indeed is the difficulty. One cannot relate one’s
experiences in words, for words belong to the world of
reason, not indeed a shadow world—Tennyson would
scarcely have used that image had he known his Vedanta
better—but a world where things are most erringly perceived.
We need a new dialectic for the knowledge of
psychic consciousness and of physical science, which is
pressing forward more eagerly every day to meet the
first and so flow with it, two rivers in one, to the ocean.

Max Müller says that these thoughts occurrent in the

great minds of the West show that the Indian leaven still
works in us. It seems that so it is. That it may work
more strongly and generally must be the hope of all who
dread the growth of materialism in western thought and

I do not for one moment deny that in some cases these
austerities of Yoga were carried too far and so defeated
their own end. This will appear in the experience of the
Buddha. We find the same exaggeration in the experiences
of the western mystic, especially in medieval times
where such men as Suso appear in their nail-studded
shirts. With that side of the subject I have no space to
deal, though it exists. True Yoga is in all things wise
and calm. I regret indeed that I have not space to give
a more detailed examination of the discipline. But the
bibliography appended will help those who wish to study
it further.

Now what are the powers inherent in Liberation of
the Soul, in passing “into the Nameless” as Tennyson puts
it? Here the belief of the western reader will be sorely
tried. Max Müller speaks of “the feeling of wonderment”

The technical name for these powers is the siddhis,
but avoiding foreign terms as I do I shall call them the
powers. I can mention only a few. But let it be remembered
they belong to the first or lower degree of ecstasy.
They are still concerned with the world-as-it-appears,
and therefore, though they have been used by such masters
as the Buddha and the Christ, it was always with
specified purpose and with what I may almost call a certain
element of constraint and distaste. The reason for
this is easily understood by those who have studied preceding

Patanjali expresses the truth that even omniscience or
omnipotence in earthly phenomena does not free the soul
from the chain of birth and death or unite it with the
source. Therefore let it be remembered that the powers,

however interesting, are not the goal of Yoga, and still
smell of earth.

A man on attainment of knowledge acquires a power
named samyama. This is the power of identifying himself
with any object. I must unwillingly use this Sanskrit
word, for English translations are circumlocutions. It
means, as it were, indenting upon any object to take possession
of its own powers. I can express it no better at the

Thus, “by making samyama on word, meaning, and
knowledge, which are ordinarily confused, a yogin may
understand all animal sounds,” says Patanjali. He will
understand the meaning of any sound whether expressed
by man or animal. Here I should direct attention to that
passage in the Acts of the Apostles, where every man
heard the apostles speak in his own tongue, whatever it
might be. To an Indian mind there would be nothing
strange in that statement. He would say they had made
samyama on their audience.

So in the same way a yogin can make samyama on any
man’s body, and enter into full knowledge of the nature
of his mind. Later, he can make samyama on his mind
and possess himself of its contents.

Again, by making samyama on his own body, he can
cut off its power of appearing as a perceived form, and
can thus appear to vanish. For, by the yogin who has
attained, the form of an object can be separated from the
object. Those who have read my chapters on the world
as a phenomenal world will see exactly how this can be.
The yogin does not really vanish, but the ideal of his
body becomes for the time unphenomenal; and indeed
he can also make samyama upon the power of sight in
those present and obstruct their view in consonance with
his act. Here I refer again to the Christian Scriptures,
where such disappearances are recorded.

By this, the power of making words or any object
disappear are explained. And by making samyama on

the impressions of his mind, which are now working and
about to work, a yogin knows exactly when his body will
die. The Hindus think this knowledge important because
the “Song Celestial” teaches that the thoughts at
the moment of separation of the soul and the perishable
body are of consequence in their impression on the intermediate
state before reincarnation. In the very singular
“Tibetan Book of the Dead,” to which I devote a succeeding
chapter, are allusions to this belief.

The Buddha, the greatest of yogins, has left clear specific
directions as to the attainment of the “one-pointed
state of mind.” They are of profound interest as coming
from him. I condense his words to his disciples:

“If, brothers, the disciple is living a life of virtue and
is possessed of mastery over the senses and filled with
clear consciousness he seeks out a dwelling in a solitary
place. He sits himself down with legs crossed, body
erect, mind present and fixed. Far from impressions that
allure the senses, but still reasoning and reflecting he enters
into the First Ecstasy, which is full of the rapture
and happiness born of concentration.

“And, after the suppression of reasoning and reflecting
the disciple attains the inward peace and oneness of mind
that is born of concentration, he attains the Second

“And, after the suppression of rapture, the disciple
dwells in equanimity and thus he enters the Third

“And, further, brothers, when the disciple has rejected
pain and pleasure, then he enters into the neutral clear-minded
state of the Fourth Ecstasy. This, brothers, is
called right concentration.

“Develop your concentration, brothers, for the monk
who has concentration understands things according to
their Reality. And what are these things? The arising
and passing away of form, feeling, subjective differentiation,
and consciousness.”

This is the highest opinion the world can offer on this

But to return:

By making samyama (or an indent) on the strengths
of friendship, mercy, and such qualities, a yogin may
excel in them, and remarkable instances of this are

When a yogin needs supernormal strength he may
have it in making a samyama upon (say) the strength of
the elephant. Infinite energy is at the disposal of any
man if he knows how to get it. And this is a part of the
science of Yoga. Again I call attention to stories in the
Old and New Testaments. Suppose for a moment that
Samson with his supernormal strength were a yogin—and
his unshorn hair oddly connects him with the Indian
conception of such a figure—it would be obvious instantly
to the Indian mind how Delilah deprived him of it. Not
indeed by cutting his hair, in which the ignorant supposed
the secret of his strength to lie, but by flinging him
into the stream of sensuality, whence he could no longer
make samyama on energy and thus returning him to
lower levels of consciousness. By making samyama on
the Effulgent One, knowledge of what is happening at a
distance or in places cut off by mountains can be had.
This is because the yogin whose soul is utterly freed is at
one with Omniscience and can draw upon it. And this
applies to all various forms of knowledge, which in reality
are all united in the One.

When the yogin makes samyama on the throat, sensations
of hunger and thirst cease. Respiration and the
heart’s action can also be made to cease. Here I refer
again to our Scriptures and to authenticated events in
India with regard to the power of the yogins in suspending
and renewing life.

When the soul is freed the yogin can by his powers
enter the body of another. In the Hindu story of the life
of Shankara, the great philosopher of the Advaita Vedanta,

I gave such a case, which is typical of many. The
yogin can enter a dead body, but also a living one by holding
its owner’s mind and organs in check. If he needs to
enter the body of another he makes samyama upon it, because
not only his soul but his mind has the quality of
universality. For each individual mind is part of the
universal mind, and he who has realized this from experience
has power to work upon each and all. Here I
suggest that such a power misused by a yogin who had
only attained the lower (or intellectual) form of Samadhi
would in India certainly be thought to account for certain
forms of what is termed “possession.”

By conquering the nerve-current that governs the
lungs and upper part of the body the yogin does not sink
in water. He can walk on thorns and sword-blades and
can leave this life when he will. Here I refer to many
stories in all the faiths, and it may be allowable to allude
to the ecstatic joy of the martyrs in what would have been
agony to ordinary humanity.

By making samyama on the relations between the ear
and akasha or etheric or universal force, the yogin can
hear supernormally at any distance. By making samyama
on the relation between akasha and the body the
yogin can levitate himself and pass through the air.
Again I allude to our Scriptures and the evidence given
for such events elsewhere. Can it be possible that the
undoubted answers to concentrated prayer are gained by
an unconscious samyama on the universal force? The
yogin would certainly answer yes.

With these powers may come the glorification of the
body in beauty, strength, and endurance. “Breaking the
rod of time the yogin may live in this universe with his
body.” For that man there is no more death or disease.
He possesses the elemental secret for renewal of the body
processes and of that from which they are renewed. This
will of course mean that the yogin will perceive time with
far other eyes than ours. He will not perceive it as a

flux, passing from minute to minute and hour to hour, but
in its static and eternal quality. Perhaps one has the right
to say he will perceive and use it as another dimension in
addition to those we know logically and through the reason
as length, breadth, and height.

By his knowledge the yogin will perceive beings on
other planes of being than those commanded by our own
normal perception.

It is almost needless to say that the yogin will have no
desire for heaven, which is a limited state, in so far as it
can be said to exist, and one offering no real enfranchisement
to the soul from the round of birth and death.

There is a curious view of the means of obtaining immortality
for the body which I must mention before I
quit the subject. Yoga claims that this can be attained by
chemical means. There was an Indian sect named the
Rasayanas, who, believing in Yoga, deplored the interruptions
that death made in a man’s acquisition of perfected
knowledge. Mind has manufactured the body—then
why cannot mind keep it in existence and in the state
in which it would have it? These people believed the
secret lay in chemistry. It was sought for especially in
certain combinations of such substances as mercury and
sulphur. Vivekananda states that many remarkable medicines
of today in India are owing to the Rasayanas, especially
the use of metals in medicine.

Some lower types of yogins use opium and self-hypnotism.

There are many yogins who believe that certain of
their principal teachers have not died, but still inhabit
their old bodies.

In this connection I may tell a story related by Max
Müller, who naturally approaches the subject with extreme
caution. I have alluded to what he says of his feeling
of wonderment. He also says (condensed):

“The same writer who can enter into the most abstruse
questions of philosophy will tell us with perfect good

faith how he saw his master sitting in the air several feet
above the ground. One instance of these miracles supposed
to have been wrought by a yogin in India must

“A writer with whom I have been in correspondence,
the author of a short life of his teacher Sabhapati Swami,
who was born in Madras in 1840, relates not only visions
which the young student had, but miracles performed in
the presence of many people. We are told that it was in
the twenty-ninth year of his age that Sabhapati, thirsting
for a knowledge of Brahman, had a vision of the Infinite
Spirit, who said to him:

“‘Know, O Sabhapati, that I, the Infinite Spirit, am
in all creations and all creations in ME. You are not
separate from ME, nor is any soul. I accept you as my
disciple, and bid you rise and go to the Agastya Ashrama
where you will find ME in the shape of sages and yogins.

“In the dead of the night, for it was one a.m. when
he saw this vision, Sabhapati left his family and traveled
all night until he reached the temple of Mahadeva
(Shiva) seven miles from Madras. There he sat for
three days and three nights in deep contemplation and
was again commanded in a vision to proceed to the
Agastya Ashrama. After many perils he reached it and
found there in a cave a great yogin, two hundred years
old, his face benign and smiling with divinity. He had
been expecting him. Sabhapati became his pupil, acquired
Brahman knowledge and practiced Samadhi (ecstasy)
until he could sit several days without food. After
seven years his teacher dismissed him with words which
sound strange in the mouth of a miracle-monger.

“‘Go, my son, try to do good to the world by revealing
the truths which you have learned from me. Be liberal
in imparting the truths which should benefit the householders.
But beware lest vanity or importunity should
lead you to perform miracles and show wonders to the

“Sabhapati seems afterwards to have taught in some
of the principal cities and to have published several
books, declining, however, to perform any miracles. In
1880 he was still living at Lahore. But though he declined
to perform miracles he has left us an account of
one performed by one of the members of his own order.

“About 180 years ago a yogin passed through Mysore
and visited the raja, who entertained him with great reverence
and hospitality. Meanwhile the Nawab of Arcot
paid a visit to Mysore, and they all went with the yogin to
his colleagues.

“The nabob being a Mussulman asked: ‘What power
have you that you arrogate to yourselves divine honor?
and what have you that you call yourselves divine persons?’

“A yogin answered: ‘Yes, we possess the full divine

“And he took a stick, gave divine power to it and
threw it into the sky. It was transformed into millions
of arrows and cut branches of the fruit-trees to pieces,
thunder roared, lightning flashed, rain fell in torrents.
In the midst of this conflict of the elements the voice of
the yogin was heard:

“‘If I give more power the world will be in ruins.’

“The people implored him to calm this havoc. He
willed and all ceased and the sky was calm as before.

“I do not,” adds Max Müller, “say that the evidence
here adduced would pass muster in a court of law. All
that strikes me is the simplicity with which everything is
told, and the unhesitating conviction on the part of those
who relate this. Of course we know that such things as
the miracle related here are impossible, but it seems almost
as great a miracle that such things should ever have
been believed and should still continue to be believed.
Apart from that, however, we must also remember that
the influence of the mind on the body and of the body on
the mind is as yet but half explored; and in India and

among the yogins we certainly meet, particularly in more
modern times, with many indications that hypnotic states
are produced by artificial means and interpreted as due
to an interference of supernatural powers in the events of
ordinary life.”

I quote this long passage because all qualified to judge
know that Max Müller is a scholar deserving the utmost
respect in every matter relating to the philosophies of
India, and is furthermore a scholar of extremest caution
in all his statements. That caution will be seen in his
treatment of the above events. I take issue with his use
of the word “supernatural” in connection with the point
of view of yogins in such matters, because no true yogin
would admit for an instant that these or any such happenings
could be supernatural. The word “supernatural”
implies the breaking or suspension of a law, and that can
never be. They would say they were supernormal—much
above the common, naturally, but strictly in conformity
with a higher knowledge of law.

I should not have quoted this passage but for its
authorship, because very much clearer and more careful
observations have been made by a European, a Frenchman
named Jacolliot, who was chief justice of Chandernagore,
and spent many years in India in investigating
the occult and recording his own direct observations and
conclusions. I have given a full and exhaustive account
of them in my book “The Way of Power” and cannot include
them here. His own expression is that he records
things as he saw them, without taking part in the dispute
as to their cause.

I think it is not too much to say of Max Müller that
he is not inclined to disagree with the chain of philosophy
involved in Yoga, but that he shrinks, as a European
would, from the conclusions to which it leads. That at
least is the impression left on my own mind by close
study of his works. As to the effect of Yoga in its form of
concentration, in sharpening and strengthening the intellectual

powers, I assert fearlessly that there can be no
doubt at all upon the subject.

In reference to the conception of time in Yoga, I must
give a very interesting passage, interesting because it is
so closely related to some modern conceptions on that

Vivekananda explains Patanjali’s aphorism on the
subject as follows:

“Patanjali speaks of the succession of time. Patanjali
here defines the word ‘succession’ as the changes
which exist in relation to moments while we go on thinking.
With each moment there is a change of idea, but we
perceive these changes only at the end of a series. This
is called ‘succession.’ For the mind that has realized omnipresence,
there is no succession. Everything has become
present for it. That is to say, to that mind the present
alone exists, and the past and future are lost. Time
stands controlled by it, and all knowledge flashes into it
in a second.”

Vivekananda does not here put what he means very
well, though his meaning is perceptible. He should not
say “past and future are lost.” They are only lost in the
sense that they are perceived—past, present, and future—as
unity—the eternal Now. Nor should he use the expression
“a second.” A second is as much a division of
the phenomenal succession of time as a century. However,
I think the meaning of his comment on Patanjali’s
remarkable aphorism is clear enough.

It is desirable that I should give some passages from
the Upanishads themselves that it may be seen on what
the philosophy of Yoga has been built. The philosophy
of Yoga, though inchoate, was ancient when these were
comparatively young.

The Svetasvatara Upanishad says:

“Where fire is churned or produced by rubbing [for
sacrifice], where air is controlled [by Yoga practices],
then the mind attains perfection.

“Placing the body in a straight posture, with the chest,
throat and head held erect, making the organs, together
with the mind, perfectly established in the lotus of the
heart, the sage crosses all the fearful currents of ignorance
by means of the raft of Brahman.

“The man of well-regulated effort controls the prana
with its other manifested forms, and when it has become
quieted breathes out through the nostrils. The persevering
sage should hold his mind as a charioteer holds the
restive horses.

“By taking shelter in caves where there is not too
much wind, where the floor is even free from pebbles and
sand and fear of fire, where there are no disturbing noises
from men or waterfalls, and in places helpful to the mind
and pleasing to the eyes, the mind is to be joined in Yoga.

“Forms with appearances like snow, smoke, sun, wind,
fire, firefly, lightning, crystal, and moon, gradually manifest
the Brahman in Yoga.

“When the five-fold perceptions of Yoga, arising from
[concentrating in the mind as] earth, water, light, air and
ether, have appeared to the yogin, then he has become
possessed of a body made up of the fire of Yoga and will
not be touched by old age, disease, or death.

“The first signs of entering Yoga are lightness of body,
health, thirstlessness of mind, clearness of complexion, a
beautiful voice, an agreeable odor in the body, and scantiness
of excretion.

“As gold or silver covered with earth, when cleaned,
shine full of light, so the embodied man, seeing the truth
of the Universal Self as One, attains the goal and becomes

Here is a quotation by Shankara from the Brihadaranyaka
Upanishad. The interlocutor is a woman named

“Practicing the desired postures according to the
rules, the yogin will become their conqueror. Seated on
a deer or tiger skin and first worshiping Ganapati (the

lord who removes obstacles) with fruit and sweetmeats,
he will then resign himself to his care, take an easy posture,
and place his right palm on his left. Then, according
to the prescribed way, he will sit facing the east or
north, and hold his throat and head in the same line, with
lips closed, body perfectly immovable, and eyes fixed on
the tip of the nose.

“He should avoid too much food or fasting, in accordance
with the prescribed way, for without it his
practices will be fruitless. [The directions are here repeated.]
. . . This should be practiced for three or four
years or three or four months according to the instructions
of one’s master, in secret—that is to say, alone in a
room—in the early morning, at midday, in the evening,
and at midnight, until the nerves become purified. Lightness
of body, clear complexion, and good appetite are
the signs of purification of the nerves.” Then follow the
breathing directions, etc.

It must be fully realized that bodily health is made an
essential of Yoga. As Radhakrishnan finely says the body
can be made the basis either of animal incontinence or
divine strength. This is a basic principle of Yoga. We
are to control the body, not to torture it. Therefore we
must abstain from stimulating drugs, foods, and drinks.
As to the respiratory exercises, they are endorsed by eminent
medical men, as a means of strengthening the heart’s
nutrition and action. But it must be remembered that
Yoga, especially in its more advanced stages, calls for
great endurance and should never be undertaken alone.
A teacher is essential.

Lest this philosophy should be thought “Indian” and
“emotional” let me quote another great European in
whom “the leaven of the Indo-Aryan” evidently still persisted.
I allude to Schelling, the German philosopher.
In his “Philosophical Letters upon Dogmatism and Criticism”
he says:

“In all of us there dwells a secret marvelous power of

freeing ourselves from the changes of time, of withdrawing
to our secret selves away from external things, and of
so discovering to ourselves the eternal in us in the form
of unchangeability. This presentation of ourselves to
ourselves is the most truly personal experience, upon
which depends everything we know of the supersensual
world. This presentation shows us for the first time what
real existence is while all else only pretends to be. At
that time we annihilate time and duration of time. We
are no longer in time, but time, or rather eternity itself,
is in us. The external world is no longer an object for
us, but is lost in us.”

This is pure Yoga.

As I have said there are different aspects of Yoga for
different natures and some are apparently born (India
would say as a result of karma) with faculties in that
direction partially or highly developed. I repeat that
the powers are considered as of no spiritual value in themselves.
The Buddha unfrocked a monk for using them,
though on some special occasions, like the Christ, he permitted
and used them. But Yoga does not recognize only
one way of attainment. Besides the disciplined Yoga of
which I have given a description are three other roads to
perfect freedom of the soul. I will mention them very
briefly for I have dealt with them fully in another book.
There is Karma Yoga—to live a life of good deeds and
devoted family and social service.

There is Bhakti Yoga—the life of utter love and passionate
devotion, which, because love is the great breaker
of the prison of selfhood and false individuality, must
also lead to perfect freedom. And there is Jnana Yoga,
the insight—the cold white flame of pure reason, which
thrown upon the Mind will search out and destroy its
weaknesses, blindnesses, and follies.

But the straightest, swiftest road to freedom in right
hands is that of which Patanjali has compiled the guidebook.

Many will attribute much, if not all, contained in these
two chapters on Yoga to self-hypnotism, or fraud. Only
those can judge who have closely studied the subject;
and it must not be denied or overlooked that in parts of
India the ignorant have identified some of the Yoga detailed
by Patanjali with the baser forms of the Tantric
cult, and that the fraud and charlatan are always with
us whether in East or West. But allowing for all these,
my own convictions have brought me to the decision
that as an integral and noble part of Indian philosophy,
however tinctured with early superstition and later degradations,
it would not be possible to omit it. It teaches
that by faith and concentration we may transcend the
normal limits of human vision, and realize that these do
not limit the universe.

This subject of Yoga is a high and difficult one. At
points there is symbolism that only the instructed can
pierce and reach the truth behind. Remember also that
Yoga is in many respects a key to the highest teachings
of the Indian philosophies, including that of the Buddha.
The Buddhism of Ceylon and Burma shrinks from this
conclusion because Buddha asserted that he held nothing
back “in a closed fist” from his disciples. True, but these
disciples did not think that the meat for men is diet for
babes; and in Tibet and elsewhere it is held that in the
Buddhist faith are teachings “ear-whispered” from master
to pupil from time immemorial; and these were studied
at the great Buddhist university at Nalanda where the
occult held its due place in the curriculum.

I end this chapter with a sentence from Radhakrishnan
which may serve to endorse the value of Yoga as a
gift to the West. We are only beginning to realize what
great gifts India brings us, gifts not to be feared but welcomed,
as she will welcome the best of ours. With this
saying of Radhakrishnan’s I fully agree.

“It is good to know that the ancient thinkers required

of us to realize the possibilities of the soul in solitude and
silence, and to transform the flashing and fading moments
of vision into a steady light which could illumine the
long years of life.”

Chapter VIII


EVEN in India are many misconceptions as to what is
meant by the enfranchisement of the soul as taught
in Vedantic philosophy—that enfranchisement by which
the perceptions are cleared and the inward sight sees the
universe as it is in truth. This subject begins to be
touched in western philosophy. Dr. Bucke wrote a book
chiefly upon western experiences which he called “Cosmic
Consciousness”; and in books by other writers allusions
to the subject are increasing, though for want of
knowledge of Vedantic teaching they are not perhaps
very well understood by the general reader.

In writing in this chapter of “The Song of the Lord,”
or “Song Celestial” (the “Bhagavad Gîta”), this mystic
state of consciousness cannot be passed over, because that
famous and noble book offers one of the most remarkable
descriptions of the way to it and the achievement.

In India exist two great epics in some respects comparable
to the Homeric epics in that they embody the
lives or legends of national heroes—or those who have
attained to that position by reason of their place in these
national epics. But there is a great difference. The
Indian epics exist to represent not only history and patriotism
but also the philosophy and religion of the people.

Like the Homeric heroes the Indian protagonists are
often of immortal descent. The gods move through the
pages at home with them. But moral and philosophic
lessons are drawn which have the weight and sanctity of
scriptures. And the Mahabharata and Ramayana may

in consequence be said to be the Bibles of the people as
well as their inexhaustible treasure-houses of story. The
Mahabharata is sometimes honored with the title of the
Fifth Veda.

A treasury of story indeed! I read almost daily in
both, marveling at the vast fertility, the tropic splendor
of romance unfolded in either, but still more at the nobility
of ideals set forth, the great passion for the Unseen,
the Beautiful, and Entirely Desirable, both in man and
woman, which has always been the soul of India.

The Mahabharata is a vast poem, a world in itself.
It consists of about 100,000 shlokas or stanzas. It comes
from the hand of no one man. It is not even a compilation
in the strictest sense of the word. It would seem to
have grown by the force of accretion; legends, reflections,
parables, fitting in here and there as if drawn by affinity.

It is thought that the nucleus of the story began about
3000 b.c. in the subject of a struggle between two clans
for the mastery in the country now known as Sirhind, between
the Jumna and Sutlej rivers. That in itself was as
simple a story as the rape of Helen and the Trojan wars,
but it grew and grew. Through its stages of growth I
will not follow, for that would take volumes and I am
concerned only with a part. In this vast and little-known
epic—a series of gorgeously colored romances of lovely
queens and mighty kings, full of a fascination that only
those who care for true romance can realize—lies embedded
a pearl of whose beauty and luster the world is
aware. It is known as the Lord’s Song—or the Song
Celestial—and it represents one of the highest flights of
the conditioned spirit to its unconditioned Source ever
achieved. It is assigned to the fifth century b.c. though
opinions as to dates vary.

William von Humboldt voices the opinion of many in
describing it as “the most beautiful, perhaps the only true
philosophical song existing in any known language.”

The story is briefly this. It is a struggle between the

powers of good and evil, of justice and injustice. The
good is represented by the five Pandava princes, brothers—one
of them the King Yudishthira—and their wife the
Princess Draupadi, who represents all that is noble and
desirable in womanhood. Evil is represented by their
cousins the Kuru princes.

I wish I had space for the adventures and deadly insults
which led finally to a great pitched battle for supremacy
at Kurukshetra. Of the five Pandava princes,
Arjuna, the great archer, with his mighty bow Gandiva,
is the most human and lovable. He is about to enter the
fight, terrible in destruction as a god, and his friend the
god Krishna, most beloved of all Indian deities, has honored
him by acting as his charioteer. The air resounds
with war-cries and drums and the furious roar of conch-shells,
each called by its name as though it were a living

The High-Haired One [Krishna] blew Panchajanya. The

Wealth-Winner [Arjuna] blew God’s Gift. The

Doer of Grim Deeds, Wolf-Bowel, [Bhima, a Pandava prince] blew the great conch Paundra.

The wild roar cleft the hearts of the enemy and made the heavens and the earth to ring.

Arjuna shouts to Krishna:

“Set my chariot, O Never-Failing, midway between the two armies, while I behold those with whom I must strive.”

All is ready for the decisive battle. Arjuna looking
over the battlefield perceives his brothers led by King
Yudishthira the eldest. But on the other side, though he
sees the hated Duryodhana and others who have insulted
and trampled their rights, he beholds also beloved, reverenced,
and kindred faces, the noble Bhishma and others,
cousins and friends whom he loves and honors. Suddenly
the horror of civil war and, above all, war between
kindred rushes upon him and brings with it a crisis very

well known to psychologists, which may be called the
Dark Night of the Soul. Henceforth he represents the
eternal question of mankind, as Job does in the Hebrew

He turns to the god Krishna, his charioteer, who has
already set his chariot midway between the opposing
hosts, and speaks:

“As I look, O Krishna, upon these kinsfolk meeting for battle,
my limbs fail and my face withers. Trembling comes upon my
body and the upstanding of hair.

Gandiva [the bow] falls from my hand and my skin burns.
I cannot stand in my place. My mind whirls.

Contrary are the omens, O Long-Haired One! I see no blessing
from the slaughter of kinsfolk.

I desire not victory, O Krishna, nor kingship nor delights.
What shall kingship avail me, O Lord of Herds, or pleasures of

Teachers, fathers, sons, grandsons, kinsmen also! These though
they smite me, I would not smite.

O Troubler of the Folk, shall not we with clear sight see the
sin of destroying a race?

Ah me! a heavy sin have we resolved to do, that we strive to
slay our kin from lust after the sweets of kingship.

Better it were for me if these folk with armed hand should slay
me unresisting in the fight.”

So spake Arjuna and sat down on the seat of the chariot and
he let fall his bow and arrows, for his heart was heavy with

This section is entitled “The Rule of Arjuna’s Despair.”
The next is called the “Communion of the
Blessed Krishna and Arjuna.” Krishna speaks:

“Why, O Arjuna, has come upon you this defilement such as is
felt by the ignoble? Cease from this base faintness of heart, O
Affrighter of the foe!”

Arjuna speaks:

“O Madhu’s Slayer, how shall I contend against Bhishma and
Drona who are worthy of honor?

More blest would it be to eat the food of beggary without the
slaughter of noble masters.

We know not which is best, whether that we should overcome
them or they overcome us.

My soul is stricken with the stain of unmanliness; my mind all
unsure of the Law, I ask you, ‘Tell me clearly the more blest way.
I am your disciple. Teach me.’”

So spoke to Krishna the Terror of Foes.

“I will not war!” he said to the Lord of Herds, and so made
an end of speaking. And as he sat despairing the High-Haired
Lord with seeming smile spoke.

“You grieve over those for whom grief is unmeet. The instructed
grieve not at all either for those whose lives are fled or
for those who live.

Never have I not existed. Never have you nor these princely
men not existed. Never shall the time come when we do not exist.

As the body’s tenant [the soul] goes through childhood, manhood
and old age in his body, so does it pass to other bodies.

It is [only] the stirring of the instruments of the senses that
begets cold and heat, pleasure and pain. It is they that come and
go and do not stay. Bear with them, son of Pritha!

But know that THAT which pervades the Universe is imperishable.
None can destroy that Changeless One. It is the bodies
of the Everlasting, Incomprehensible Body-Dweller which [only]
have an end. Therefore fight!

He who thinks one man a slayer and thinks the other slain is
without perception. This [soul] slays not nor is it slain.

This never is born nor dies, nor can it ever come to non-existence.
This unborn, everlasting Ancient is not slain when the body
is slain. As a man lays aside outworn garments and takes others
that are new, so the Body-Dweller puts away outworn bodies and
goes to others that are new.”

(It may be interesting here to give Sir Edwin Arnold’s
translation of this passage:

Nay, but as when one layeth

His worn-out robes away,

And taking new ones sayeth,

“These will I wear to-day!”

So putteth by the spirit

Lightly its garb of flesh,

And passeth to inherit

A residence afresh.)

Krishna continues:

“You do ill to sorrow for any born beings. To a warrior there
is nothing more blest than a lawful strife.

Happy the warriors, O son of Pritha, to whom such an unsought
strife opens the door of Paradise. Holding in indifference pleasure
and pain, gain and loss, conquest and defeat, make ready for the
fight! Thus shall you touch no sin.

Therefore do your deeds indifferent to gain or failure. Set
yourself to the Rule. Skill in works is the Rule.”

Arjuna speaks still pleading in doubt for knowledge
of the Rule. How shall a man say in these matters?
What do? Krishna replies. A strange scene for such an
argument with the battle-field set, swords loosened, arrows
on the string. Yet all pauses, as it were, for the end
of this strange drama.

“He who is without desire for anything and neither loves nor
loathes whatever fortune befall him has wisdom securely based.

When such a one draws in the feelers of his senses as a tortoise
retracts its limbs he has wisdom securely based.

Only he who entirely holds back his senses from desire of the
sense-objects has wisdom securely rooted.

The man who casts off all desires with no thought of mine or
me enters the peace.

This is the state of abiding in Brahman, O son of Pritha. He
that has entered it is not confounded. If even at his last hour he
enters he passes to absorption in Brahm.”

So the soul is the only pure and untainted spectator of
the struggles of mind and body. The idea of struggle, of
right- and wrong-doing, is confined only to the world as
the senses present the world. It is a dream—or rather a
distortion. Let the prince rise above it to the Truth—the
passionless impassivity of the soul! But yet Arjuna
is not at peace, and still the battle waits. Again he questions
the Troubler of the Folk what is the certain way by
which he can win to assurance in this dreadful entanglement
of right and wrong.

The god answers:

“In this world the foundation is two-fold. There is the Wisdom
Rule, and the Rule of good deeds without being hampered by
good deeds.

No man can be idle, therefore do your ordained deeds according

to the Law, for deeds are better than idleness. Even the subsistence
of the body cannot be gained from idleness.

[But yet] the world is fettered by deed excepting in the deed
which has sacrifice for its aim. Fulfil your deeds with this aim and
stand free from attachment [to your deeds], O son of Pritha.”

In the lines that follow the god points out how he also
works in the world of appearances as man knows it, and
how it would fall into ruin if he did not. Yet how he is
Changeless, Unmoving throughout. Here is magnificently
drawn the picture of the Personal God who is but
an image cast on the mind of man—a distorted image—of
the Unchanging Absolute. In other words, here He
presents the Truth, and beside it the relative partial truth
by which man must live in this world until he has attained
the higher perception.

“There is nothing in the Three Worlds that I must needs do,
nothing that I have not. Yet I work.

Deeds are done by the Moods of Nature. I created the Four
Castes according to this Order of Moods and Deeds. Know that
I am the Doer of that deed, yet I do no deeds. I am Unchanging.

Deeds are done altogether [only] by the appearances of Nature
but he whose self is confounded by the thought of ‘I’ imagines ‘I
am the doer of these.’

But the man who knows the truth of the two orders of aspects
and deeds, O Mighty Armed One, knows that appearances dwell
in appearances, and he has no attachment.

Casting off all your deeds upon Me, fixed on the One Absolute
Self, be without desire and without a ‘me’ or ‘mine.’ And fight!

Those who fulfil My teaching are released from deeds.”

But Arjuna, still seeing this serene blue dimly through
the mists of earth’s passions, must still question.

“Then what moves a man to sin, dragged ever against his will
as if violently?”

Krishna speaks:

“Love and anger, sprung from fiery desire, mighty to devour,
mighty to evil, these are the foe. As fire is smothered in smoke,
as a mirror with soilure, as the germ by a membrane, so is the
world observed.

The knowledge of the wise man is obscured by this his eternal
shape-changing enemy, hard to drive off and greedy.

The sense-instruments, mind, and reason are called its seat.
Through these it confounds the body’s Tenant, hiding knowledge.

But, knowing the Self to be higher than reason and leaning
your self on Self, O Mighty One, slay this difficult foe.”

Here follows a beautiful passage in which the Rule
of Good Deeds, the Rule of Wisdom, the Rule of the discipline
of the yogin, and that of loving devotion to the
Divine are all gathered together like marshaled warriors
for an attack on that conception of the world presented by
the false report of the senses. Bliss consists in following
in the spirit of true and joyous renunciation. There is
bliss in doing these things, but beyond even these there is
a higher bliss in renouncing them one and all, when the
true perception is reached which transcends them.

“Therefore arise, son of Bharata’s race, and comprehend the
Law, slaying with the sword of wisdom this unbelief in the Self,
an unbelief which lurks born of ignorance in your heart.”

And still Arjuna cannot understand. How is it possible
there should be a state above good deeds? And still
patient the Divine Charioteer expounds:

“He who knows the Truth knows well that he does no deeds at
all though he sees, eats, wakes, sleeps, breathes. For he remembers
that the sense-instruments are the objects of the sense-instruments.”

(Therefore they are as illusory as the senses themselves.)

“The Supreme accepts neither any man’s sin nor his good deed.

The instructed see indifferently a wise and accomplished Brahmin
or an outcaste, knowing that I am He in whom sacrifice and
austerity meet, the Sovereign of all, the world’s friend of all beings
he wins to peace.”

Then follows a superb and mystic passage on the
serene detachment of the yogin, “abiding alone in a secret
place, utterly subdued in mind, without desire and without
possessions, calm of spirit, perfect in the vow of
chastity, given over to Me.”

How great is the charm by which these thinkers of
India, extinguishing every desire but the desire for the
One, the Alone, draw the soul by a fascination irresistible
as the music of Krishna’s own Flute that whoso hears
must follow! Magnificent are the teachings of the
Upanishads, most wonderful the commentaries upon them
of Shankara and the Sankhya—that other brilliant and
akin system of high philosophy—but the Song Celestial,
in which all these struggle, as it were, for agreement, is
more divinely beautiful than all. It may be that its setting
helps it—the silent-waiting battle-field, the tortured
soul of Arjuna, the serene presence of the conditioned
deity, who yet in another aspect is the Unconditioned;
but in all spiritual writing I know none that wins the
heart and allegiance like this, or so overflows the soul with

The unearthly music proceeds:

“He who sees Me in all things and all in Me, he cannot be lost
to Me nor I to him.”

But still Arjuna trembles beyond the border of Realization.
How can the fitful, fickle human mind stay itself
on so great a certainty? Suppose he essays, but swerves
from human appearances of good thought and deeds and
the like, and so does not reach the eternal Truth; what
then? Will he not have sold his birthright for a mess
of pottage? Who can be sure of reaching so high, so
terrible a goal?

There comes an assurance of eternal beauty in word
and meaning:

“Son of Pritha, neither here nor in that Other World is there
destruction for him, for none that seeks righteousness, beloved, can
come to harm.

He that falls from The Rule [still] wins to the worlds of them
that do right deeds and dwells there many years. And then he is
born in the house of pure and well-doing people.

There he is given the lordship of the knowledge which he had
in his former body.”

In other words he has not lost by his former attempt
to scale the Unthinkable. He has made a blessed place
for himself, whence he may renew the attempt.

“For he is led onward (as it were) without will of his own by
that former striving.”

He will surely in the end know the Absolute Truth,
for the Self in him is drawing him to Itself.

“There is nothing higher than I, O Winner of Wealth. All
this Universe is strung upon me as rows of jewels upon a string.

I am the taste in water, the light in sun and moon, the AUM
in the Vedas, manhood in man.

The Might of the mighty and the Heat of the fire, the Wisdom
of the wise, the Splendor of the magnificent.

From me come the moods of goodness, fire, and melancholy. I
am not in them but they are in Me.

And bewildered by these three moods the whole universe fails
in understanding that I sit above them and am Changeless.

For my divine magic of moods is hard to see through, but they
who cling to me transcend this magic.”

Hearing this loveliness the prince climbs a step higher
into the Void. He trembles now on the verge of

“What is this Brahman? What is this One Self?”

The Lord speaks:

“It is the Imperishable; the Supreme. [But] the creative force
that brings life into being wears the name of Deeds.

The worlds pass and are gone, but for them who have come to
Me is no rebirth.

Now will I declare a royal mystery.

By me, Formless, is this universe filled. When a cycle is ended,
all beings reenter into my Nature. When a cycle begins again I
remold them.

Yet I am not fettered by deeds, O Winner of Wealth, for I am
indifferent and unattached to deeds. But to those who desire me
I give power to win and maintain.

They who worship other gods, and offer to them with faith, in
truth make offering to me though not according to ordinance.

For I am He that has lordship of all sacrifices.

If an eager one sets before me a leaf, a flower, water, I am
content with this devotion.

Even they that are born of sin turning to me enter the High

So it proceeds and Arjuna, catching flame at fire, at last
breaks into the cry:

“Supreme art Thou, Supreme Glory, perfect in power and

And, hearing as the mystic song proceeds, he is swept
away, battle-field, himself, all forgotten; and he prays for
the Vision of the Supreme Consciousness of the Supreme.

“Show me Thy Changeless Self, O Sovereign of the Rule!”

And in a flash he sees:

As if the light of a thousand suns should suddenly rise in the

Nowhere so greatly is the vision set forth as here. I have
not space for it.

Thereupon the Winner of Wealth, struck with bewilderment,
hair standing on end, bowing his head, with clasped hands addressed
the Divine.

“God, in Thy body I see all the gods. As moths with exceeding
speed seek a fire so Thou devourest and lickest up the worlds.”

I cannot give what follows—the trembling speech of
the mortal on whom the Divine breaks in a wave of thunder.
It must be read uncondensed and as it is. The Lord

“I am Time that works the destruction of worlds when they are
ripe. How can these warriors live even if you strike not! By me
they (and all) are doomed to death. Arise! Fight!”

So it proceeds and in the end fulfilled with understanding,
Arjuna speaks:

“Bewilderment is ended. By Thy Grace I have received wisdom.
Freed am I from doubt. I will obey.”

And like a mighty warrior he acquits himself in the
battle, conquering and to conquer. And all is better than

Ended is this book of the Song.

What I have given is only the condensation of a few

Those who read the Song Celestial must not expect
any logical solution of the problem of how the Absolute
becomes for the moment the conditioned or personal God.
Logic has no foothold in such spheres. The sole answer
is that Arjuna has at first eyes only for that plane. He
sees the deity from the human plane, and therefore sees
him under—shall we call it—semi-human conditions.
Later his eyes are opened: he realizes the Absolute, and
all problems are solved for him or rather exist no longer.

There can be no higher expression of united religion
and philosophy than the Bhagavad Gîta—no more powerful
expression of the four Yogas by which the spirit of
man may live; the four roads which are yet one and indivisible.
The word maya to which I have alluded before
is often used in the Song Celestial. Perhaps the best
translation in this case may be “partial consciousness,”
which of course results in distorted and therefore entirely
misleading views as to the real constitution of the Universe.
It is sometimes alluded to as the “magic” of the

It will be noted that when Arjuna receives the flash
of universal consciousness it comes in the form of more
than mortal light. As it says in the Song Celestial:

“Another sun shines there!—another moon.

Another light, not dusk, nor dawn nor noon.

And they who once beholding come no more—

They have attained My peace—life’s utmost boon.”

But the light at first dazzles. Thus says one of the
books on the Vedanta: “It is light inside, light outside, a

light alone and holier than holy. It is the Light that
lights all light, Uncaused. And it is the light of the

So when the Indian saint Ramakrishna Paramahamsa,
who died about forty years ago, received the higher consciousness,
it is told that he was passing through the
corn-fields near his native village when suddenly he beheld
“glory” and lost all sense-consciousness. Afterwards
he was able to describe it. He said:

“The Living Light does not burn. It is like the light
of a jewel, shining yet soft, cool, and soothing. It does
not burn. It brings peace and bliss.”

Yet I think this varies in different experiences. In the
case of St. Paul it was a searing, blinding flash, but this
may be perhaps accounted for by his former violences
and persecutions. The spirit may have been insufficiently
prepared in certain directions.

In the case of Mohammed the experience is said to
have befallen him in the solitude of a cave on Mount
Hera, about three leagues from Mecca, where he was lost
in meditation. As in the night he lay wrapped in his
mantle he heard a voice calling, and when he uncovered
his head, a flood of unearthly light broke upon him so
intolerable that he swooned away. It was an illumination
of the understanding also, and he “beheld the decrees
of God.”

Sometimes the revelation comes in the form of a flood
of joy, which is described in India as “indivisible Existence,
Knowledge, and Absolute Bliss.” There can never
be any more grief or perplexity for those who have once
been submerged in this shining ocean.

In India, in relation to this consciousness, all roads
lead home. A prayer daily repeated by millions says:

“As different streams, having different sources and
with wanderings crooked or straight, all reach the sea,
so, Lord, the different paths which men take, guided by
their different tendencies, all lead to Thee.”

In all who receive this consciousness appears the
Vedantic realization that perception means wisdom as
opposed to ignorance and that such phrases as good and
evil are left behind and below.

I should like to point how small beside this attainment
of the higher consciousness and true supermanhood (to
which I should have given volumes instead of pages)
appears the Nietzschean ideal of the superman, and yet
how likely to catch the more superficial spiritual sense of
Europe. It cannot even be said to be original in all that
is of worth in it. Confucius had conceived the superman
two millenniums before, and India in the Vedantic
and Buddhist systems had given the world an ideal of
what the highest form of manhood might be.

But neither India nor China had divested that ideal
of what it pleases Nietzsche to call “slave morality.” It
still kept the chivalry of pity. A very good case for
Nietzsche can be made if that side of his unbalanced
teaching is omitted; but never if it is surveyed as a whole.
There are sentences which seem to place him in the ranks
of those who have perceived, but his pendulum always
swings back into the darkness.

Nietzsche has the underbred scorn for the weak and
sorrowful. The Vedanta, with the Buddha and the
Christ, scorns self-pity and mercy to one’s own weakness—for
these there is no room in the morality of any of the
three. And all three crave power, for a man must acquire
much stored power before he can use it to guide
and control others. They recognized that no blind man
can lead another; but they never identify virtue with
power, for they know that power is only a part of virtue—a
part which if it is permitted command will result in
what is called in Yoga the Lesser Samadhi, where excelling
knowledge and intellect uncontrolled by love and
wisdom will lead a man into the frightful excesses of absolute
power, of which the world has seen examples.

There is no room in modern life for scornful supremacy

of the Nietzsche brand. For this man, who was
blind to the higher values, there is no place save as a historic
memory in the coming synthesis of philosophy and
science. Most truly he calls himself a decadent, he who
enthrones the base individual selfhood in man.

The superman thus preached by a crazy decadent opposes
the greatest philosophies of all time, and it was
surely the reply of ironic Fates that the creator of the
European ideal of the superman died helpless and broken
in brain.

Having omitted the mention of other European philosophers,
I have recalled Nietzsche only because in some
respects he is Europe’s answer to the Vedanta. It is to
be wished that he with his great gifts had known and
studied it more fully. We should not then have heard
the blind statement that the superman is not yet born,
nor have inherited the flat axiom: “Demand nothing of
yourselves contrary to probability.” He had never mastered
the implications of evolution; an old-fashioned outworn
mode was his, glittering with the lacquer of a brilliant
modernity but no more. Requiescat in pace, and
may Europe emancipate itself from the shadow of his
“tragic optimism”!

Because it is not necessary to the understanding of the
Hindu spirit, nor to any but students of philosophy, I
have not dwelt upon all the six systems based on the
Vedanta as I have on those of Shankara and the “Bhagavad
Gîta.” I have felt that the processes of reasoning
were of less importance to the general reader than the
large result. Yet, for those who care to study, all the six
systems have deep importance.

How profound in the Mimansa is the thought that the
whole universe is only the meaning of words, in other
words, that only the idea is real! How great the Vaishnava
with its insistence that the Divine may be adored
through the senses, and that every earthly passion may
thus be transmuted into divinity! Even where they appear

destructive and contradictory the heart of them is
clear of earthly taint. See compassion pushed even to
the extreme by the Jaina system, or comprehend the brilliant,
logical clearness with which the Nyaya rights what
it considered the skepticism of Buddhism. It is not wonderful
that it has been held to be one of the four limbs
of the Veda and that Manu recognized it as holy. Even
such a realistic system as Nyaya contributed, as do the
other five, to the spiritualization of life.

Where Shankara outsoars it, is in his knowledge that
the methods of reason cannot be applied to the higher
flights of religion and philosophy, and the “Bhagavad
Gîta” breathes air in which the Nyaya dies. But that
does not lessen its importance to students of philosophy—a
subject on which I think indeed that none is competent
to speak in East or West who does not know the six
systems. I have not willingly omitted such men as Badarayana
and Ramanuja and must beg remembrance of the
fact that this is but a popular and bird’s-eye view of a
vast subject. Yet I am not without hope that it may send
some seekers to the sources of a philosophy which regards
this as a mind-born world, and finds its sustenance in
ideas, not appearances.

Chapter IX


IN approaching Buddhism we are approaching not only
one of the profoundest philosophies of the world but
one of the greatest faiths. It has swayed the lives of uncounted
millions. It is possible from its strange affinities
with modern science that its future may be greater than
its past. It is a child of the Vedanta, though in India
(except in Nepal) it perished, killed partly by the skill
with which the Brahmins manipulated certain likenesses
to their own systems of thought, partly by monastic teachings,
which those holding by the Laws of Manu could
not but regard as antisocial in their tendency.

But great was its destiny. It was to spread far and
wide, to capture the spirit of Asia in Tibet, China, Korea,
Japan, Burma, Java, Siam, and Ceylon and elsewhere;
and it is beginning to capture such minds in the West as
cannot satisfy themselves with the dogmas and failing influences
of the Christian churches. I do not speak of the
teachings of Christ. That is another question.

First I will give a sketch of his life. Then I will examine
the philosophy.

The founder of the Buddhist philosophy was born, according
to the best opinion, about six centuries before
Christ in the district of Northern India now known as
Behar. His father is said to have been a wealthy chieftain
or prince of the city of Kapilavastu and was ruler of
the Shakyas. Thus the Buddha was a member of the
Kshatriya or warrior caste. His father’s name was Suddhodana.
His mother’s name was Maya. She died seven

days after his birth, and the child was nourished and
fostered by her sister and co-wife Mahaprajapati. The
word Buddha represents a title which may be translated
“The Perfectly Awakened” or “Enlightened.” His given
name was Siddhartha, which means “He who has attained
his aim.” His family name was Gautama. He was heir
to his father’s princedom.

In the Buddha we meet with the only character which
in spite of inherent differences can stand upon a spiritual
parity with that of the Christ. Some would say, and perhaps
not wrongly, that his intellectual power was mightier
and stood higher.

For these reasons his personality has impressed itself
upon the world’s consciousness as none but that of the
Christ has done. Both exhibited that indefinable power
which mankind cannot resist because it appeals to the
highest in them and summons them to the most cruel
difficulties of renunciation and suffering with a promise
of far-off peace as the ultimate.

Bacon perceived this strange anomaly in man, which
is indeed one of his most spiritual qualities. Call a man
to relinquish warmth, comfort, a good dinner, and he will
grumble. Call upon him to die for an idea—his country,
his faith—and he goes forth radiant to torture or death.
And the Buddha asked none to travel by a road which his
own feet had not marked with blood.

We find him first young, handsome, a prince of the
noble Aryan race, with mental gifts that must have distinguished
him apart from birth and beauty, an only son,
heir to wealth and consideration. But we find him the
prey of deep unhappiness. Love was his—for he had
married a wife, whose beauty, according to tradition, was
enhanced by all womanly graces. He had an infant son
whom he had named Rahula, “a fetter,” for already the
spiritual leaven was working in him which compelled a
sad prescience of the fragility of earthly ties. But neither
wealth, nor intellect nor human love could shut out the

black riddle of the universe—the sorrow of man—which
pressed upon him and corroded all his joys with a black
and bitter realization of senseless injustice and cruelty.

It is said that his father, terrified by his melancholy
and aloofness, commanded that the triple secret of disease,
old age, and death should be hidden from him and
that, secluded in his palace grounds, he was not to be
allowed to guess their existence, for the father feared that
such knowledge would drive Siddhartha to the passion
of the ascetic for solitude in the woods and mountains, and
that not only would the son be lost but the princedom pass
away into the hands of strangers. And around it lay
Maghada and Kosala, great kingdoms, very willing to
swallow their lesser neighbors.

It is told that the accidental sights of an aged man, of
a man deadly ill with fever, and of a corpse followed by
weeping mourners, enlightened the future Buddha as to
the further miseries of the world and determined him to
seek some Law, some understanding, which should account
for these seeming caprices of most pitiless gods.
Life became a nightmare of injustice and horror to him.
He shuddered at its possibilities.

At about this time, now freed from palace trammels
because he knew the worst, he went one day in his chariot
to see the plowing of his father’s lands, still fixed in sorrowful

The sights about him deepened his pain. In the great
heat the laborers, young or aged, still must toil. He
saw them, their bodies bent, struggling with all their
might, wet hair falling about haggard faces, fouled with
mud and dust. The plowing oxen—they also toiling so
pitifully and with no reward—their lolling tongues and
panting breath, the whip and goad indenting smooth
flanks until blood ran. All those things tortured the heart
of Siddartha as he sat, for the sufferings of our kindred
the animals also wrung it. And he said:

“This world is built on pain, and its foundations laid

in agony. If there be a Way, where is it? I am bound in
the dungeon of despair.”

So, nobly moved to sympathy, he sat alone, forcing
himself to behold the suffering of man and beast and in
all the universe could see no refuge or reason. Slowly,
at length, passing down the road he saw a man carrying
a bowl in his hand, wearing a coarse robe of yellow. And
their eyes met. And it seemed to the prince that he had
never before seen one who resembled this strange mendicant,
and he rose, saying in his heart:

“Who is this person? For his face is calm, and his
eyes bespeak a soul at rest. And what is this bowl in
his hand?”

And even as he thought this the stranger answered
him with grave salutation:

“Great lord, I am a religious mendicant, who, shuddering
at the problems of life, seeing all things transient,
have left the fetters of my home behind me to seek for
some happiness that is trustworthy and imperishable, that
looks with equal mind on friend and enemy and does not
regard wealth or beauty. Such is the only happiness
which will content me!”

Siddhartha in deep amazement at this repetition of
his own thoughts asked eagerly: “And where, O wise
man, do you seek it?”

“Great lord, in solitude, in the quiet of deep woods.
There in the Quiet dwells Enlightenment. And I carry
this bowl that the charitable may bestow an alms of food,
and this is all I ask of the world. And now, pardon
haste, for my way lies onward to the mountains where
enlightenment awaits me.”

And he passed on, but the prince returned to the city
submerged in thought.

He sought his father and announced his resolve to seek
the solitudes after the ancient fashion of the Arya, and
there, deeply meditating, to find deliverance for himself,
for those he loved, and for all the world.

I must not here dwell on the agony of his father and
of the commands and lures put forth to restrain Siddhartha.
I have told that piteous story in my “Life and
Teachings of the Buddha,” which I have called “The
Splendour of Asia,” for by no lesser name can this man
be known.

He appears to have kept his resolution from his wife
Yashodara, but to have prepared stedfastly for his escape
from the trammels of sense which enclosed him. The
tradition tells that on a certain night he heard strange
voices borne on the wind, which convinced him that the
time had come:

“Mighty One, O Mighty One,

There is a Way—a Way!

The wise of old have trodden it.

Rise now and go,

Finding the Light,

Share it with men.

Thou who in past lives

Didst agonize for men,

Again go forth,

Riding to victory.”

It is told that he called his charioteer Channa and
bade him saddle his noble white horse Kanthaka, and that
in dumb grief Channa obeyed. Then Siddhartha entered
the little marble chamber where Yashodara slept with her
child, all unconscious of the shadow of sorrow darkening
above her. Twice he stretched his arms to clasp her and
the child, and twice withdrew them lest he should waken
her to agony sooner than need be. And it is told that at
last he kissed her foot and stooped to breathe their breath
but no more—knowing with anguish that he sacrificed
her joy with his own for the world’s sake, and so went
forth leaving the two sleeping. His age was then twenty-nine.

He mounted his horse while Channa stood aside white
as death, and he said to the horse:

“O brave in fight and fearless, put forth strength in a

sterner battle, for tonight I ride far to seek deliverance not
for men only but for your kind also. Therefore, for the
sake of all, great horse, carry me far this night!” And as
he passed out into the road beyond the gates the prince
turned and said softly: “Never again shall I come here
unless I conquer old age, disease, death, and sorrow.”

And Channa followed. So they rode far, and at last
on the edge of a great wood the royal horse stopped to
drink, and the prince dismounted and looking into the
horse’s eyes he said:

“You have borne me well.” And to Channa: “And
you, O faithfullest—even before this night I knew you
for a true man, but now I know more, for you have come
with me utterly disdainful of profit, courting danger and
rebuke. My heart will remember! Now take Kanthaka
and return.”

He gave a chain of jewels to Channa. He sent the
crest-jewel of his turban to his father in remembrance.
Of Yashodara he said no word, for that lay too deep.
Channa pleaded all the relationships, the broken hearts,
but in vain. The prince replied:

“What is relationship? For were I to die I must
leave them. The kinships of this world are as a flock of
birds, which settle on the same tree at night and disperse
at dawn. When I have found the Way I shall return.
Not otherwise.”

He turned and stroked the head of Kanthaka, who
bowed it to his master’s foot.

“My horse, gentle and noble, your good deeds have
gained their reward. No painful rebirth awaits you, this
I know. Be content, for it is well.”

Then taking his jeweled sword he cut off the knot of
hair which he wore as an Aryan of high birth, and as he
did it a hunter passed, clothed in coarse garments. Giving
him his rich garments, Siddhartha took the hunter’s
in exchange and put them on. Then turning he looked
into the eyes of Channa for the last time and, with no

word said, made his way to the forest, parting the boughs
with his hands, and so passing was seen no more. And
this is what is called in Asia the Great Renunciation.

It is told that the prince was tempted in the wilderness
by the regrets and desires of his own heart, taking
visible shape in the melancholy beauty of Mara the
Tempter, who is no devil but an epitome of all the heart’s
cravings. Resisting these he passed on to Rajagriha, the
capital of King Bimbisara of Maghada. There, among
the Vindhya Hills, lay many solitudes and caves wherein
recluses assembled to consider and study the ancient
philosophies of India, hoping, as did Siddhartha, for
light upon the problems of life. And he betook himself
to the cave where sat the Brahmin Alara, for this man’s
reputation was great in Aryan India.

He was lost in meditation, seated in the “lotus” posture,
and at a respectful distance Siddhartha took his seat,
wondering if this teacher held the key and waiting until
it should please Alara to address him.

This done, the Brahmin agreed that the prince should
study the Vedas and Upanishads under his guidance, and
informed him of the rules of the various teachers and the
fruits to be expected from their practices and asceticisms.
He described the sufferings enjoined and the resultant
births in Heaven, with millions of years of bliss before
the soul should be launched again into the dreary round
of samsara—or wanderings through births and deaths.

Siddhartha like the other ascetics took possession of
a cave and set himself to study; and they marveled at the
calmness and nobility of the young man who had forsaken
the world for things spiritual. Once and again, his
father sent officials to recall him, but though gentle and
courteous as ever he would not hear. That life was dead.

Clad in the yellow garment of the ascetic he descended
daily into the city of King Bimbisara to beg his
food, extending his bowl for alms. On one of these occasions
the king beheld him and said:

“Look on this man, lords; beautiful is he, great and
pure, with all the signs of Aryan birth. His eyes do not
wander. He is self-possessed, serene, and solitary. Ask
where that mendicant goes.”

It was done, and the king followed with his lords and
inquired his story; hearing it he lamented Siddhartha’s
departure from the world, and implored him to return,
offering him a share in his own kingdom, for he recognized
his power and majesty. But Siddhartha replied:

“World-renowned and descendant of Arya, I hear
with veneration! Just and blessed is the way of a great
king, but for me my Way is onward, and behind me lie
the Five Desires. Would a hare rescued from a serpent’s
jaws return to be devoured? But you—return, O wise
king, to your happy city. May all good go with you.”

And the king replied: “Great prince, that which you
seek may you attain, receiving the fruit of your birth.”
And he followed him a little way in reverence, and then
with his nobles returned to the city.

With Alara, Siddhartha studied so patiently that the
ascetics who followed Alara besought him to become
their master. But after some years had passed it became
clear to him that the answer to the riddle did not lie, as
the Brahmin taught, through ever-increasing spiritualization
of the selfhood of man—though it was clear that this
had been worth studying. Those great planes of spiritualization,
lying one above the other, were as the medicament
of a sore disease, but they were not its annihilation.
There was left a spot of infection—though but a spot—by
which the process of ever-recurring ignorance and consequent
birth and death could begin again. Sorrowfully
he betook himself to another teacher, Uddaka, and here
again disappointment met him. He studied patiently
until the pasture was eaten bare, and they had no more
to offer.

Then he resolved to leave them and betake himself
to Uruvela, there to practice a terrible asceticism, thinking

that perhaps the soul might spring free from the
almost utter wreckage and destruction of the body. This
he did beside a pure river, entering upon the most cruel
discipline of hunger and thirst and silence, with his end
in view. But he was very weary, and he said in his heart:

“Long is the night to him who is sleepless, long is a
mile to him who is tired, long is life to him who knows
not the Law.”

So he set himself to meditation, daily lessening his
food until it became a morsel incredible to the mind of
man, and after a while he spoke to no man, sitting mute
and motionless, controlling even his breath. So still he
sat that birds and beasts moved about him unafraid, and
his fame as a great yogin spread far and wide. The greatest
of all yogins.

Afterwards he said to his disciples:

“I remember when a crab-apple was my only daily
food. I remember when I swallowed only a single grain
of rice. Like dried reeds my arms and legs, my hips like
a camel’s hoof, like a plait of hair my spine. In the hollows
of my eye-pits my eyeballs well-nigh disappeared.
And yet with all this mortification I came no nearer to

At last when he could think no longer, and dumb instinct
awoke in him, as the brain almost ceased to function.

“If I could crawl down to the river the water, warm
and kindly, would refresh me, and perhaps the power of
thought would return.”

And inch by inch he crawled to the water and lay in a
warm shallow utterly fordone, and five ascetics with
whom he had held counsel and who expected great results
from his incredible sufferings said, one to another:

“He will die now. The ascetic Gautama will die.”

At last supporting himself by a bough, he crept up the
bank a little refreshed and could think once more. And
he thought:

“This way of mortification has utterly failed. My
body cannot support the intellect. I will eat and drink
and strengthen it. It may be possible that my six years of
struggle have prepared the way to Right Ecstasy.”

Near by dwelt the young wife of a wealthy householder,
owner of many herds; and she had vowed that if
her prayer were granted and she became the mother of
a son she would present every year an offering to the
tree spirit of the wood; and now the little son was born
and she was full of gladness.

So she took her best milk and boiled it with purest
rice, herself making the fire and cooking it. This lady,
Sujata, sent her maid Punna to see that all was prepared
for her offering beneath the tree in which the spirit dwelt;
and the maid ran, and beneath the tree was seated the
Buddha-to-be. She believed him to be the tree spirit
and rushed back to her lady; and Sujata put jewels upon
her for a reward of good news, and placing the milk-rice
upon a golden dish set forth, glad at heart.

A very beautiful account of this incident survives in

“So she came along the river-bank, glad in the dawn,
robed in gray like a cloud before sunrise, and about her
slender wrists were bracelets of white chalcedony, and
the gray and white of them resembling the river bubble
before it breaks, and she came as softly.”

Seeing the prince she knew at once that it was no tree
spirit but a holy ascetic in the last stage of exhaustion.
Pity and reverence moved her heart, and raising the
golden dish in both hands she offered it humbly; and he
partook of the pure food, while she watched with such
joy as that with which a mother watches her child eat.
And the virtue of it flowed through him like oil to a lamp
extinct, and seeing this and wishing him attainment she
departed, caring no more for the golden dish than as if it
had been a leaf upon the ground.

But the ascetics said angrily:

“The ascetic Gautama has failed. He has nothing
to teach us and is a backslider. Come, let us go to

But Siddhartha, strengthened, felt energy swelling in
him like a great river in spate, and he set stedfast steps
toward the tree whereunder he was to receive Enlightenment.

From a man cutting grass for his cattle he begged an
armful of pure and pliant grass; and seeing before him a
noble tree resembling a tower of leafage, he spread the
grass beneath it and seated himself with folded hands and
feet, resolving never to leave it until he had entered upon
Enlightenment. And the night came softly down and
veiled him from the sight of man.

It was a night of terror and temptation. Body and
mind, apart and united, tempted him beyond human endurance.
Visions of his life of love, luxury, and power,
beset his body. Intellectual doubts and difficulties attacked
his mind. Delirious dreams and delusions fell
thick as snow about him. But love and deep compassion
for the sorrows of mankind held him firm, and he clung
to his purpose as a great ship plows her way through
tempest and tossing billows to the haven where she would

And when the darkness thinned and the east became
faintly gray he received Enlightenment. Not partial.
Not intermittent, but clear, stedfast and perfect. He had
attained the highest consciousness, and received it with a
cry of “Light!”

He beheld past, present, and future as One. He beheld
true causation and the secrets of birth and death and
the passing on into new lives. He beheld the so-called
individuality or ego of man unraveled before him into its
component parts like the unwoven threads of a garment,
beholding in them no immortality or durability. And he
beheld the Truth—the Way of Escape. Illumined with
all wisdom sat the Buddha, the Utterly Awakened, lost in

contemplation of the universe As It Is, having entered the
Nirvana of peace. About him day and night made their
solemn procession unseen, for he was lost in bliss. And
at last, lifting up his voice, he cried aloud in triumph his
song of victory:

“Many a house of life

  Has held me, seeking ever that which wrought

The prison of the senses, sorrow-fraught.

  Sore was my ceaseless strife.

But now,

  Thou builder of the body-prison, now

I know thee! Never shalt thou build again

  These walls of pain,

Nor raise the roof-tree of deceits, nor lay

  Fresh rafters on the clay.

Broken the house is, and the ridge-pole split.

  Delusion fashioned it.

Safe pass I hence deliverance to attain.”

He had triumphed. For a while he sat in blissful
contemplation doubting whether it were possible to convey
his knowledge to the world. I quote here as I have
done already from “The Splendour of Asia,” for there I
have already set this marvel forth.

“O bliss inexplicable, not to be confounded with
others but singular, lovely, and alone; not in the heavens
unattainable save by the strength of gods, but within
reach of all who set their faces to the heights in true
endeavor. For the little children of the Law as for the
wise and noble. And at the last—not the dewdrop lost
in ocean but the ocean drawn into the dewdrop. Thus,
flooded with sunshine and bathed in peace, sat the Perfect

Here he received an offering of food from two Burmese
merchants named Bhallika and Tapussa; the
first whom he accepted into discipleship. Then rising,
he determined to go to Benares to seek out the five ascetics
who had scorned him and to open their eyes. His
teachers, Alara and Uddaka, were now dead, otherwise

his first duty would have lain there. On his journey to
Benares he met a proud young Brahmin, who none the
less was interested by the great personality of the mendicant
who passed him. Hoping to trap him he cried

“Ha, master! What constitutes the true Brahmin?”

And the Exalted One replied: “To put away all evil,
to be pure in thought, word, and deed—this it is to be a

The unexpected answer troubled the haughty man.
He said with hesitation: “How is it that your face is so
beautiful, shining like the moon in still water? Whence
the peace that surrounds you? What is your noble clan
and who your Master? Here in this country where all
men struggle to find the Way, what is your Way?”

And He Who Has Attained answered: “Happy is
he who has seen the Truth. Happy he who in all the
wide world has no ill-will, self-restrained and guided.
And highest is the bliss of freedom from the thought—I
am I
. No honorable clan have I; no Teacher. I go
alone and content.”

And the Brahmin’s pride was hurt and he replied
curtly, “Reverend person, your way lies onward,” and
struck into the opposite path, not knowing that opportunity
had met and missed him.

So the Blessed One came to Benares, to the Deer
Park of Isipatana where dwelt the five ascetics. Seeing
him come, they said scornfully among themselves:

“Here comes the ascetic Gautama, he who eats rich
food and lives in self-indulgence. Let us show him no
respect nor rise to meet him. Let us only give him a seat
as we would to anyone, and he can sit down if he likes.”

But the nearer the Lord Buddha came the more did
the majesty of his presence precede him, nor could they
hold their resolution. They rose, and one took his cloak
and alms-bowl, another brought a seat, a third water, and
he sat and bathed his weary feet.

It was to these five that he preached his first discourse,
and their eyes were opened upon joy. One, since called
Kondanna the Knower, begged that he receive them as
disciples, and he answered:

“Draw near, monks; well taught is the doctrine. Walk
in purity to the goal of the end of all sorrow.”

So they passed into perception and realization.

The news spread swiftly, and about him gathered
very many young men of great family and high caste,
wearied with the sensualities of life and its society, eager
to hear of joy and the ending of sorrow. One story of
such a rich young man is worth recording. His name was
Yasas. His riches are detailed, his power of gratifying
every wish directly it was formed. Also his satiate weariness
of life, for the germs of nobler things were in him.

One night he lay among his women and sickening to
nausea at pleasure, he rose and walked out into the quiet
of the garden, glittering in pure moonlight, and he said

“O my heart, how oppressive it is! O my soul, the
speechless weariness! Who in all the world shall show
me any good?”

So wandering on he came to the Deer Park of Isipatana,
and there in moonlight Gautama meditated and he
heard what Yasas said. And he understood, for he himself
had been a rich young man, and he said:

“Sir, you are weary, but I hold in my hand a life that
is neither grievous nor wearying. This teaching is not
afflicting. Nor is it oppressive.”

And Yasas took off his gilded shoes and sat down beside
the stranger. First the World-Honored spoke of the
misery, worthlessness, and ruin of lust, of the strong calm
of renunciation, the high way of the Law; and in place
of burning disgust and weariness there flowed into the
heart of Yasas the cooling streams of wisdom. Merit won
in former births drew him to the Truth as a pure silken
fabric is with ease dyed a noble color. And the Lord

Buddha set the Way before him. Then in the dawn
Yasas rose and said:

“It is impossible that I should return to a life which
I now see to be unreal and foolish as a tale told by a madman.
Receive me into the Order that I may spend my
life in acquiring knowledge.”

And the Blessed One answered: “Come, monk. The
doctrine is well taught. Lead henceforth a new life.”

Presently his father, the rich guildmaster, came running
to ask whether his son had been seen, and he too fell
into talk with Him Who Has Attained; and the great
teaching caught him, and he cried:

“Wonderful, great sir, most wonderful! It is a lamp
set in a dark place. May the Lord take me as a lay

He was accepted as a believing householder, and he
looked upon his son, now divested of gold and jewels
and clad in the yellow robe, and the Buddha asked him:

“Is it possible, householder, that Yasas, the noble
youth, should return to a life of lusts and pleasures?”

He replied: “Sir, it is not possible. It is gain to
Yasas that he should be set free.”

So after this fashion the wealthy and poor crowded
about the Buddha, nor did he repel any, be his caste what
it might. Nor yet did he repel women, not even those of
light life.

Very strange is the story of Amra, the harlot, who
came to visit him hoping that her beauty might plead for
her, might even possibly deflect the Teacher, as in former
days great sages had been deflected into desire by the
beauty of the Maids of Heaven. But when she came,
“within the shade was One seated with folded hands and
feet, and lost in calm he looked out into the worlds.”

And the rock-crystal that was her heart melted and
flowed in a river of tears, and before his feet she fell and
laid her face on the earth.

So, incited and gladdened with high discourse, this

Amra entered into the highest knowledge and, attaining,
wrote a psalm of victory that still survives.

Very fine indeed are the Psalms of the Sisters, the
women who left all to follow the Light, having realized
the impermanence of appearances taught by the senses
and leaving behind them fear and grief. I cannot give
them here, but they are deeply worth study.

So the people crowded about him, and at last he dispatched
sixty disciples to carry his teaching abroad.
Then, preparing himself, he set out on foot with certain
of his disciples to visit his father and his home—the city
of Kapilavastu.

In all the faiths and stories of the world there is
scarcely anything more poignant than that return.

His father, having heard of his renown as a great
teacher—an honored name in India—prepared to receive
him with resignation; as one chastened indeed, far fallen
from what his father as a wealthy ruler and man of the
warrior caste had hoped, but yet endurable. The people,
bewildered but more deeply impressed, had made their
preparation of arches and garlands and offerings, for they

“To what people has the like happened? He will
return a glorious teacher.”

Now as they thought this, and his father surrounded
by his great men waited, looking along the dusty road
they saw a young monk, yellow-robed, carrying an alms-bowl.
He begged his food from house to house, receiving
what was given in serene silence, passing on with
patience when refused. And it was Siddhartha.

Then shame and love and anger contended in his
father’s heart and tore him like a whirlwind in the leaves
of a tree; he clenched his robe across his breast and cried

“I am put to horrible shame. My son a beggar! Our
race is beaten to the earth with shame.”

“My father, this is the custom of our race.”

He angrily denied this. “Not one of our ancestors
has begged his bread.”

And the Buddha answered: “Maharaja, you and your
high race claim descent from kings, but my descent is far
otherwise. It is from the Utterly Awakened of ancient
days, and as they have done so do I and cannot do otherwise.”
And then, seeing his father still in grief and anger,
the Perfect One said:

“Do I not know that the ruler’s heart bleeds and that
for his son’s sake he adds grief to grief? But now let
these earthly bonds of love be loosed, for there are higher.
Let my father’s mind receive from me such food as no
son has yet offered to father.”

And leading his father by the hand they entered the
palace. Within it the Perfect One thought of another,
but she was not there; for her very life beat against her
body, as she thought: “I cannot go. If the mother of his
son is of any value in his eyes he will come to me.”

So the World-Honored rose and, attended by two of
the mightiest of his disciples and followed by his father,
he went to the dwelling of his wife; and he said to the

“Monks, if this lady should embrace me do not hinder
her, though it be against the rule.” (For no monk
may be touched by a woman.)

Pacing beside him the two understood the Lord
Buddha’s compassion and bowed their heads.

So they entered the hall where stood Yashodara, her
hair shorn, clad in a coarse robe of yellow. When she
saw him, pride and love, each stabbed to the heart, strove
within her, and with piteous eyes she watched him as he
stood calmly regarding her with a look she could not
understand. Then she ran to him and falling on the
ground laid her face upon his feet and embraced them,
weeping bitterly. There was silence, and none hindered
her, and so she lay.

But after a while remembrance came to her of the

distance wide as heaven and earth between them. She
rose with majesty and drew apart, while his father declared
to the Exalted One her griefs and patience and
mortifications, and how she had resigned all, that she
might resemble him in the austerities of her life. The
Buddha heard and, speaking slowly with his eyes still
fixed upon her, said:

“This is true. Great also was the virtue of this high
lady the mother of Rahula, in a former life, which I
remember with gladness and she will one day remember.
Mother of my son, the Way that I have opened is for you
also. Come and hear.”

So, that evening seated by the river, the Perfect One
taught the Way before his own people; and this high lady,
seated, veiled that none might see her hidden eyes, heard
also, and as she heard she knew and perceived the Unchanging,
the Formless, the Beautiful. The illusion of
time fell from her; she beheld her love no longer cast aside
but eternal as the eternity of the Self that alone endures.
And the imprisoning self, which alone can suffer, died
within her and left her enfranchised and glad—and she
knew the Truth.

And so it was also with the father of the Perfect One
and with others.

Next day Yashodara called her son Rahula and said
to him: “Go, now, beloved, and seek your father and ask
for your inheritance.” She led the boy to the window
and pointed: “That monk—a lion among men—he whose
face shines like to the sun in its strength, he is your father.
Demand your inheritance.”

He ran quickly and caught the robe of the Blessed
One with tears of joy, asking his inheritance; but to test
him the Exalted One for a while was silent, until at last,
reaching the Nyagrodha Grove, he turned smiling to
Sariputta, his great disciple, saying:

“Monk, what think you? For worldly wealth perishes,
but this remains. Let us admit him to the Order.”

It was done, and the heart of Yashodara sang within
her for bliss.

In the caves of Ajanta there is a fresco, very ancient,
more beautiful than the most beautiful if such a thing can
be said. It is the great figure of the Perfected One returned
to his own people, serene as the moon in the deepest
solitudes of the heaven, when all the stars are dimmed
in light; and looking up to him from far below are the
figures of his wife and son, adoring with the love that
transcends words, as to one who has given them all good.

So, leaving joy and peace behind him and measureless
content in the soul of Yashodara, the World-Honored returned
to Shravasti on the river Rapti, and to his work
of making gladness and the defeat of sorrow known
among the people.

Chapter X


THERE comes now an interesting passage in the life
of the Buddha and this history of philosophic religion.
About this time his foster-mother, she who had
nourished him after the death of his mother, sent to the
World-Honored a message from herself, from Yashodara
and from other great ladies. It was to this effect:

“Full of hindrances is the household life, very free the
life of the homeless for such as would walk in the Way!
Let the Blissful One permit that women also retire to the
peace of the homeless life, under the discipline taught by
the Lord.”

But he returned no answer; and a second time they
asked, believing that women have much need of the
Peace. His foster-mother Prajapati herself came and
made this request with tears, and he answered:

“Enough, lady. Do not make this request.”

So wandering and teaching he came to Vaishali, and
Prajapati with shorn hair and yellow robes, followed by
many of the Shakya ladies, journeyed there on foot and
waited in the porch of the Pagoda Hall, very sorrowful.
There the beloved disciple Ananda, cousin of the Buddha,
met them and seeing their feet cut and bleeding from
travel, and their faces covered with dust and tears, asked
the reason. Having heard all he went to the Buddha
and besought for these women and was refused. Again
and yet again he besought—in vain. But pity urged
Ananda to perseverance, and he said:

“Lord, if women retire to the homeless life, is it possible

for them to attain Arahatship [the higher consciousness]?
Escaping from sorrow can they reach this?”

And he in whom is all truth answered: “They can

Then Ananda gladdened (his name means Joy),
and he said:

“Then let the Blessed One think of the Lady Prajapati!
She is sister to the mother of the Blessed One, and
at her breast he was nourished. Let them be admitted.
If they can thus end sorrow, should it not be permitted?”

And the Buddha answered: “I cannot refuse. If they
will accept eight weighty rules in addition to those accepted
by the Order and will be subject to the Order it
shall be reckoned to them for ordination.”

And when, standing patiently, they heard this, sorrow
passed from them, and with joy they accepted the Rules.

Later, the Buddha meditating said: “If, Ananda,
women had not accepted ordination under my discipline
religion would have endured a thousand years in India.
Now even with the eight weighty regulations it shall not

And this is true of India, excepting Nepal, but
elsewhere it has grown like a great tree.

It is needless to say that with his great discipline and
his Enlightenment, the Buddha had acquired the supernormal
powers; but he did not love their use and there
are few records of his dealing in them or permitting those
of the Order to use them. For in all the world is nothing
but the flawless beauty of Realization; and the wise know
there is no miracle, only a higher law unknown to the
ignorant, which in its action appears to them strange and
a miracle. Therefore, did Gautama teach that for those
who have reached the higher consciousness the bonds of
time and space and form exist no more. But he taught
also that to expose these mysteries before the ignorant who
see them with fear or greed is perilous and useless. Yet
some records exist. As thus:

To the city of Rajagriha (the capital of King Bimbisara)
went with him his mighty disciple Kassapa, so
great and wise that many of the people of Rajagriha were
in doubt which was disciple and which master. But the
World-Honored, willing to honor Kassapa and to demonstrate
a truth, thus addressed him in presence of the
king and people:

“Welcome, great master, welcome! Rightly have you
won wisdom, and now as a wealthy noble displays his
treasure to bring forgetfulness of sorrow to those who love
beauty, so do you!”

Immediately Kassapa, composing himself into ecstasy,
was raised up in the air, and this wonderful sight caused
them to magnify the Buddha and implore his teaching.
And he taught. So again also the Lord Buddha told this
story while he rested once during the rains at Jetavana—that
beautiful garden and dwelling presented to the Order
by the faithful merchant Anathapindika.

There was a faithful, noble disciple who desired to
hear again the words of Him Who Has Thus Attained;
and he came in the evening to the river Acirivati, hoping
to cross by the ferry. But the boatman had himself gone
to hear, and there was no ferry. Then, joyfully meditating
on the light and lost to all else, that disciple walked
on the water of the river, and his feet made no holes and
he went as if on dry land. But suddenly in the midst he
saw the waves, and he remembered, and his joy sank and
his feet with it—for he feared, and fear is a fetter of the
world of form, where illusion is strong. But again he
strengthened his inmost soul in meditation, and he walked
on the water; and so came to Jetavana and saluted the
Blessed One and sat respectfully beside him.

Gautama asked: “Disciple, did you come with little
fatigue by the road? Did you lack for food?”

And he answered: “Lord, in my joyful meditation I
received support so that I walked on the water and did
not sink.”

And the Buddha said: “So it also was in past lives.”

We hear of his crossing a river in flood—standing
suddenly on the other bank by use of the powers and
enabling those who were with him to do likewise. At
another time Gautama said (when he had grown old):

“Now I call to mind, Ananda, how when I used to
enter into an assembly of many hundreds of nobles I
would instruct and gladden them, and they would say:
‘Who may it be who thus speaks, a man or a god?’ Having
taught them, I would vanish away; and they would
say in bewilderment: ‘Who may this be who has thus
vanished away? A man or a god?’”

Similar instances of all these powers will be recalled
in the New Testament, but they are scanty in the
life of the Buddha. All that department of knowledge
was a side-issue and was not concerned with what really
mattered. For he taught that though there are times and
seasons for these things to be manifested to the ignorant
they are very few; and for the man who has attained realization
these powers are less than grains of dust blown
along the face of the desert.

Here is a description of his person as age came upon

“When age came it was with beauty, so that all hearts
fell at his feet and embraced them as a refuge. His face
was worn and calm as in an image of royal ivory, his nose
prominent and delicate, bespeaking his Aryan birth, his
eyes of a blue darkness, and he carried himself as one of
the princes.”

Yet all this might be said of another, but for him
Wisdom walked on his left hand and Love on his right
and Light surrounded him.

For animals also, for all who draw the breath of
life, he had love and pity. It is known how when King
Bimbisara was about to offer a sacrifice of goats he stayed
the priest’s hands, pleading for their lives because he
loved them and understood their karma and their striving

and their upward path and the love and beauty in them.
So since that time no true follower of the Buddha offers
bloody sacrifices or will take life, for this he utterly forbade.

Also it must be told that having attained Enlightenment
and being Utterly Awakened Gautama remembered
all his past lives, many of them in the lower forms of life,
and on these based parables wherewith he instructed
his disciples and others. Of these I will tell one called
“The Quail.”

It so chanced that as he walked in the forest one day
with his disciples a great fire came roaring to where they
stood, and some of the monks not knowing his power
would have made a counter-fire. But when it came within
fifteen rods of the Blessed One it was extinguished like
a torch plunged in water. And they praised him but he

“Monks, this was not due to my power but to the faith
of a Quail. Hear this!”

And they said, “Even so, Lord,” and Ananda folded
a robe for him and he sat and told:

“In this very spot long ago was a young Quail; he
lay in the nest and his parents fed him, for he could
neither fly nor walk. And there came a great jungle
fire, and all the birds fled shrieking away and even his
parents deserted him. So the young Quail lay there alone,
and he thought:

“‘If I could fly or walk I might be saved, but I can
do neither. No help have I from others and in myself is
none. What then shall I do?’

“And he reflected: ‘In this world is Reality if it can
be found, and there are the Buddhas who have known
this and manifested it to others, and in them is love for
all that lives. In me also is Reality (though but a poor
little Quail) and belief that has power. Now it behooves
me, relying on these things, to make an Act of Faith, and
driving back the fire to find safety for myself and others.’

“So the Quail called to mind the powers of the
Buddhas and the Truth, and making a solemn asseveration
of his faith he said:

‘Wings I have that cannot fly,

Feet I have that cannot walk.

My parents have forsaken me.

O all-devouring fire, go back!’

And before this Act of Faith the fire dropped and died,
retreating; and the Quail lived his life in the forest and
passed away according to his deeds; and because of his
faith fire dies forever when it touches this spot.”

And the Excellent One summed up the story and made
the connection thus saying:

“My parents at that time were my present parents,
and I myself was the Quail.”

So the unbroken chain of evolution of life and love
runs through the universe, and no life is alien to another,
from the highest to the lowest. So great, so fearless was
the life of the Excellent One, stating all truth, supporting
it with Socratic arguments, which none could foil, moving
alone as all great souls must do, for the higher the
path among the eternal snows the fewer the travelers!
Let me quote the immortal charge to the soul in his
Dhammapada, or Verses of Teaching.

“Go forward without a path!

Fearing nothing, caring nothing.

Wander alone like the rhinoceros!

Even as the lion, not trembling at noises,

Even as the wind, not caught in a net,

Even as the lotus-leaf, unstained by the water,

Do thou wander alone like the rhinoceros!”

Since it is impossible that I should give all the incidents
of the life of the Buddha (for few lives are more
fully recorded in the words of disciples and in tradition)
I shall pass on to his departure—that which is known as
the Great Decease. It is full of beauty and instruction.

His life was passed in teaching, wandering from place
to place, and resting during the rains in monasteries provided
by those who loved that great Triad—the Lord, the
Law, and the Assembly. The fetters he broke were those
of ignorance, desire, the delusion of the individual self,
doubt, belief in rites and ceremonies, the domination of
the senses, and ill-will to others. But he compelled none
nor threatened, for by a man’s true Self comes his realization,
and he said:

“He Who Has Thus Attained does not think that it is
he who must lead the brotherhood or that the Order is
dependent upon him.” Only stedfastly pointing the Way,
he rejoiced that men should follow it, casting out his light
like the sun, but not compelling men to guide their steps
by it.

Nor did he teach resignation to sorrow or its acceptance
as a blessing and discipline. Far from it, for in the
clear precipience of the Buddha sorrow is ignorance.

“One thing only, monks, now as always I declare to
you—sorrow and the uprooting of sorrow.”

Therefore of all philosophies and faiths his is gladdest
and surest. This his followers knew and their song
was: “We who call nothing our own, drenched with
happiness, we in this world cast out light like the immortal

There is a notable meeting at Alavi. By the cattle-path
in the forest the Buddha, now very aged, rested on
a couch of leaves, and a man of Alavi passing greeted him
with respect and sitting beside him asked:

“Master, does the World-Honored live happily?”

He answered: “It is so, young man. Of those who
live happily in the world I also am one.”

Then, for his heart pitied the aging of the Master, the
man continued: “Cold, Master, is the winter night; the
time of frost comes; rough is the ground trodden by
cattle; thin is the couch of leaves, light the monk’s yellow
robe; sharp is the cutting winter wind.”

But the Buddha smiled. “Even so, young man. Of
those who live happily in the world I am one.”

But he was now eighty years old, and fatigues and
years had had their way with the perishing body. To the
last he taught, eager to shed the light of joy upon a suffering
world. A sickness fell upon him, and sharp pains
even to death, but mindful and self-possessed he bore
them without complaint. And this thought came into his

“It would not be right for me to pass away without
addressing the disciples and taking leave of the Order.”

And he struggled against the sickness, and it abated.

So when he began to recover he went out of the vihara
(monastery) and sat down on a seat spread out for him.
Ananda, the beloved, sat beside him, and said this:

“I have seen how the Blessed One suffered, and though
at that sight my body became weak as a creeper I had
some little comfort in thinking that the Blessed One
would not pass from existence until at least he had left
some instructions for the Order.”

“What then, Ananda? Does the Order expect that
of me? He Who Has Thus Attained thinks not that it
is he who shall lead the Order nor that it is dependent
upon him. I am now grown old and full of years. My
journey is drawing to its close, and I am turning eighty
years of age. And just as a worn-out cart can only with
much addition of care be made to move, so I think the
body of Him Who Has Thus Attained can be kept going
only with much additional care. It is only when he becomes
plunged in devout meditation that the body of the
Enlightened One is at ease.”

And the Buddha resumed:

“Therefore, Ananda, be lamps unto yourselves. Betake
yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the
truth. Look not for refuge to anyone besides yourselves.
And those who after I am dead shall be lamps to themselves,
and holding fast to the truth look for refuge to no

one outside themselves—it is they among my mendicants
who shall reach the Height.”

At this time the Blessed One had many discourses with
Ananda. It was during one of these that he asserted one
of the powers of the yogin taught by Patanjali, saying:

“Whoever, Ananda, has developed himself and ascended
to the very height of the four paths to power
[i.e., the four Yogas], thus transcending bodily conditions
and using those powers for good, may if he desires it remain
in the same birth for an age or that portion of an
age which is yet to run.”

Of this the Buddha would not take advantage, but
the assertion is interesting.

So wandering on with ever-failing strength, at last he
reached Vaishali with his immediate disciples, and there
he commanded Ananda to assemble such of the Order as
dwelt in the neighborhood. When they were assembled the
Blessed One sat upon his mat and addressed them, saying:

“Practice the truths, monks, which I have made
known to you, meditate and spread them abroad, that
they may continue to be for the good and happiness of
great multitudes.

“Behold now, monks, I exhort you. All component
things must age and dissolve. Work out your salvation
with diligence. At the end of three months He Who
Has Thus Attained will die. I leave you. I depart,
relying on myself alone. Be earnest, pure, recollected.
Be stedfast in resolve. Keep watch over your hearts.
Who wearies not but holds fast to the Law, shall cross
this sea of life, shall make an end of grief.”

So he spoke, and they dispersed silently.

Early in the morning the Blessed One robed himself
and took his bowl and went into Vaishali for alms, and
when he had eaten and was returning he gazed at Vaishali
(a place of many memories) and he said thus:

“This is the last time, Ananda, that He Who Has
Thus Attained will behold Vaishali. How beautiful art

thou, Vaishali, city of towers and palaces! How pleasant
thy slopes, how heart-gladdening thy meadows full of
grain, how exquisite the sparkle of thy many rivers! I
shall not see them more. Come, Ananda. Let us now go
to Bhandagama!”

They went and he rested in the village, and there addressed
the brethren, saying:

“It is through ignorance of the Truths that we have
had to wander so long in this weary round of rebirth, you
and I. But when the noble conduct of life, noble meditation,
noble wisdom and noble freedom are realized then
is the craving for Existence rooted out; the chain is
broken and we return to earth no more.”

And it was here he delivered a high discourse on the
Four Truths. This done, he pressed on with Ananda and
a great company of his own to Pava, and there he rested
in the Mango Grove of Chunda, and Chunda was a smith
by family.

So Chunda greeted him with joy and reverence, and
the Blessed One gladdened him with talk of high things
and he entreated the Buddha to honor him by taking a
meal at his house next day with the brethren, and to this
Gautama by silence signified his assent. And Chunda
made ready excellent food, hard and soft, sweet rice and
cakes and truffles, the food loved by boars, and notified the
Lord Buddha when it was ready, and he took his bowl
and went.

But after he had eaten there fell upon him a grievous
disease and cruel pain, but he bore it without complaint
and said to Ananda:

“Come, let us go to Kusinara.” For there he was to
die. And as they went slowly he thirsted, and a robe was
spread and he rested and asked for water, and Ananda
told him with grief that five hundred ox carts had passed
through the river and it was turbid and foul. But still the
Blessed One bade him take a bowl and go; and when he
went the water flowed clear as light, and Ananda said:

“How wonderful, how marvelous! Let the Happy
One drink!”

And even then, dying as he was, the Buddha received
and taught the young Brahmin Pukkusa, and when the
great teaching was ended, with gladness he joined the
brotherhood. He presented two robes of cloth of gold
as the teacher’s gift according to the custom; and the
Blessed One gave one to Ananda, and the other Ananda
spread that Gautama might lie upon it. Now when he
did this he observed that a light shone from the Buddha
which dimmed the glory of the garment, and he said:

“Lord, it is marvelous that the color of the skin of the
Blessed One should now be so clear, so bright beyond

“It is even so, Ananda. For on the night when He
Who Has Thus Attained achieves Supreme Enlightenment
and also on the night when he passes away forever
the color of his body becomes exceedingly bright and

And they came near to Kusinara, and he said:

“Fold a robe for me, Ananda, for I am clean forspent.”

And he lay on his right side and meditated, calm and
self-possessed. And now comes a thing beyond expression
beautiful, and worthy not only of a great saint but of the
dignity and courtesy of a great prince. He called

“Now it may happen that someone may grieve
Chunda the smith, saying, ‘It is evil to you, Chunda, and
loss, that when the Blessed One had eaten of your provision
he died.’ But check this remorse, Ananda, by
saying, ‘It is good and gain to you that this should have
been, for the very mouth of the Blessed One has said,
“There is laid up for Chunda the smith a good karma of
long life and good fortune and fame and the inheritance
of heaven and sovereign power.”’ Let this be told.”

And rising once more he began again his pilgrimage

of pain, and they came to the Sala Grove of the Malla
people at Kusinara; and there they made a couch for him
between twin sal-trees, and these dropped their blossoms
upon him, for so it must be with a departing Buddha.
And he lay with his head toward the eternal snows of the
Himalayas. Then Ananda reverently besought the commands
of the Lord Buddha as to the disposal of his mortal
body and he replied:

“Do not hinder yourselves by honoring what remains.
Be intent on good. There are men among the nobles who
will do what is needful.”

And hearing this Ananda could no longer endure his
grief, and he went away to weep that the Buddha might
not see his tears, for he thought: “Alas, I am still but a
learner, and the Master is about to leave me—he who is
so kind.”

But the Blessed One called for him, and he came and
the Lord Buddha said:

“Do not weep, Ananda. Have I not often told you
that it is in the very nature of things most near and dear
to us that we must leave them? How can it be possible
that component things should not dissolve? For a long
time you have been very near to me by acts of love, kind
and good, never varying and beyond all measure, and also
by words and thoughts of love. You have done well,
Ananda. Be earnest in effort and you too shall soon attain
the perfect percipience.”

And the Blessed One repeated this to the others and

“Go now, Ananda, to the town of the Mallas and tell
the people of the Mallas that in the last watch of the
night He Who Has Thus Attained will die. And say
this: ‘Be favorable, O Mallas, and leave no occasion to
reproach yourselves that you did not visit the Blessed One
in his last hours.’”

And the Mallas heard this with grief and bitter weeping,
and with all their families and servants they came to

take leave of the Blessed One; and family by family they
were presented to receive his blessing.

And one last work of mercy was left, and this the
dying Lord Buddha accomplished, for he taught and
received a mendicant named Subaddha, who came hastening
to his feet that the opportunity might not pass away
forever. And now the end was come and the Blessed
One said:

“It may be that in some of you the thought may arise,
‘Now that the word of the Master is ended we have no
teacher!’ This is not so. The truths and the rules of the
Order shall be your teacher when I am gone.”

And again:

“It may be, brethren, that there is doubt or misgiving
in the mind of some brother as to the Buddha, the Truth,
the Way. Ask freely, monks! Do not afterwards reproach
yourselves with the thought—we were face to face
with the Blessed One and we did not ask.”

And there was silence, and again and a third time the
Lord Buddha repeated thus. And in his care for them
he said:

“It may be that the brethren will not ask questions
out of reverence for the Teacher. If so, let friend communicate
with friend.”

And still they were silent and Ananda said:

“It is wonderful, Lord! I have faith to believe that
in this whole assembly there is not one who has any doubt
or misgiving.”

And the Blessed One sinking into deeper weakness

“You speak from the fulness of faith, Ananda, but I
know of certain knowledge that none doubts, and even the
most backward of all these brethren knows and has seen
and will be born no more in suffering, but is assured of
ultimate peace.”

Then knowing the parting at hand, Ananda knelt and
hid his face by the Blessed One. And there was deep

silence and He Who Has Thus Attained lay with closed
eyes, submerged in calm as in a great ocean. But after
a while his eyelids opened, and for the last time his disciples
heard his voice, strong in death:

“Behold now, brethren, I exhort you, saying, transiency
is inherent in all component things. Work out
your own salvation with diligence.”

And they trembled kneeling about him.

Then the Blessed One entered into the first state of
ecstasy, and rising from this entered into the second and
into the third and fourth; and passing from ecstasy he
entered the infinity of space, and from that to the infinity
of consciousness, and from this to that of Nothingness,
and thus arrived at the cessation of sensation and

And in an agony Ananda cried out to the great Anuruddha,
the Shakya prince.

“O my Lord, O Anuruddha, the Blessed One is dead!”
But he, leaning above that Peace, said with calm:

“Nay, Brother Ananda. He has entered into that
state where sensation and ideas cease.”

And all veiled their faces. And the mind of Him Who
Has Thus Attained retraced the way downward again
and upward, and passing out of the fourth stage of rapture
he immediately entered the highest Nirvana. And at
the moment of his dying the thunders of heaven broke
roaring about them, and there was a great and terrible
trembling of the earth, and the voice of Brahma, the personal
creator, cried aloud:

“All beings must lose their compound selves and individuality,
and even such a Master as this, unrivaled
and endued with all the powers, even he has passed into
the highest Nirvana.”

And the voice of Indra, the king of gods, took up the

“Transient are all component things,

They being born must die.”

And the great disciple, the perfected saint Anuruddha
said these words:

“When he, the Desireless Lord, lay in peace, so ending
his span of life, resolute and with unshaken mind did he
endure the pains of death, attaining his final deliverance
from the Fetters.”

But Ananda cried aloud, weeping in agony:

“Then there was terror, then the hair rose on the head
when He Who Possessed All Grace—the Supreme Buddha—died.”

So spoke all the voices of the phenomenal world, and
those of the brethren who had not yet attained percipience
wept in inconsolable grief. But the great Arahats (perfected
in wisdom) bore their sorrow calm and self-possessed,

“Transient are all earthly things. How is it possible
they should not be dissolved?”

And all that night did the great Sariputta and Anuruddha,
two of the mightiest disciples, spend in high discourse,
but Ananda wept nor could be comforted. In
the morning Anuruddha addressed them all:

“Enough, my brothers: do not weep. For those who
have attained wisdom say, ‘Transient are all component
things. How is it possible they should not be dissolved?
This cannot be.’”

And he sent Ananda to tell the true Mallas that the
Lord Buddha had departed; and they came, lamenting,
with great and costly preparation, and they encased the
body of the Buddha in new cloth and folded sheets of
wool and in a vessel of iron for the burning, and with devotion
and spices and flowers they did what was needful;
and the body of the Lord Buddha passed into gray ash,
fulfilling all even to the uttermost.

Now when the burning was done, the true Mallas
gathered the bones and they took them to their council
hall, and because Gautama was a man of the warrior caste
they surrounded them with a latticework of spears and a

rampart of bows; and there for seven days they did
homage with solemn dance and music and garlands and

And many sent, demanding portions of the relics,
among them the King of Maghada, saying:

“The Blessed One was of the soldier caste and so am
I, and I shall make a sacred monument and hold a solemn

And the Shakyas of Kapila, Gautama’s own people
sent, saying:

“He Who Has Thus Attained was the pride of our
race. We are worthy to receive a portion, and we shall
put up a sacred monument and hold a solemn feast.”

But at last the relics were divided and without contention,
even as the Blessed One would have desired;
and to this day they are honored in many lands. And the
great Ananda, casting away the fetters of love and retaining
only its radiance, became a mighty Arahat and laid
aside all sorrow.

None but those who know the sources can know how
scanty and poor an exposition this is of that most wonderful
life and how much that is vital and lovely I have been
obliged to omit. I can only refer readers to books named
in the bibliography, including my own book “The Splendour
of Asia,” which is written not for scholars but for
the general reader. Let me before passing on to the teaching
quote the saying of a great Buddhist scholar, one
which none who have studied the subject will controvert:

“Perhaps never while the world has lasted has there
been a Personality who has wielded such a tremendous
influence over the thought of humanity. And who recognizes
this will also recognize that almost two and a half
millenniums ago the supreme summit of spiritual development
was reached, and that at that distant time in the
quiet hermit groves along the Ganges had already been
thought the highest man can think.”

In the presence of the august beauty of the Life what

more can be said save that the mighty Buddha was child
of the mighty Vedanta. These thoughts have brought the
soul of philosophy to myriads. They will bring it to
many more. The conquest of the West is still reserved
for the East.

Chapter XI


WHAT then is the doctrine that not only produced a
life of such majesty, love, and purity as to capture
the adoration of all who know it, but has created one of
the greatest of the world-philosophies, one which exercises
the highest intellectual faculties of mankind, and
besides all this is a religion of faith, truth, and love, within
reach of the humblest? This philosophy accords also
with the teaching of modern psychology and certain
aspects of physical science so closely that it may be said to
have been its precursor. This fact has given birth to hope
in many minds that in the visible waning of the Christian
dogma as presented by the Christian churches the highest
form of Buddhism may be found to be a refuge from that
materialism of western civilization which may be said to
carry in itself the germ of death.

“Man cannot live by bread alone,” though an attempt
to exist on that meager diet is being made amongst some
advanced thinkers of the West as well as the mass of careless
opportunists. Let us take the philosophy first—that
philosophy of which Rhys Davids says in commenting on
the dialogues of the Buddha:

“In depth of philosophic insight, in the method of
Socratic questioning adopted, in the earnest and elevated
tone of the whole, and the evidence they afford of the 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 dialogues of Gautama will
be placed in our schools of philosophy on a level with the
dialogues of Plato.”

Here he alludes to one of the three divisions of the
scriptures which, written in the ancient Pali language,
constitute the canon accepted by what is called Southern
Buddhism. The word Pali alludes to the language. A
council was called at Rajagriha after the Buddha’s death
to decide what should be agreed upon as canonical.
Books as yet were not. The great Kassapa, the most
learned of the disciples, was called upon to repeat the
metaphysical teachings of the Buddha. Upali, the oldest,
recited the Laws and Rules of Discipline. Ananda,
the beloved, repeated the stories and parables told by the
Buddha. This may seem incredible, but such efforts of
memory were in no way remarkable in India and can in
certain cases be paralleled today.

These three form a collection known as the Tripitaka—i.e.,
the “Three Baskets”—of the Law. They were
handed down orally until the year 80 b.c., when in a rock
temple still existing, which I have visited more than once,
they were for the first time committed to writing.

“The text of the Three Baskets and the commentary
did the most wise Bhikkhus [monks] in former times
hand down orally, but since they saw the people were falling
away [from orthodoxy] the Bhikkhus met together,
and in order that the true doctrines might last they wrote
them down in books.”

This information appears in the ancient history of
Ceylon known as the Mahavamsa.

The Three Baskets are subdivided. In the first are
five divisions, of which four consist of these arresting
dialogues of the Buddha. It is on these and on the third
of the Baskets that the attention of the student should
first be fixed.

A fifth book named “The Questions of King Milinda”
is sometimes included in the Pali canon. It is an account

of philosophic dialogues between a shrewd dialectician
named Nagasena and the Greek king Menander, who
ruled the Indus territory from about 125 to 95 b.c. To
this book I am not personally attached, nor do I consider
it enlightening as to the doctrines of early Buddhism.
Nagasena was a man who loved cleverness for its own
sake, who delighted in glittering paradox, and whose hard
rationalism excluded all understanding of the mystic and
subconscious side of man’s being. It is a material development
for which some of the silences of the Buddha
gave an opening, and in “The Questions of King
Milinda” Nagasena takes smart liberties with the teaching
of his august master which should not be admitted.
His type of mind can easily be paralleled in the world of
today. It is exceedingly modern, and it has its reward in
the admiration of the many who will always be dazzled
by dialectic skill. I mention this because the book is
often accepted by scholars, and therefore by students, as
a manual of the teaching of the Buddha; and in the monasteries
of Ceylon it is granted an authority which I think
it does not wholly merit. Its date is about four hundred
years after the Buddha’s death.

At the time when the Buddha was born, superstition
was rampant, and the purer Vedantic teaching smothered
under a mass of fables and subtleties. Rite and ceremonial
were all. Wise men disputed about niceties of
metaphysical meaning, as profitless as later Christian disputes
over how many angels could dance on the point of
a needle; and the people, in terror of the gods, conciliated
them as best they could with sacrifices and penance.
European parallels in the Middle Ages will occur to
many minds.

A great doubt, a deep unrest, pervaded the air. The
social position was that which I have set forth in the
chapter on the Laws of Manu, though these were not yet
codified; and the pride of the Brahmin already showed
signs of menace to the well-being of the other castes. It

was the very crisis which in all countries points to the
need of a great man to restore the balance between the
material and the ideal, and to harness reason to the service
of morality. That cry for help is not always answered.
It was answered gloriously in India by the Buddha.

And first he struck straight at the priestcraft, and at
rite and ceremonial. What had that to do with the Eternal
Verities? The ideal could be discerned in the interpretation
of everything men see, hear, and do, if once the
chain of causation were firmly established and understood.
What need of the supernatural?—a word which
indeed has brought disorder, derangement, and servility
wherever it has been used.

Consequently he offered experience. He himself had
fought doubt and dismay through a great experience.
Others could do the same and judge for themselves. They
could verify all he said. As in Yoga, experience verifies
experiment, so also in the teachings of the Buddha. “Be
a lamp unto yourself.” None other can give the light
by which a man must attain realization; and the blood of
beast in sacrifice is no alternative for that perception.

In perception the faith of the Buddha was unalterable.
If a man sees things as in truth they are, he will
cease to pursue shadows and will cleave to the great
reality of righteousness.

The Buddha must always be considered as the child
of the Upanishads. Even the silences which have baffled
some of his commentators may be interpreted by these.
There were things he would not choose to say, for he had
daily evidence of how they were misinterpreted; but
Vedantists cannot doubt his meaning in broad outline.
From Aryan India and the Upanishads he derived his
belief in karma, his certainty of Nirvana.

He himself, a man of the princely Kshatriya or soldier
caste, was eager to respect the Brahmin when the Brahmin
could at all be respected. Therefore, when in any
doubt as to the fundamental teachings of the Buddha the

Upanishads must be considered. Not that he did not
add to them and enlarge their scope, not that in the
science of psychology he did not originate greatly. It
could not be otherwise with one of the greatest thinkers
who ever lived, but the Upanishadic attitude is fundamental.

The Buddha is often presented as the world’s profoundest
pessimist, but unjustly.

“Sorrow I teach and the uprooting of sorrow.”

There is no thinker but must allow the existence of
bitter sorrow and disappointment in the things of the
world, and in the cruelties of nature amongst men and
animals and in insect and plant life. Every philosophy
and faith rings with the grief of mankind, the attempt at
solution of the mystery as

A thing, one shrinks

To challenge from the scornful Sphinx.

But the Buddha did not shrink. He diagnosed the disease
in all its horrible details—how should the physician
wince from the symptoms?—and he prescribed the remedy.
He focused attention on the malady, for in the consciousness
of its terrors lay a part of the cure. The statement
which is perhaps most profoundly pessimistic runs
as follows:

“The pilgrimage of beings has its beginning in eternity.
No opening can be discovered, proceeding from
which creatures, mazed in ignorance, stray and wander.
What think you, disciples: is there more water in the
four great oceans or in the tears which you have shed
while you wandered sorrowing on this long pilgrimage
and wept because what you abhorred was your portion
and what you loved was not your portion? Every grief
have you experienced through long ages; and were not
your tears more than all the water in the four oceans?”

Can this be denied by any but the careless, the selfish,
and the momentarily happy who close their eyes to surrounding

horrors? Is it not true? and being true should
it not be faced? And such joy as there is, is invariably
menaced and ended by disease, old age, and death. Is
this statement unduly pessimistic? But even if it did not
make sufficient allowance for intervals of joy, it has a
key, a solution, contained in it, and no statement which
admits hope can be described as hopelessly pessimistic.

That key lies in the expression “mazed in ignorance.”
Can ignorance be dispelled? According to the teaching
of the Buddha it can be, and peace and bliss are the resultants.
Is this pessimism?

The philosophy begins with the statement of what he
called the Four Aryan (or noble) Truths.

First: There is suffering.

Second: There is a cause for suffering.

Third: This cause can be eliminated.

Fourth: The Way to accomplish this end exists.

Mankind has almost abandoned the attempt to impute
mercy to a personal omnipotent Being who could not
only perpetuate but devise the horrors which we must
see if we open our eyes. To be told they subserve a far-off
divine event scarcely helps us, for surely Omnipotence
might have devised some less cumbrous and bloody
machinery to that end. Furthermore these cruelties have
the air of blind experiment. Nature tries a type. It does
not suit her purpose. She slowly murders the failure to
substitute another type, which may in its turn fail. This
we see; and below our perception lies a world of yet more
sickening cruelty and horror in the insect world; and below
that again the horrors of the microscopic world. He
who reads such a book as the account of the termite ants
by Maeterlinck is conscious of almost physical nausea.
Can such things be? Yes, daily, momentarily, about us,
and we are only happy when we are blind. Unless indeed
we perceive causation and effect.

True, there is evolution—the evolution of orderly
communities, but they still resemble the termite too nearly

to afford us security. True, there is the intellectual life,
but that is for the few. True, there is the spiritual life—but
there the great mind of the Buddha paused in thought.
That too was for the few. Could it be possible to make
it the life-blood of the many?

To this end were his philosophy and dharma, or spiritual
law, directed.

And first it was necessary to provide a foundation for
morality to which the reason of all men could assent.
Not that there are not higher flights and vaster consciousness
than any which reason can provide, but where reason
can conciliate, the rest may or will follow in its good time.
The higher flights are the triumphs of psychic evolution.
Reason is open to all. And there can be no despising
reason because it cannot plumb the deeps of the universe.
It is the handmaid of philosophy and much more.
Therefore his aim—the chief object of his dharma—is to
show that morality claims the allegiance of reason and
of every quality that is inherent in the working of cosmic

Conduct. That is the beginning and essential. The
priests about him taught from the standpoint of supernatural
religion, in which offended or jealous gods must
be conciliated by sacrifices, penances, and liturgic rites.
He, striking at the root of that deadly growth, taught a
philosophy which gave birth to a religion where the gods
were of no account, the priest nothing—sacrifices and
penances vanishing in the larger conception of the universe
as darkness dies in dawn. There must be liberation
of the soul. Yes. But no man, no priest, no intercessor
can accomplish that work for another.

Stedfast devotion to duty, high altruism, perfect self-control:
these were the steps by which man might climb
the Mount of Vision. Yet the Buddha was no materialist,
no rationalist. In the very statement and building up of
his system will be found the orderly development which
leads reason to connections far beyond rationalism.

No one was better qualified to teach, for none had had
deeper experience of ignorance, of earthly joys and renunciation,
and also of the vanishing of ignorance in a
light in which all contraries were reconciled. He knew.
Was his knowledge communicable? At the first he
doubted. After his own awakening it was only in deep
and anxious consideration that it became apparent to him
how he could open the Way for mankind.

The beginning of his philosophy consists in the mental
attitude by which it must be approached; and here we
come at once upon the great differentiation between the
Buddhist and other systems. Pure reason at first. Nothing—no
statement—must be taken on trust because it has
authoritative backing. No word of his own is to be accepted
on that ground. He lays down certain principles,
which you can test by every test of reason; there must be
doubt, induction, and comparison, before one of them is to
be accepted. There must be close investigation and experience.
Nothing is to be mere theory, and the judgment
must be held in suspense until cause and effect are understood.

This indeed is the true scientific spirit. Reaching
across more than two millenniums it connects the Buddha
with such men as Newton and Einstein—all the patient
apostles and disciples of the great Evangel of what we
call modern science. This is the noble agnosticism that
must eventually conquer knowledge, for it is in itself

But hidden in this agreement with the modern spirit
of research lies the one great difference that was later to
produce a world-religion from his philosophy. It is the
fact that in the Buddha we have also a seer of the highest,
most developed spiritual power; and in him the forces of
intellect almost superhuman in might, fused with spiritual
experience amongst the highest the world has ever
known, were to produce a new and unique result in the
extension of consciousness.

Therefore those who have accepted his invitation to
examine for themselves are not called by themselves Buddhists—as
in the western world—for that would imply
the possibly blind, certainly acquiescent followers of a
great teacher. They call themselves Sammaditthi, which
means “Those who understand rightly.” Each, even if in
a lesser sense, must be a Buddha—One who is Awakened;
and the Buddha’s own awakening is of no use to them
as a means of realization except as laying down certain
principles, which they are at liberty to test and approve
by their own experiments. They are those who have revolted
against sorrow and “evil” and have attained a life
of finer quality from which these ingredients are eliminated.

Let us now consider the philosophy of Buddhist teaching.

The Buddha saw the world as a process of incessant
change and becoming. Nothing ever is. All is becoming;
however long or short the process of change, it is never
arrested; nothing human or divine is permanent. This is
a basis. It is well to quote a deliverance of his to a disciple;
I clarify the expression a little for western readers:

“This world believes in a duality—either a thing is or
it is not. But he who perceives with truth and wisdom
knows there is no ‘it is not,’ there is no ‘it is.’ These are
extremes. The truth is in the middle.”

That is to say everything is at every moment passing
into fresh forms of being, as a flowing river is ever and
never the same.

The teaching follows that whatever arises is inevitably
the effect of a previous cause, and therefore Law is the
universe and the universe is Law. Does this apply to the
body of man? Absolutely. To the mind? Again, absolutely.
To what we call the soul? Absolutely. All these
are forces, sequences, processes, as is everything in the
universe. Nothing is unrelated.

What for instance is thought? A vibration, swiftly

intermittent, a rapid flickering during the process of every
thought. It is always becoming, never become. It is
never stationary—except in the state of meditation, ecstatic
or otherwise, almost unknown in the West, and only
possible under discipline and in a state of higher consciousness.

Then if this is so, and we ourselves are part of this
constant flux of transiency, how is it that we are able to
close our eyes habitually to processes and think of things
as established and unchanging in any sense at all? There
are more reasons than one. I should put in the first place
the fact that in our sense-world, conditioned by the three
bounds of length, breadth, and height, we have no real
perception of the meaning of time, and that what I may
call the “measurements” of time are very different in
truth from what our senses report to us.

Another reason is that, as the Buddha points out in the
speech given above, we think in opposites such as “whole
and part,” “good and evil,” and so forth, whereas these
conceptions are merely relatively true and operate only
in the world of appearances presented to us by our purblind
senses. If for a moment we could realize the processes
of eternal change and becoming, we could not take
seriously the conception of things set apart from change,
isolated and abiding, to be worshiped, dreaded, desired—or
what not. For when once these processes are realized
we see that nothing we call “real” can excite any emotion
whatever. It is gone while we think of it, even as in our
conception of time, seconds are gone while we answer
to the question, “What o’clock is it?”

Life is a flux and a continual passing into other forms.
It is not extinguished, it is only passing on. Its energy is
conserved, but in other channels. Yet a certain portion of
energy is also dissipated in every transformation, and we
cannot follow the disposal of every unit.

Then what becomes of human identity? Identity is
only rapid continuity, just as in cinema pictures you get

an impression of identity of action from swift continuity.
Thus from the infant in the cradle to the old man is a
series of states no more; and so it is with the mind also,
even as a stick alight and whirled round produces the
illusion of a circle of flame. And because it is useful we
call this ever-changing human continuity “John” or
“Mary”—which is as untrue as when we say, “It rains.”
What rains? It simply happens.

In this the Buddha largely followed the Upanishads,
which had taught that the world presented by
the senses was phenomenal and distorted. But he was to
lay new emphasis upon certain facts and their results.
Like the tolling of a great bell ring his sayings:

“Know that whatever exists arises from causes and
conditions and is in every respect impermanent.”

“Just as a chariot wheel in rolling rolls only at one
point of the rim and in resting rests only at one point, so
in exactly the same way the life of a living being lasts
only for the period of one thought. As soon as that
thought is ended that living being is said to have ceased.”
(And another begun.)

Yet underneath all these changes and becomings and
passings lies something subjective that is, that does not
change. Each change is caused by some inherence in
itself, some law which it is compelled to obey. It is not
arbitrary. It has a stedfast sequence. And too much
emphasis cannot be laid on the fact that we find the
Buddha making a statement more than once on this point,
which he declined to analyze or explain.

“There is an Unborn, an Unoriginated, an Uncompounded.
Were this not so there would be no escape from
the world of the born, the originated, the compound.”

In other words Reality, the Unchanging, underlies
the world of appearances, of things as they are not.

All this is law. From this law nothing is exempt,
from the mightiest of astronomical systems to the microscopic
life of which science has only lately become aware.
And all life is one in stone, plant, insect, animal, man.

What started the process? This is the everlasting
question of all the faiths and philosophies. The Upanishads
say, “In IT awoke Desire.” The Buddha observes
“the noble silence of the wise.” He says that question
does not matter, for two reasons. First—our finite minds
could not grasp it even if any formula of words could be
found (and it cannot) in which the truth might be presented
to us. Second—what only concerns us is without
loss of time to bring ourselves into accord with the Law,
so that our own processes may be obedient and harmonious,
and that suffering may cease. Following this process
we shall reach the point of perfect cognition, as he himself
and others have done.

It follows from this teaching of the processes that
what man believes to be his individual ego is but a thing
of shreds and patches of consciousness and sense-perceptions,
which being put together, whirled together as it
were in the vortex of becoming, must certainly dissolve
and pass away, not only in the changes of life but in the
final dissolution we call death.

“Our form, feeling, perception, disposition, and intelligence
are all transitory and therefore evil, and are
not permanent and good. That which is transitory, evil,
and liable to change, is not the eternal soul. So it must
be said of all physical forms whatever, past, present, or
to be, subjective or objective, low or high: ‘This is not
mine. I am not this.’ This is not the eternal soul!”

Very often the Buddha was and has since been reproached
for declining to dissect and discuss this deep
underlying Verity. Unreasonably reproached, for it is
absolutely impossible to do so. Just in so far as it is a part
of what the Upanishads call Brahman, so of it also must
be used the negative. Is it loving, is it wise, is it eternal?
Of every suggestion we can only say, “It is not that,” for
nothing describes it. We cannot understand. The attempt
to do so must always be that of the man who falls
back upon a Personal God, because his consciousness cannot
stretch to the Absolute.

The wise and learned nun Dhammadinna, praised by
the Buddha for noble intellectual grasp, says:

“The ignorant man regards the self [ego] as bodily
form or something having a bodily form. Or else he regards
the ego as feeling or something having feeling”—and
so on through all the forms of sense-perception and
consciousness. The “awakened” however know that all
this is simply a complex to be dissipated at death. There
is no permanent soul. There is nothing that is individual
or separate or unchanging. And as to what universal
principle underlies all this complex the Buddha is silent.

He loathed the ignorance which offered this bundle
of perishable senses and qualities to be respected as an
individuality and an immortal soul. The most burning
words he ever uttered are invariably launched against
this belief of individuality, which he considered the
mother of all greed, selfishness, cruelty, and falsity. It
was to the breaking-down of this base little prison that all
his doctrine was directed; the hateful, the fettering belief
in the individuality and immortality of the complex of
perceptions and consciousness that we call man. It does
not exist, for it is everchanging. It cannot persist, for it
does not exist save as a process. The Buddha describes
its phenomena as a doctor describes the symptoms of a
disease. It is an actor posing as the Self—an actor of
many moods and changes indeed but yet

            “a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,


That is the perfect Buddhist conception of the complex
which man takes to be his self and his soul. And,
taking it for that, he believes in it, obeys its impulses,
takes its promptings for inspirations, and so miscomprehends
and misuses his every faculty, and is submerged in
the sea of sorrow.

Does nothing underlie all this mumming? Does
death drop a black and final curtain on the stage? Now
here we come to the very crux of Buddhist teaching, that
about which scholars have wrangled and worshipers
wept, that upon which great schools of Buddhism separated.
To me, holding to the Upanishads (though with a
difference) and accepting the silences of the Buddha in
the light in which he himself set them, it has never seemed
a difficulty. Take the famous approach of the wandering
monk Vacchagotta, who questioned the Buddha.

“How does the matter stand, venerable Gautama? is
there the ego?”


“How does the matter stand? is there not the ego?”


And, baffled, Vacchagotta went his way. The beloved
Ananda ventured a question as to the reason for the
silence. Summed up it was as follows:

“If I had said there is an ego it would have confirmed
the [false] belief in the permanence of what is transient.
If I had said there is no ego it would have confirmed the
belief in annihilation [at death].”

He would countenance neither belief. In other words
philosophy has its limits, and that which we attempt to
describe is indescribable; we must let words alone. The
subjective self eludes all description. He never denies it;
he never explains it. And really, where the attempts made
to do so and their results are considered, “the noble
silence of the wise” may be welcomed, although on the
other hand it may be owned that the Buddha’s caution
resulted in schisms and systems that were preventable.
For if the Buddha accepted the Upanishad teaching of an
Absolute underlying all appearances (phenomena), and
in my opinion this cannot be questioned, he must have
accepted that Absolute underlying appearances in every
one of us.

But how was he to dissect or describe it if asked? The

wise men of the Upanishads had given up that task as
hopeless, because they knew no words could bind the Infinite.
“Is It eternal, loving, just?” To each of these
questions they replied, “Not so.” For every one of these
defines personality and is limited by it, and in the Absolute
is neither limitation nor personality. Not even the
giant intellect of the Buddha could declare the truth of
that in us or of its state after death. Doubtless he
knew, for he had attained cosmic consciousness; but how
convey it to those who had not? Can a blind man distinguish
between red and blue? Those of his disciples
who also knew did not question what is beyond all human
categories. This can be proved from many anecdotes;
and all confirm the great teaching of the Upanishads,
though giving it a different and more practical orientation
and removing the abuses and superstitions of metaphysic
which had gathered about it.

Thus there was a monk named Yamaka, who pondering
on the teaching of the extinction of the ego believed
that after death the righteous man is utterly annihilated
and exists no more at all. His fellow monks in vain
urged him to abandon so wicked a heresy and at last
called upon Sariputta the Great (the Paul of the Buddhist
dawn) to deal with him. He undertook it.

“Is the report true, Brother Yamaka, that the wicked
heresy of annihilation has sprung up in your mind?”

“Even so, brother, do I understand the teaching of the
Blessed One.”

“Then what do you think, brother? is his bodily form
the saint? Are his sensations, perceptions, tendencies,
taken separately the saint?”

“Certainly not.”

“Then if they are not separately the saint, are they
the saint when united?”

“Brother, no.”

“Then if you cannot even prove the very existence of
the saint in this world of forms (and yet you know he

exists), is it reasonable for you to assert that at death
the saint can be annihilated and does not exist?” In
other words, can a thing be annihilated of which you cannot
prove the existence?

And Yamaka held down his head for shame and abjured
his heresy.

Also after the death of the Buddha, the King of
Kosala met with the learned nun Khema, a great arahat
(perfected saint), and asked her:

“Venerable lady, the Perfect One is dead; does he
exist after death?”

“Great king, he has not declared that he does.”

“Then does he not exist after death?”

“He has not declared that he does not.”

“But, venerable lady, ‘does and does not’? How is

She answered him with a very beautiful illustration
and ended thus: “So is it with the existence of the Perfect
One if measured by any human category. For all statements
of bodily form are abolished in him. Their root
is severed. They can germinate no more. He is released
from the possibility that his being can now be gaged in
any human terms. He is now deep, immeasurable, and
unfathomable as the ocean, and the terms of neither existence
nor non-existence fit him any more.”

And the king heard with approbation and went his

Thus there is something permanent, and the final
Nirvana is not extinction, but timeless and unconditioned
existence. Furthermore, the Buddha more than once
used the word “immortal” or undying, in the sense of the

“I will beat the drum of the immortal in the darkness
of this world.”


“Hear, monks, the immortal has been won by me.”

But no immortality is promised to the complex of the

non-existent I; and final deliverance from belief in it is
the entrance to the Nirvana either here or beyond death.

“Being freed, he knows that he is freed. He knows
that rebirth is exhausted . . . that there is no further return
to this world.”

Here it is well to use the Buddha’s own pronouncement.
He says it is only a fool who can believe that any
manifestation of the ego depending upon the action of
the brain and body can survive death. It cannot. This
was and is the conclusion of distinguished European Positivists;
and it shuts the door on any belief in any form of
immortality. For them that question was settled. But
the Buddha and some of his greatest followers teach that—allowing
this—there still is something which does not
die, but which cannot at all be expressed in any terms
known to human thought.

With this view the greatest Vedantic philosophers
and the scholars of the incipient western science of psychology
may cordially agree; and certainly no true student
of Asiatic thought could desire for a moment, much
less for eternity, the persistence of that poor little brain-complex
which the ignorant call “the self.” But when
this position of the Buddha’s is fully accepted, his implications
and silences still soar above us and leave us with
questions that cannot be settled until we understand the
Infinite because we have realized our own infinity.

I must dwell on this, because a part of the Buddhist
world sets the Buddha forth as an atheist and nihilist,
and treats any difference of opinion on this point as
“heresy.” That attitude in either religion or philosophy
is a western importation which they should not permit
themselves. The large philosophic tolerance of India
from time immemorial, shown by her greatest thinkers,
shown by such as the Buddhist emperor, Ashoka, should
rather be their model.

But though the body was eventually nothing, the
Buddha allowed no cruel asceticisms. He himself had

trodden that road. He knew their uselessness well. The
body must be cared for judiciously, because it is a factor
in spiritual development. For the same reason it must
not be pampered. He uses an excellent illustration here:

“When you were wounded by an arrow, you anointed
the wound and bandaged it. Did you love the wound?”


“In the same way true ascetics do not love their
bodies, but they tend them that they may advance in the
religious life.”

His attitude to caste should be defined. He had no
contempt for the laws of caste and was too much an Indo-Aryan
nobleman to have it. I might say the same of the
European of gentle birth in whom, whether in America
or England, his caste-law is the breath of his nostrils.
That is ingrained in the race, whether East or West.
But the Buddha beheld it from the practically ethical

“Not by birth is one a Brahmin nor by birth an out-caste.
By deeds is a man a Brahmin, by deeds an out-caste.”

Therefore, though the noble, wealthy, and intellectual
gathered about him, the members of any caste were welcomed
to his Order and could attain the highest rank.
Yet he was no democrat. He desired an aristocracy of
the Best; and the poor and lowly, like the high-born and
wealthy, must be members of that aristocracy before they
were acceptable. In so far, but no further, his teaching
is open to the charge of intellectualism. True, there were
heights in the Path, but also very lowly beginnings. This
should never be forgotten and can be most truly realized
in the happy countries where The Good Law rules,
though in another connection the master’s own words

“Profound, O Vaccha, is this doctrine, deep and difficult
of comprehension, good, excellent, and not to be
reached by mere logic, subtle, and intelligible only to

the wise. And it is a hard doctrine for you to learn, who
belong to another discipline, to another persuasion,
another faith, and have sat at the feet of another

Chapter XII


BUDDHIST philosophy is based as was that of the
Upanishads upon the Law of Karma, though with
a difference.

The Law of Karma regards death as a link in the
chain of the experiences of the soul, and is in itself a
mechanical law. It teaches that the consequence can as
little evade its cause as a man can run away from his
shadow. It is therefore the law of cause and effect in
the world as we see it, and it conditions all life.

A man is the architect of his own fortunes in every
relation of life. He lives in the house his former existences
have built for him with his own hands; and inequalities
and sufferings, otherwise inexplicable, are set
before us as consequences. Yet they need careful reading.
Wealth may be a test or a misfortune, poverty a
blessing, and so forth. Each can be tested or considered
only in relation to the innermost being of the man; and
none can judge of its working but himself, who has the
problem of working with and upon the stuff his thoughts
and actions have provided for him.

I have already spoken of the teaching of the Upanishads
upon karma, where it varies a little in the various
systems of philosophy; but in that of the Buddha certain
differences are so marked that it is well to recapitulate
for the sake of comparison. He placed the Law of
Karma upon a scientific footing which may be acceptable
to modern psychology. In both his teaching and that of

the Upanishads it is the law of conservation of moral
energy, a force real as the power that drives the sun. It
is mechanical in its working, but by no means mechanical
in its genesis, for all its generators are creatures of growth,
development, and perceptive consciousness, which can
and will be developed to the highest. Each one is free.
He is the captain of his fate. Self-control and discipline
can be made his servants. Causation is a cosmic force
and affects the whole tendency of the world as well as of
the individual. The wave, small as it is, is a part of the
ocean. No man can be righteous or unrighteous without
affecting the universe, because he is a part of the universe,
and we know that in the chain of consequence not
an atom can move without affecting the march of the

So far and even further is Buddhist philosophy a
child of the Upanishads; but there is one especially
marked and extraordinary difference, which I hope to
make clear in the account that follows.

Let this be remembered. The Upanishads teach that
“he who departs from this world without having known
the Soul or its true desires, his part in all worlds is a life
of constraint. He who departs from the world having
known these, his part in all worlds is a life of freedom.”

In other words his individuality persists in all lives
until the final enfranchisement which extinguishes the
last spark of desire and releases him from the sequence of
births and deaths. It is the same man in a different garment
of flesh. As says the Song Celestial, the soul discards
a worn-out garment and takes another. This is the
doctrine of metempsychosis as Plato received it, and
(roughly) it may be called the teaching of the Upanishads
on the law of causation which is as vital to the
West as to the East.

But this is not the teaching of primitive Buddhism.
Something indeed persists, but it is not the individuality.
It is another man who catches up the torch, burning

brightly or foully, which the dead man has laid down.
Later in many Buddhist philosophies this teaching was
modified—it had to be. Only the most exalted intellect
could grasp all the implications or, alternatively, the
most amazing docility accept it unquestioned. Yet it is
of scientific interest to the West, and possibly more than

If the Buddha’s teaching be accepted, and the complex
which is called man dissolves at death and the underlying
Absolute is always unconditioned, what is it that
passes on at death to gather round it a new body and act
a further part in the world of phenomena? This has
always been a hard nut to crack in Buddhist philosophy,
but it is extremely interesting and important. It explains
many difficulties of modern agnostic science.

Now first we must remember that the Law of Karma
is ourselves. We are a part of it, and because we are a
part of it and of the universal no man’s character concerns
himself only. It is also a part of the universe and
concerns the world at large. Is this difficult to realize?
Then consider it a little. A man’s character will be admitted
to concern his family. If he is depraved it may
tend to injure his children’s character as much as if it
were a poisoned cup from which all must drink. It is
true that no man can sin or be righteous for another, and
yet—as above—it concerns others profoundly. The character
of each unit of a nation constitutes the national
spirit. Stretching this further and to the world at large,
believing with Paul that “we are all members one of
another,” though in a deeper sense than Paul possibly
meant, we see that the upward or downward tendency of
each man is of world moment.

Therefore in the path taught by the Buddha, which
I shall define later, the struggle of the so-called individual
to do right, to attain, is not a selfish one in any
sense of the word. If it were he could not attain; the
selfish desire would negative attainment. It is the aim to

uplift the universal life in the sense in which the coral
insect toils at his microscopic building in the reef. The
reef will grow insensibly, be no longer submerged. Birds
will drop seeds upon it. Trees and flowers will blossom.
The individuality of the insect will have been lost, but
his toil will have passed on into the life of others, and his
work will have built up a better world for the advancing
evolution of the race. That is the Buddhist karma. The
individual dissolves, and another being succeeds him.
Accepting as a part of himself the limitations and extensions
made by his predecessor, he carries on the work in
the world of phenomena to higher issues. Sometimes to
lower issues temporarily, perhaps, but the work proceeds
surely, even if slowly and with retrogressions. You cannot
reform the world. You can as a unit reform only
yourself, and being a part of the world thus do your bit
and you cannot fail eventually.

But observe! The Law of Karma or causation is entirely
concerned with the world of Appearances. It has
no concern with the Absolute and Universal in each of
us. For all we know, the Universal in us may sit apart,
and smile with understanding at the earthly drama of
karma and the spectacle of the successor taking up the
burden of his predecessor’s responsibility and carrying
on the coral-reef work in his turn. We do not know. It
is probably all a kind of maya, the truth seen distortedly
by the senses. For the Self in us never comes or goes, is
never born or dies.

Karma is the law of the world of phenomena and rules
it utterly. It must be obeyed. It realizes all the noblest
aspirations possible to our knowledge here. It accords
with modern psychology and science. It echoes the hope
of George Eliot that after death one may be the cup of
strength to some soul in agony, because in one’s deeds one
did the utmost that one’s sight made visible. It is true
that others will reap where we have sown, but the harvest
will be good and being universal will be our own also.

Thus, though by far the greater number of Buddhists
accept the Upanishadic teaching of the doctrine of karma,
this austerer one may seem to be neither incomprehensible
nor unjust. It presents unanswerable reasons for doing
the utmost that lies in us for the attainment of higher and
higher consciousness and finally the highest. Every
thought, every action, has this result for all, and we live
according to the Law which benefits all, understanding
that each ripple of good thought and action sends its
impulse throughout the world and farther. And at last,
when only pure good is left, when the Karma we pass on
has become passionless and pure, so that no thirsty impulse
in it attracts an inheritor to our summing-up of
deeds upon the universe, then that cycle of births and
deaths is ended. The state supervenes which neither the
Buddha nor the Upanishads could or would describe,
immeasurable, profound as the ocean; and of that we
may imagine what we will, for eye hath not seen nor ear

But why does the life-force or any impulse create
birth and energy in another individuality? Why when
we pass away and our complex is dissolved should another
step into our shoes and “carry on”?

Because what we call our “individuality” is part of an
immensely complex bundle of world-forces. Character
is a force as real as heat or light. Deeds and thoughts
generate energy, and all force is one. Therefore, when
what we call “personality” is dissolved by death and the
complex flies apart, as it were, the impress of deeds and
thoughts upon the world, which may roughly be called
“character,” survives as a force. This “character” (as
we might use the word in speaking of any chemical unit)
survives, seizes what is nearest and akin to it for purpose
of combination, and so produces a new form, that yet
is certainly the old, speaking in a chemical sense—and a
deeper. This is fitted by its affinities to carry on its being
for good or evil, no injustice or favoritism being thereby

involved. So in a sense, the child carries on the life-germ
and aptitudes of heredity. He is not his father,
yet is, and could not have been without him.

A Buddhist illustration of this passing on of qualities
is a flame lighted from another flame. I prefer the Chinese
one of a note sounded in one room causing a similar
musical instrument in another to vibrate and to produce
the same note in response. From that beginning a clearer
or more jangled music may proceed, and so it is with the
passing on of character.

I know all illustrations are futile in relation to this
philosophy of the law of causation. Yet as symbols they
may help realization. Such a conception certainly
strengthens the sense of responsibility for deed and
thought. Minds—and what lies deeper than mind—will
find affinity in the interpretation either by the Buddha or
by the thinkers of the Upanishads of this law of causation,
according to the degree of psychic evolution they have
attained in their wanderings through births and deaths.
But, be it which it may, I think it is not too much to say
that the West has had an almost irreparable loss in the
absence of the doctrine of the law of causation from its
philosophies and faiths.

If it inculcated what is ignorantly called the belief in
“kismet,” or destiny from which there is no escape, then
we should be well rid of it; but since it is the doctrine of
noble responsibility and free will, since it meets every
logical necessity and what we call science is a part of it,
since it demands no faith, nothing but self-control and
experiment, I think it is very much to be hoped that—as
philosophy is realized as a part of science—the West may
accept a new basis for deduction of cause and effect in
the doctrine of karma. No one knows better than I what
a rough and incomplete statement I have made in this
matter of a vast philosophy, but if it leads some to further
examination of the world-responsibility of the “individual”
it is enough. It will be seen that the teaching is

very different from that of the generally understood
“transmigration of souls.”

What was the “Aryan Eightfold Path” by which the
Buddha taught that attainment of the higher consciousness
and knowledge of the truth might be reached? That
can be simply stated.

There are two extremes, which must be shunned. The
one is a life of pleasure devoted to desire and enjoyments.
That is base and ignoble, unworthy, unreal, and is the
Way of Destruction. The other is a life of self-mortification,
gloom, and torture. This is unworthy, unreal, and
leads to nothing. The middle way of wise temperance
and recollectedness is the way which ascends the Mount
of Vision.

Here are the eight stages:

First comes Right Understanding. Half-formed
views and mere opinions must be laid aside. A man
must perceive the distinction between the permanent and
the transient. He must see truths behind hypotheses.
Realization of the need of truth produces the right attitude
for its reception.

Next: Right Resolution. This is the will to attain
after it has been realized that attainment of wisdom is

Third: Right Speech. This is the first grade of self-discipline.
Indiscretion, slander, abuse, hard and bitter
words are forbidden. All words which are not kind,
pure, and true are forbidden in any concern in which a
man may be engaged. To attain this practice is to have
gone far in the Path.

Fourth: Right Conduct. Here the motive is all—the
motive is the deed. Deeds actuated by likes and dislikes
are forbidden. Having realized the law of causation
all must be done for furtherance of that law in ourselves
and others. In its highest this law is love and pity;
therefore all must be in accordance with “love unmeasured
and unfailing.” Love is the very door of escape

from the prison in which the base and transient little ego
is our jailer, because it gives us wide hopes and joys and
sympathy with all that is.

Fifth: Right Living. This includes choosing a right
means of livelihood, for there are certain callings which
a man cannot follow without “soiling his immortal
jewel.” Those involving cruelty to man or animal are
forbidden. So also those which lead to any foulness. A
man who has reached the fifth stage will know how to

Sixth: Right Effort. Now, wise and enlightened, he
will understand his deed and its aim, and will apportion
his strength directly to the end. All that he does will now
be in harmony with the law, nor does he need to consider
his course, any more than a man in health need consider
his heart-beat.

Seventh: Right Meditation. This is the state of a
mind at peace, clear of perception, having laid aside distortion
and illusion, and come face to face with the
Reality of which it is a part.

Eight: Right Rapture. This is the Nirvana possible
on earth, as distinguished from that which can be attained
only after death. It is the peace which passes all
understanding. It is the earthly attainment of the highest
consciousness possible until death opens the way to mysteries
not to be put in words.

This is the Noble Eightfold Path, based on the Four
Truths of Sorrow.

There are ten Buddhist commandments. The whole
ten are binding upon members of the Order. (These
members may at any time return unquestioned to lay
life, but this is very seldom done.) The first five alone
concern the laity.

1. Thou shalt not destroy life.

2. Thou shalt not take what is not given.

3. Thou shalt abstain from unchastity.

4. Thou shalt not lie or deceive.

5. Thou shalt abstain from intoxicants.


6. Thou shalt eat temperately and not after noon.

7. Thou shalt not behold dancing, singing, or plays.

8. Thou shalt not wear garlands, perfumes or adornments.

9. Thou shalt not use high or luxurious beds.

10. Thou shalt not accept gold or silver.

In closing this chapter and the account of Indian
thought, it may be of interest to give the Buddha’s famous
and brief sermon of the false self, which masquerades in
man as the true Self. I have simplified a little and have
slightly shortened, but the meaning stands.

“The mind, the thought, and all the senses are subject
to the laws of life and death; and when it is understood
how all these are compounded there is no room left for
the individual ‘I’ nor any ground for it; for it is this
belief in ‘I’ which gives rise to all sorrows, binding us as
with cords to the world of illusion. But when a wise
man knows there is no such ‘I’ the bonds are loosened.

“And of those who believe in this false ‘I’ some say it
endures beyond death, some say it perishes. Both are in
error. It does not exist. But when a man has learned
that there is no greedy ‘I,’ that it is an illusion, then he
passes on in other lives, knowing he is the same but not
the same, as the shoot springs from the seed, not one and
yet not different. Learn therefore that the ‘I’ does not
exist and the illusion of it conceals what is truly the

There is a delightful scene in the life of the Buddha
which recalls the life of ancient India in a clear picture
before the mind and illustrates also how instantly the
proud and high-born Aryan intellect leaped to the appreciation
of his teaching. Not that there was not room

for the poor, the slow-witted—for all were welcome—but
there is a kind of austere beauty in seeing how the
nobly-born in intellect as in rank, the selected castes,
soared straight as eagles to the sun.

One of his five original converts, Assaji, had gone
into the town to ask an alms of food. He walked in the
shade clad in the yellow robe with bared shoulder, composed
and with majesty, meditating as he went. A young
Brahmin of noble birth named Sariputta saw him and
was moved by the dignity of his serene presence.

He thought: “This man has attained the Law of
Purity. I will question him. Not now, for he is seeking
alms, but presently.” And, after waiting, he approached
and saluted him. “Friend your eyes shine. Your color
is pure and clear. Great is your composure. In whose
name have you renounced the world and who is your
honorable master?”

“Friend, my Master is the Son of the Shakya House,
a descendant of kings. I am a novice. I cannot tell the
great heights of the law but I can give its spirit.” And
after musing a moment he said (and the words became a
most famous summary): “The Awakened One teaches
that existences which appear separate are dependent upon
One Cause and upon one another, and that their apparent
separateness springs from ignorance and illusion as to the
Cause. And that these [apparently separated] existences
can be ended and the truth of Unity appear.”

When Assaji said this, suddenly all the implications
were clear as light before the mind of Sariputta and he
knew the truth:

“There is but One Unchanging, Permanent and Eternal,
of which the true Self is a part.”

Deeply moved he said to Assaji: “If the teaching were
no more, it at all events makes an end to sorrow.”

And he ran quickly to his friend Moggalana, who
cried out: “Your eyes shine. Have you found deliverance
from death?”

He answered breathlessly, “I have found it. I have
found it!” And so told him.

On the great intellect of Moggalana also flashed the
clear perception, and without an instant’s delay they ran
to the wood where the Perfect One sat in the shade surrounded
by his Order. When he saw them hurrying he
said to those about him:

“Welcome those two for they shall be my greatest;
the one unsurpassed for wisdom, the other for supernormal

So they came and told him their case and he said:

“Come, monks, the doctrine is well taught. Lead
henceforward a pure life for the extinction of sorrow.”

It is interesting to know that it caused grave alarm
among the people that so many men, young and noble
leaders of the social order, should assume the yellow
robe. They said:

“The ascetic Gautama has come to bring childlessness
and the decay of families.” And they made a verse
which was sung in the streets. I render it thus:

The great Monk has come through the wood ways; he sits on the hill.

And whom will he steal from us next, for he takes whom he will?

His disciples repeated this angrily to the Buddha but he
laughed, saying:

“The excitement will last only seven days. But, if
they taunt you with that verse, reply with this.”

And he made a verse of his own which I render thus:

The heroes, the perfect ones, lead by the truth.

Who shall call it amiss?

If the Buddha persuades by the truth will ye blame him for this?

And in seven days it was forgotten; and still the great
and lowly flocked to him.

A few words must be said about the Buddhist form

of Yoga of which the master said: “Not to the clouded
mind nor the foolish do I proclaim the meditation of the
mindful breathing.” And again, “Monks, if one who is
ordained practices but for a short while the mindful
breathing, he dwells with concentration. He is behaving
in conformity with the ancient good teaching and my own
practice. If such be its value when practiced for a short
time, how great is its value if practiced for a long time.”

I cannot here give the routine of the discipline nor is
it necessary, for in my list of books will be found one
which gives full details, “Anapana Sati.” Among the
objects to be attained are remembrance of former lives
(on this the Buddha is very explicit), the power of instant
reflection, that of instant attainment, that of instant
emergence, that of bringing any desired thing to pass by
sheer will-force, the psychic power of reviewing and
investigation. The goal is the Great Awakening to cosmic
knowledge, and beyond that the Hypercosmic. I
strongly recommend the study of this system to those who
would comprehend the psychic states.

Buddhism can never die, for it is a part of the eternal
verities, but it was inevitable that it should be transmuted
from its noble austerities for the use of those who can
accept only a small portion of truth, which must always
be relative wherever any high thinking is brought in
touch with words and deeds. All men are not Sariputtas
and Anandas. And so, in India, the sterner processes of
the doctrine were gradually resumed into the rites and
ceremonies of Brahminism, for those who could not advance
without the support of the priest; the differences
were softened, the Buddha was recognized as an Incarnation
of Vishnu; and the astute Brahmin triumphed.

Buddhism was thus rather absorbed than killed, and
being absorbed some of its value still leavens Indian
thought, though the high intellectual perception and
courage of intellect that would have saved Indian thought
from many sentimentalities, follies, and degradations

(which India has bitter reason to regret) had ceased to
act. Remaining in Nepal in the form known as Northern
Buddhism, it passed away to leaven and season the
whole Asiatic thought, philosophy, religion, and art. Yet
here too it underwent transmutation suited to the needs
of the average man, for the knowledge did not as yet exist
by which its high scientific value could be tested. That
time has now come in the West.

In Tibet, China and Japan, the Teaching has thus
undergone much change, save perhaps in the sect which
is in Japan known as Zen; and that is dehumanized into
pure intellect and certain highly austere forms of art. I
shall refer to this later. In Burma and Ceylon (I write
in Ceylon), though love and faith persist, the high philosophy
is scarcely grasped except by scholars.

If philosophy and religion are not to be divorced, and
the latter is to persist in the modern world, if West and
East are to exchange and synthesize their gifts as they
should for the good of all mankind, I predict a great revival
for the finest forms of Buddhism in the West. But
it may be that the disintegration of materialism has gone
too far. Who can tell?

Such were the great philosophies of India—such is
the heritage the Indo-Aryan mind has given to the world.
Can the Indo-European mind accept it? But for those
who have studied them with vision these philosophies are
the highest flight to which the perception and intellect of
man have attained.

India can speak with her enemies and calumniators
when thought, wisdom, and spirituality are taken as values.
She it is who has taught that man is a soul with a
body, in contradiction of the western conception that man
is a body with a soul. She it is who has taught how man
may “spit out the body” and realize his divinity as the
only reality. For this India, blinded with her own vision,
a mighty place is reserved in the circle of the nations.
Her feet are soiled and bleeding. Her brows are
crowned with the eternal stars.

Chapter XIII


IT is impossible to omit Tibet and Mongolia in a survey
of Asiatic thought, and this book would be incomplete
indeed if I passed over the extraordinary and illuminative
Tibetan Book of the Dead—or “Liberation
by Hearing on the After-Death Plane”—which Dr.
Evans-Wentz has lately issued in translation and to which
I referred in a previous chapter. I hope my summary
may send many to the book itself, for I regard it as one
of the most remarkable gifts from East to West that have
yet been given. There are people for whom it will reconstitute
their thoughts on death.

The book is a translation from very early Buddhist
documents in Tibet, so ancient that in some of the funeral
ceremonies are unmistakable references to the original
Bon religion of the Tibetans, which preceded Buddhism
in that strange country and itself taught the doctrine of

Buddhism was introduced into Tibet from two sources
by the King Srong Tsan-Gampo, who died a.d. 650. He
married a princess of the royal House of Nepal, which
was a Buddhist country, and also a princess of the Chinese
imperial family. These two princesses brought Buddhism
with them, and the seed was sown. This king’s
powerful successor, Thi-Srong-Detsan, reigned from 740
to 786 a.d. and it was he—a powerful ruler—who invited
“The Precious Teacher,” Padma Sambhava, to come to
Tibet and spread the Buddhist light. He was a Professor
of Yoga in the great Buddhist university of Nalanda

in India, and famous for his knowledge of the occult.
It is from his original influence that Tibet has since been
the home of the occultism of Buddhism.

He had many books on those subjects hidden with
mystic ceremonies. They were not for the general reader.
Some are preserved in the monasteries of Tibet. The
book of which I write is supposed to be one of these, and
should be regarded as having been compiled during the
first centuries of Lamaism in the time of Padma Sambhava
or very soon after. It is believed that in addition to
his own wisdom he was fortified by the assistance of
eight gurus (teachers) in India, each representing a different
aspect of the doctrines he taught.

The translation presented by Dr. Evans-Wentz was
made by a very remarkable lama named Kazi Dawa-Samdup,
who died in Calcutta in 1922. He was known
to the British authorities for his learning and character,
was attached to the political staff of the Dalai Lama when
he visited India from Lhassa, and he later became lecturer
in Tibetan to the University of Calcutta, where he
died. Dr. Evans-Wentz and Sir John Woodroffe
(Reader of Indian Law in the University of Oxford)
speak in the highest terms of this young man and his
attainments. Dr. Evans-Wentz modestly describes himself
as the mouthpiece and “English dictionary” of this
Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup, of whom he was a recognized
disciple; but those who read his powerful introduction
to the book will allot him a very different position. His
experience in Asia and among Asiatic teachers has been
great and varied, and we must hope much more from his
knowledge and the untranslated texts he still holds.

In my summary I shall not use the Tibetan Buddhist
symbols, which though natural and beautiful to the oriental
or scholarly mind are comparatively useless to western
truth-seekers. In as plain English as possible I shall
describe the various stages of this extraordinary and
beautiful guide-book for the dead.

It teaches the art or science of death. A western
writer has said:

“Thou shalt understand that it is a science most profitable
and passing all other sciences for to learn to die.
For a man to know that he shall die is common to all
men; but thou shalt find few who have the cunning [wisdom]
to learn to die. I shall give thee the mystery of
this doctrine, the which shall profit thee greatly to the establishment
of ghostly health and to a stable fundament
of all virtues.”

Such is the aim also of the Tibetan Book of Death.
It is written for the guidance of the dead man during the
forty-nine symbolic days which he must spend in the
Bardo, or Intermediate State of the Dead, before reincarnation
or ultimate union with the Divine.

Passages from this book are read in his ear during
dying, following death, and afterwards, at intervals, for
the forty-nine days. They are for the guidance of the
deceased during the ordeal to which his past life has exposed

His time in the Bardo is divided into three stages, entirely
conditioned by his own past thoughts and deeds.
He passes into a swoon or trance, into one awakening and
then another, until the third Bardo ends. In the second
Bardo he meets in symbolic visions all the hallucinations
he created for himself as the result of his earthly thoughts
and deeds. His thought-forms now pass before him in a
solemn and mighty panorama, which if he is not instructed
he takes for real objective appearances. He still
believes he possesses a fleshly body. Realizing at last
that he does not, he enters the third Bardo of craving
rebirth, and, this desire drawing him with passion to
earth, he is reborn and the intermediate state ends.

With this explanation I begin the summary.

We are in a Tibetan home. The master is at the point
of departing this life, and all about him know that the
moment of the disintegrating process called death has

come. The psyche is about to enter on a new life, the
body to decay and to pass into other forms. Birth incarnated
the soul-complex; death will now discarnate it.
The proper steps must be taken to insure its happy departure
and safe guidance through the mysterious state
which precedes reincarnation or, possibly, the joyful and
triumphant cessation of earthly births and deaths. The
instructed lamas are summoned to give their aid.

And first, when breathing is about to cease, the jugular
arteries are gently but firmly pressed that the dying
man may be kept conscious with a rightly directed consciousness.
The ebbing vital current is, if possible, to
pass out through the suture of the head—for according
to Yoga the head is the chief center of consciousness, regulating
other centers in the spinal column—and when the
vital current is thus withdrawn the lower parts of the
body are devitalized, and there is concentrated functioning
at the brain center. This being done the dying man
recalls to mind the whole of his past life before he passes
from it. He recalls it in every detail. In the West this
is said to be the common experience of those who are
virtually dead by drowning and who on being reanimated
tell us that this was a feature of what has occurred. I
have myself heard this at first hand.

The state of dying clarity and perception passes, and
at the actual moment of separation of soul and body the
consciousness of objects is lost. This state is known as
“the swoon,” and in it is perceived the Light of the
Higher Consciousness, dealt with by the Vedanta and
Buddhism as I have described in previous chapters. If
the departing soul can now accept union with this high
consciousness, he is a knower and secure from future rebirths.
If he cannot he is “an ignorant being” and is
doomed to further pilgrimage on earth. All persons see
this Light on dying, and therefore all have the opportunity
of escape if they are qualified to accept it. This
must be so, for the light is the emanation of their own

The Light is spoken of in the Book of the Dead as
such a dazzlement as is produced by an infinitely vibrant
landscape in spring, an indescribably blissful inner experience.
Yet the radiance is so great that it may inspire
terror and flight to dimmer lights or shadows. Will the
dying man, still perhaps the slave of his earthly experiences,
recognize it as himself and so attain liberation from
sad rebirth? Or will it dazzle him into flight toward the
lesser lights which point the way to earth again? If he
has reached the right point of development, if he is
rightly supported, he may enter the Sea of Bliss, and all
be well.

With this aim the lama seated beside him reads in his
ear the Thödol Bardo, the guide-book to the Unknown

“O nobly born, the time has now come for you to
seek the Path of Reality. Your breathing is about to

“Your teacher has set you face to face with the
Clear Light, and now you are about to experience
it in its reality, wherein all things are like the void
and cloudless sky, and the naked spotless intellect
resembles a transparent vacuum without circumference
or center.

“At this moment know Yourself and abide in that
state.” (That is, in the State of the Higher Consciousness.)

This must be read many times in the ear of the dying
one, even before breathing has ceased. He must be turned
over on the right side, which posture is called “the lying
posture of a Lion” (the Buddha lay thus), and so composed.
Then, still speaking in the ear, the lama says:

“O nobly-born, that which is called Death being
now come to you, resolve thus:

“‘O, this is now the hour of death! By taking
advantage of this death I will so act for the good of

all sentient beings as to obtain the Perfect Awakening
by resolving on love and compassion toward
them and by directing my effort to the Sole Perfection.’”

This is repeated distinctly to impress it on the mind of the
dying person and prevent it from any wandering. When
the breath has ceased the instruction is to press the nerve
of sleep firmly and thus exhort the dead man:

“Reverend sir, now that you are experiencing the
Clear Light, try to abide in that state. Recognize it.
O nobly-born, listen!

“Your present intellect is the Very Reality, the
All Good. Recognize the voidness of your intellect,
for that is Awakening, and so keep yourself in the
Divine Mind of the Buddha.”

And now, awakening in the first stage of the Bardo,
the Intermediate State, and reviving from the Swoon,
the dead person thinks: “Am I dead or am I not dead?”
He sees the weeping of his friends. He sees his body
stripped for the shroud, the place of his sleeping-rug
swept, for he will need it no more. The lama beside him
reads in his ear:

“O nobly-born, listen with due attention.

“Death comes to all. Do not cling in fondness
or weakness to this life. There is no power in you to
remain here. Be not attached to this world. Be not
weak. Remember the Holy Trinity of the Buddha,
the Law, and the Assembly. Bearing these words in
heart, go forward.”

The following prayer is suggested to the dead man as
suitable for his use:

“Alas, when the uncertain experience of Reality is
dawning upon me here, with every thought of fear or
awe set aside may I recognize whatever visions appear

as the reflections of my own consciousness.
When at this all-important moment let me not fear
the armies of my own thought-forms.”

The lama resumes as guide:

“When your body and mind were separating you
experienced a glimpse of the Pure Truth, subtle,
sparkling, bright, glorious, and radiantly awful; in
appearance like a mirage moving across a landscape
in springtime, in one ceaseless flow of vibrations. Be
not daunted nor terrified nor awed. That is the radiance
of your own true nature. Realize it!

“From the midst of that Radiance, roaring like a
thousand thunders, Reality will come. That is the
sound of your own True Self. Be not daunted.

“Since you have no longer a material body,
sounds, lights, and rays cannot harm you. It is sufficient
for you to know that all apparitions are but
your own thought-forms.

“O nobly-born, if you do not now recognize your
own thought-forms, the lights will daunt you, the
sounds will awe you, the rays will terrify you.
Should you not understand this you will have to
wander in rebirth.”

Thus the spirit is visualized as within hearing distance
and is exhorted and supported. After the funeral
an effigy of the dead is made by dressing a block of wood
or some such thing in his clothes and for the face substituting
a printed paper, called the chang-ku, in which the
central figure represents him in an attitude of adoration,
legs bound, and surrounded by symbolical objects. Its
inscription usually runs as follows:

I, the world-departing one [here the name is inserted]
adore and take refuge in my lama-confessor
and all the deities both mild and wrathful, and may
the Great Pitier forgive my accumulated sins and
impurities of former lives and show me the way to
another good world.

This is visualized as the spirit of the deceased in the
readings which follow.

He must be instructed that he has been in a deep
swoon of consciousness. Now he will awake with the
formless blue of seeming space about him. Divine Appearances
advance toward him. He is exhorted to look
upon the blue Abysmal Light without fear and to remember
that these mighty Appearances are only the
thought-forms of his own past life, for in all the universe
is in Reality nothing but himself and THAT of which
he is a part. Let him not for an instant turn from the
blue Light of his own highest being. For it is the light
of one who is become a Buddha, the Light of Wisdom.
The dead man must put his faith in it, believe in it firmly,
pray to it with all his heart and soul and strength. He is
to pray this prayer:

May the Divine Mother of Infinite Space be my rear-guard.

May I be led safely across the fearful ambush of the Bardo.

May I be placed in the state of All-Perfect Buddha-hood.

Let him shun the dull light of his mere intellect and
lower perceptions, for they can lead him only into the
pitfalls of rebirth, and hinder his reunion with the One.
Here, in this world, must pass before him, assuming divine
and fearful forms according to their nature, all the
thought-forms of which he was the creator on earth.
Beautiful and terrible, in awful procession, they move
before him like pictures upon a screen; but the
knower in him, the divinity, is steadfastly exhorted
to realize that these are phenomena and appearances of
the earth, and that in all the Universe there is but the
One and he himself is that. Realizing it he can pass
safely through the psychic dangers of this transitional
state, which will determine whether he is capable of seeing

the Truth or whether he must still wander on earth,
painfully evolving to the point where realization becomes
possible. Let him see through these appearances
to the Ultimate and be no longer deceived by their beauty
or terror into belief that there is anything in the Universe
but That which is the Universe and himself and all.
This is repeated, enforced, driven home again and again.

Now the earthly ministrant, the lama, exhorts him to
realize his own yogic powers. He is in the Fourth Dimension,
no longer governed by the trammels of the flesh.

“O nobly-born, your present body is not a body of
gross matter. You have now the power to pass
through hills, earth, houses, and mountains, straight
forward or backward.

You are endowed with the power of miraculous action,
not as the fruit of discipline and ecstasy but

You can instantaneously reach what place you will.

Yet do not desire these powers of illusion and shape-shifting.

Pray to the Teacher.”

These powers only the yogin, and not the normal man,
possesses in earthly life, and just as the yogin is warned
against their use until he has attained pure spirituality,
so is the traveler in the Twilight Land warned that until
the perfect beauty of spirituality has flowered in him he
must not use them, even though he thinks they would help
him now. He is merely to be stedfast and unalarmed,
and to realize in quiescence that all he sees is but the projection
of his own heart or brain upon the screen of his
own consciousness. He is to watch it as the spectator of
a show, knowing that it will pass and he will step out
into the clear air of Reality. But if he believes these
hallucinations real, they will imprison him in earth’s
glamor once more and inevitably drag him earthward
into the old snare of the senses, for they are the creation
of his earthly life.

He is not to be misled even by the apparitions of
angelic beings or deities. These too are only the phenomena
of his own thought-forms. Steadily and fixedly
he must focus with prayer and desire upon the One. In
the next stage every lower instinct and craving is pulling
him toward the desire of rebirth upon the earth he has
left. Fierce is the struggle between this thirst of passion
and the pure insight of the immanent spirit. Very few
have reached the point where the latter is victorious over
the greedy clinging yearnings of the forms, for all the
familiar things of earth. Lonely are the stellar spaces,
warm and desirable the hearth-fire. And the fierce wind
of an imperfect karma drives him earthward again in
spite of the struggles of the upward aspiring psyche. He
must pray:

“O compassionate Lord of the Precious Trinity,

Suffer it not that I fall into the unhappy worlds.”

And still the lama exhorts:

“O nobly born, listen.

What you are suffering comes from your own karma [past deeds and thoughts and character].

Pray earnestly. Think not of your worldly goods.

Think that you are offering them to the Precious Trinity and your teacher.

Create no impious thoughts. Pray!”

Then follow the instructions for closing the door of
the womb, which offers itself as the gate of rebirth and
draws him by some mysterious affinity. This is the last
and hopeless struggle to escape rebirth, for insensibly
and terribly he is drawing near that consummation once
more. The Clear Light has become troubled and muddied,
the earth-desires are strengthening their hold.
Again the voice of the lama is insistent in the man’s ear.

“Be not distracted.

The boundary-line between going upwards or downwards is here and now.

Giving way to indecision even for a moment you will suffer lengthened misery.

This is the moment.

Hold fast to one single purpose.

Cling to the chain of good acts.”

And now, still steadily declining toward earth, the
discarnate one perceives the mating of men and women,
and is still drawn downwards to the gateway of the womb.
If he is to be born as a male the Knower (the soul) begins
to experience the feeling of maleness, to be torn with
a feeling of hatred to its future father, of love to its future
mother (this is strangely Freudian) and vice versa
if it is to be born as a female. Again the swoon takes it,
but this time the swoon preceding birth; and it enters the
embryonic stage in the womb with its doom pronounced
by itself. Future wandering through births and deaths
is to be its portion, until the time comes when on seeing
the Clear Light it shall recognize it as Itself and its Own,
and be one with it by instinctive knowledge and realization.

Those who are voraciously inclined to this life or
who do not at heart fear it—Oh, dreadful! dreadful!

Thus is completed the Profound Heart Drops of
the Bardo doctrine which liberates embodied beings.

Here are one or two of the Root Verses of the Bardo.
The prayer of the soul.

Oh, now when the Bardo of the Reality upon me is dawning,

Abandoning all awe, fear, and terror of all phenomena,

May I recognize whatever appeareth as being my own thought-forms.

May I know them to be apparitions in the Intermediate State.

Oh, now, when the Bardo of taking rebirth is dawning,

May the womb-door be closed and the revulsion recollected.

The hour is come when energy and pure love are needed.

And again:

When the cast of the dice of my life is exhausted

And the relatives of this world avail me not,

When I wander alone in the Bardo,

Let it come that the Gloom of Ignorance be dispelled.

When the shapes of my own empty thought-forms dawn upon me

May the Buddhas in divine compassion

Cause it to come that there be neither doubt nor terror in the Bardo.

When the bright radiance of the Five Wisdoms shines upon me,

Let it come that I, neither awed nor terrified,

May recognize them to be of myself.

It is to be noticed that in this state of transition in the
Formless World—the Twilight Bardo, there is no divine
intervention whatever. Thought-forms of deities indeed
are projected upon the screen of the man’s consciousness,
but they have no real existence. The Universe is One and
he a part of it. It is said in Tibet that these forms will
take the appearance of whatever the man has believed on
earth—the Christ, if a Christian, Mohammed if a Mohammedan,
the Buddha if a Buddhist.

The history I have given above is that of the normal
man, who, having fallen short of the evolution which
unites him with the One and unable to perceive his unity
with Reality, is condemned by himself to rebirth. He
reënters the womb—that entry being conditioned by affinity,
and again begins his pilgrimage.

It will be observed how this northern Buddhist conception
of karma in direct individual rebirth differs from
the more subtle primitive Buddhist conception of the
character of the dead being alone handed on to another
being, as a torch is passed from one grasp to another in
the torch race. Both are only symbols or earthly phenomenal
conceptions of an infinite truth. So would the
yogin say who has attained perfect cosmic perception.
His own conception of death, and entry by that Gate into
the Formless World, of course differs entirely from that
of the average man.

The yogin, he who by training and discipline on earth
was enabled even then to enter the formless, the fourth
dimensional world and use its forces, he who has dwelt
in the serene radiance of the Clear Light during his experience
of living in the fleshly body, whose bounds he
could so easily transcend—such a man has nothing to fear
in the Bardo. No sights of forms, deific or otherwise,
can mislead him; no horrors repel him. The Clear Light
can be borne by his accustomed eyes. He enters and is
absorbed in the One—into bliss unspeakable and incomprehensible
to the man who does not possess his knowledge.

Can the man who falls into rebirth recall his former
births? Here the Buddha is explicit, as I have said

“If he desires to be able to call to mind his temporary
states in days gone by, so that he may say, ‘In that place
such was my name, my family, my caste,’ . . . that object
will be attained by the state of self-concentration. If
the mind be fixed on the acquirement of any object that
object will be attained.”

In other words, by the discipline of Yoga the deep of
the subconscious, which, in Professor James’ words, “is
the abode of everything that is sublatent,” may be probed
and the seemingly vanished memories be recovered. As
says the Buddha:

“Thus he calls to mind the various appearances and
forms of his past births. This is the first stage of his
knowledge. Darkness has departed and light come; the
result due to one living in meditation and subduing his

It is interesting to consider this doctrine of hallucinations
after death, derived from life-experiences. In this
way we may account for the dream-cigars and brandies-and-sodas
desired and enjoyed by the departed spirits if
a medium can get in touch with their consciousness. We
may therefore, knowing this, condone the follies they

utter, their dreamed Christian or other heavens. There
are indeed many developments of modern spiritualism
to be accounted for by this Tibetan psychology.

Does the human spirit in its chain of rebirths ever
assume an animal form? Naturally the Divine in a man
cannot do so and need not, for the Divine is latent in all
forms of life. But the Laws of Manu hold that the “vital
spirit” in man, which is not divine, may by misuse incarnate
in the lower forms of life. The belief of the
higher occultists and philosophers is that even this is
impossible and that just as the stedfast evolution or karma
of a plant renders it impossible for it to change into any
un-allied form, so, when the pattern of humanity is once
stamped upon him, it is impossible for the man to
unite with or manifest himself in any other form. He
may degenerate into a savage man, but never into the

Dr. Evans-Wentz quotes some interesting remarks of
Huxley’s, that famous scientist and warrior of the doctrine
of evolution.

“In the theory of evolution the tendency of a germ to
develop according to a certain specified type is its ‘karma.’
It is the last inheritor and last result of all the conditions
that have affected a line of ancestry which goes back for
many millions of years to the time when life first appeared
on the earth. As Professor Rhys Davids aptly
says: ‘The snowdrop is a snowdrop because it is the outcome
of the karma of an endless series of past experiences.’”

This has interest as coming from Huxley, for though
it misses the spiritual meaning of the great philosophical
conception of karma it recognizes its strong scientific
verity. His statement does not walk in the regions of the
Bardo, but it may very well define the blind impulses and
yearnings impelling the man or the snowdrop to perpetuate
existence upon earth so far as each is able, although
in the case of the man the spirit strives against the material

envelop and its desires “with groanings which cannot
be uttered.”

Other great faiths have aimed at this conception, but
have not stated it clearly. It would seem that a new and
most desperately urgent prayer might be added to the

From the thought-forms and illusions we create and mistake
for Reality, good Lord, deliver us!

Yet most certainly this Tibetan teaching on death is a
gospel of joy. These evils, these sins, are nightmares,
dissolving like wreaths of mist in the dawn of Truth, for
when a man realizes himself, they are not only gone—they
never existed. He laughs as he goes on his way.

What an infantile science of psychology is that of
the West compared with the clear, deep knowledge and
experience of the East, the outcome of five thousand
years’ study. I have seldom felt it more profoundly than
in reading this book of the strange lands guarded with
snowy peaks, where so few penetrate, where life and
death assume aspects very different from those of the
crowded city life of the West. Yet, call it what we will,
the Bardo lies before all, and life is the stair which ascends
to it and to its infinite possibilities, from the city
as from the steppe.

Tibet is a strange country. Its art reflects its stern
and terrible outlook. Many of its pictures and deities
are known to me, in brilliant and gloomy colors contrasting
the hope of the virtuous man with the terrors awaiting
him who has created the nightmares which will break
his peace. “In that sleep of death what dreams may
come?”—a question very terribly asked and answered in
this book of the shadowy regions we shall all explore,
and soon.

Traveling as I have done among the mountains of
Little Tibet I have realized how in a country so desolate
its imagery must necessarily take the shape of stark truth

in all its terrors. The terrors indeed stand visibly about
the way and demand their answer. But death and life
are lonely whether among the mighty mountains or in the
roar of great cities, and in the awful Tibetan solitudes
or in the veiling loveliness of Ceylon where I write now
the Clear Perception of Reality is apparent as the only
guide for the blindness of man.

Chapter XIV


IT is impossible—though I have purposely avoided dealing
with the philosophies of the nearer East—to avoid
the Sufi philosophy of Persia, partly because the Persians
are a distinguished branch of the ancient family from
which we and they alike descend, but still more because
they had gazed into the same great mirror as the originators
of the earliest Vedas, and had carried with them in
their own wanderings a dimmer conception of that light.
This is seen in the teachings of their prophet Zoroaster.

I have not written of this religion and its sacred book
the Avesta, for neither can really lay claim to the title of
philosophy, and high and ennobling as are the moralities,
the framework is so Vedic that the distinctions are
scarcely of importance except to the oriental scholar.
The languages of the Veda and Avesta are more closely
related to each other than are any other languages of the
allied races, and may be described as dialects of the same
tongue. For those who wish to study Zoroastrianism and
the still more interesting worship of Mithra, a Vedic sun
god, which at first bid fair to conquer Europe (and I
strongly recommend the study of both) the names of useful
books are given in the bibliography.

Nor do I enter into Mohammedan thought save in its
development among the Sufis. But if a book on earth
deserves study by those who are interested in religion and
social organization it is the Koran, that great protestation
of the Unity of God. As a philosophy it scarcely counts.
It burns on—a fiery comet—to one end only. But since

it is a faith of which much more will be heard in the
future, especially as Africa develops her savage or semi-savage
races, it should be known and respected.

“In the name of the Merciful and Compassionate God,
say: ‘He is God alone. God the Eternal. He begets not
and is not begotten. Nor is there anyone like to Him.’”

It throbs like the roll of war-drums. But in Persia,
springing from the root of Islam like a rose set with
thorns, came an astonishing development—that of a passionate
mysticism evolving into a philosophy that was to
influence the life and art of Persia and, through Persian
culture at the court of the Mogul emperors, the Indian
conception of art and its relation to life in a very high
degree: the Sufiism of Persia.

Islam invading Persia had narrowed the Persians;
it is a creed fenced with steel. They could not wholly
assent to the most daring flights of the Vedanta; but in
the close association of the two countries it was perceived
that here was a conception which would modify
the stern Semitic belief in a governing Oriental Sovereign—an
Allah extreme to mark what is done amiss, slow to
pardon, ruthless in justice. They had learned from India
that the gods may be transcended—indeed Mohammedanism
had led them thus far on the path—but Islam had
not formed its own spirit, its central point of junction,
where the Divine and man meet and blend in a love
transcending the attitude of Ruler and subject, or father
and son, and presenting a union only to be symbolized in
that of the lover and beloved.

This is a most interesting chapter in the history of
thought and that of Mohammedanism. Sufiism became
a philosophy of life which reacted profoundly on the literature
and art of Persia, producing such diverse fruits
as the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and the impassioned
lyrics of Jellal-u-ddin and of Akbar’s great poet Faisi.
In no study of Asiatic thought can it be neglected, if it
were but for its influence upon India.

The word “Sufi” is differently derived. Some trace
it to suf (wool) a cloth used by early Islamic penitents,
some to sufiy (wise, pious) some to safi (pure). Possibly
the likeness of the word to all three decided its choice.
It connotes a high mysticism.

The doctrine of the Sufis is that the human psyche
differs infinitely in degree, but not at all in kind from the
Divine. It is an atom in that infinite whole in which it
will eventually be absorbed. They hold that God is immanent
in spirit and in substance in the Universe, and
that the only real love in the universe is that which relates
us with that Perfection, all other love being a dream to
vanish at dawn. Eternity has neither beginning nor end,
its aim is bliss. Nothing exists in reality but mind or
spirit; material substances, as the world calls them, are
illusion, the false mirror of the Passing Show; therefore,
nothing is worth a moment’s consideration but the love
which unites us to the Bridegroom of the Soul; and even
in this illusory and miserable separation from the Beloved
flashes of heavenly beauty and memories of divine
love entrance us and remind us of forgotten truths. To
quote an English poet, of these visitings and instincts it
may be said:

Harken, O harken, let your souls behind you

  Turn gently moved,

Our voices feel along the Dark to find you

  O lost beloved!


The yearning to a loveliness denied you

  Shall strain your powers.

Ideal sweetnesses shall overglide you,

  Resumed from ours.

In all your music our pathetic minor

  Your ears shall cross,

And all good gifts shall remind you of diviner

  With sense of loss.

Christianity and the new Platonism of Alexandria,
which influenced the Gospel of St. John, contributed
their streams to the river of this passionate devotion; and

it reacted upon the Moslems of India also in an ecstasy
that produced there a form of Sufiism resulting, not only
in a passionately beautiful form of verse, but also in art
of which exquisite examples may be seen among the
Mogul paintings.

Strangely—and yet why “strangely”?—the first famous
Sufi was a woman, Rabia, who died a century and a
half after the beginning of the Moslem era. Story after
story is told of her ecstatic passion for the Adored—spiritual
indeed, yet carrying the body onward with it
like a flower borne on the bosom of a mighty torrent.

She declared that she reached God by losing in Him
all else that she had found. Crying aloud that she
yearned to see God, to draw nearer, nearer by any means,
she was answered by the Voice in her heart:

“O Rabia, have you not heard that when Moses desired
to see God only a mote of the Divine Majesty fell
on a mountain and scattered it in fragments? Be content,
therefore, with my name.”

Asked by what means she had attained this intimate
knowledge she answered:

“Others know by certain ways and means, but I without
ways, without means.”

A moth indeed, consumed in the flame of the Divine!
When in sickness two famous theologians came to her
bedside, the first said gravely:

“He is not sincere in prayer who does not patiently
endure castigation.”

And the second: “How can he be sincere in prayer
who does not rejoice in suffering?”

But Rabia broke forth, radiant:

“How can he be sincere who seeing the Lord does not
forget all chastisement?”

This spirit was to blossom and fruit in the music of
Saadi, Rumi and Jellal-u-ddin.

Poetry was to dye her wings in celestial fires—was to
soar so near the sun as to terrify those who still walked

on earth and preached the doctrine that an enthroned
Deity must be approached only with awful fear and reverence.
And there was another fear also, sometimes justified,
that this passionate flood of erotic symbolism and
allegory might carry the body to earthly joys rather than
the soul to those inhabiting the Paradise not built with
hands, eternal in the heavens. But nothing could stay
the ardor of the Sufis. Their love was a torrent.

“Glory be to Him who has removed from our eyes the
Veil of Externals of form and confusion.”

The fakirs of India are descendants of these men, and
in the nearer east the dervishes (a word which signifies
“poor”), performing their giddying whirlings, are all
that are left to represent that jubilant outrush of soul and
spirit to the Divine which made great saints, great poets
in Persia and India.

They owned that what they had seen and experienced
was beyond all human speech. In an image of Saadi’s—the
flowers which a lover of the One had gathered in
the Garden of Paradise so dizzied him with their fragrance
that they fell from his hand and faded. How
could he share them with others? How could he tell in
words what he had seen?

Jellal-u-ddin, the writer of that famous book “The
Mesnevi,” said of it: “This book contains strange and rare
stories, lovely sayings and profound indications, a way
for the holy, a garden for the pious. It holds the roots
of the Faith and treats of the mysteries of certain knowledge.”

The miracle of this conquering love is that Islam, so
hard and austere in its approach to a hard and austere
Master, accepts this spiritual book as second only to the
Koran! That Mohammed would have approved these
later developments is impossible to suppose. He dwelt
much on the outward aspects of the Faith and slightly
on the inward. “Think on the mercies of Allah; not on
his essence,” was his teaching.

The Sufis, however, evolved what may be called a
code of their own. This can be used in interpreting
many of the Persian poets and restoring the inner meaning
of much verse. It sets in their true light as mystics
some poets whose fame has reached the West. They were
men drunken with the wine which whoso drinks desires
more even to infinity; they were God-intoxicated and
not with wine.

In this code, sleep means deep meditation. Perfume
the indication of the divine presence. Kisses and embraces
are the mystic union of divine love. Idolaters are
not the infidels but men who in a lower stage of evolution
do not recognize the One Immanent Presence, and who
take Allah for the personal God and sovereign Creator
with whom Christians are familiar in the Jewish Old
Testament. Wine means spiritual knowledge, intoxication,
ecstasy. The wine-seller is the spiritual guide (in
India the Guru), and the tavern is the cell where the
seeker becomes drunken with the drink divine. Beauty is
the perfection of the Divine. Tresses are the expansion
of His glory, and the lips of the beloved are his inscrutable
mysteries. The black mole on the cheek of the beloved
stands for the point of perfect union.

“For the black mole on the cheek of my beloved I
would give the cities of Bokhara and Samarcand.”

Throughout Asia, with the exceptions of China and
Japan, the love of man and woman is the symbol of perfect
union with the Divine, the mystic state where each
is both. But only a symbol, for in human love there is
always something which cannot be attained, some last unconquered
peak of perfect amalgamation, whereas in the
philosophy of the Aryan Asiatic races—and indeed in
that of the western mystics—the Union is so transcendent,
so absolute, that man, having recognized his oneness with
the Divine, tastes perfection. “I am that,” says the
Indian mystic philosophy; and no mystic East or West
but echoes the cry of bliss.

Barrow, the well-known English divine, sums up the
philosophy of the Sufis as though he had been one of
them. I condense.

“Love is the sweetest and most delectable of all passions,
and when by the conduct of wisdom it is directed
in a rational way towards a worthy object, it cannot do
otherwise than fill the heart with ravishing delight.
Such, in all respects, superlatively such, is God. Our
soul from its original instinct verges toward him and can
have no rest until it be fixed on Him. He alone can
satisfy the vast capacity of our minds and fulfil our
boundless desires. He cherishes and encourages our love
by sweet embraces. We cannot fix our eyes upon Infinite
Beauty, we cannot taste Infinite Sweetness, without perpetually
rejoicing in the first daughter of Love to God,
Charity towards men.”

Here East and West certainly meet.

It is the belief of the Sufi as of many mystics that
such contact sets the soul above the earthly law of good
and evil. This does not mean that this or any philosophy
will permit a man to imbrute himself, but simply that he
whose soul is exhaled into the Divine as the sun drinks up
a dewdrop is no longer subject to what may be called the
Ten Commandments, for he forgets and transcends them,
being lost in that love of the Divine which can inspire
nothing but passionate longing to resemble its object.
His every instinct walks the divine Way. In this spirit
the Christ dissolves the ten prohibitive commandments
into the two affirmative ones: the love of God, the love
of man. For whoso walks in that Light has outpaced
the law of prohibitions.

There is a fine translation by Fitzgerald—the translator
of Omar Khayyam—of “Salaman and Absal” by
the Persian poet Jami, which expresses the conception
that all earthly love and beauty are rays of this Sun

That men suddenly dazzled lose themselves

In ecstasy before a mortal shrine

Whose light is but a shade of the Divine.

Not till Thy secret beauty through the cheek

Of Laila smite doth she inflame Majnun. . . .

For loved and lover are not but by Thee,

Nor beauty, mortal beauty, but the Veil

Thy Heavenly hides behind. . . .

To Thy Haírm Dividuality

No entrance finds—no words of This and That.

Do Thou my separate and derivèd self

Make one with Thine Essential! Leave me room

On that Divan which leaves no room for Twain.

Yet in these beautiful words the student of the
Vedanta sees one great difference between the two philosophies.
Jami speaks of his “separate and derived self.”
That position the Vedanta cannot acknowledge. There is
no separate or derived self. Sufiism postulates the approach
to God and the passionate union with His Perfection—as
of the lesser drawn by a magnet to the Greater
and henceforth clinging to it indivisibly. In the Vedanta
philosophy man has but to open the eyes of his soul
to know that he was, is, and shall be Divinity itself, one
and indivisible, not dividing the substance, if such a word
as substance may be used. In Sufiism the attitude is that
of the unity of a perfect marriage, husband and wife
who in Homer’s great words are “of one mind in a house.”
In the Vedanta, “There was One, There is One, and but

Mohammedanism needed this high conception to
soften its masculine austerity. It is the garden of God
that blossoms on the rocks of the mountain. It may be
lamented that this spirit has not persisted and that it does
not consistently inspire the Koran. Had it done so, the
deep cleavage between Moslem and Vedantic thought in
India might to a certain extent have been bridged.

It is interesting to consider the experience of Ibn-ul-Farid,
an Arab born in Cairo in 1182, for it appears to
coalesce with the Vedantic lore of Shankara and also
with some European feeling after the supernormal modes

of expression. (I refer the reader to Professor James’s
“Varieties of Religious Experience.”)

Ibn-ul-Farid finds three modes: First, normal experience,
which he calls “sobriety”; this is the common
experience of man as distinguished from the consciousness
of plant or animal life. Next, what he calls “intoxication”—the
state of God—possession and the high rapture
that follows realization of the Divine. Both these are
normal though distinguished in degree. The third state
is induced by “intoxication,” but “intoxication” does not
always produce it. This third state is the state now called
cosmic consciousness—which Ibn-ul-Farid names “the
sobriety of union.” This naturally is rare. In it, as in a
mystical, tranquil, luminous perception, the soul is wholly
united with God. As Mr. Nicholson puts it—the mystic
in the first stage is aware of himself as an individuality
distinct in humanity from divinity, in the second every
distinction between Creator and creature has vanished.
In the third he is aware of himself as One with the
Creator. In the famous poem of Ibn-ul-Farid he writes
from this deific point of perception:

There is no speaker but tells his tale with My words, nor any seer but sees with the sight of Mine eye.

And no listener but hears with My hearing, nor of any but grasps My might.

And in the whole creation there is none but Myself that speaks or sees or hears.

Here is “the absoluteness of the Divine Nature realized
in the passing away of the human nature.” For the
writer speaks of himself as God.

There is a mystic of the Sufi order whose perception
took so high a form that it must be remembered in any
record of the mystic-philosophic side of Islam. An
artizan, a wool-carder, and hence called Hallaj, he was
credited with supernormal powers, and because of what
was considered heresy by orthodox Moslems was tortured
to death in the year 309 of Mohammed. “I am God,”

he cried, and devout Moslems were unable to attain these
higher ranges of philosophy. That fatal sentence occurs
in his book the “Kitab al Tawasin,” which sets forth his
teaching, and exercised undying influence in Islam.

I am He whom I love and He whom I love is I.

We are two spirits dwelling in one body.

If you see me you see Him,

And seeing Him you see us both.

Strangely, it is in Jesus, not in Mohammed, he sees
the representative of God; and, still more singular, he
sees in Iblis (the Satan of Islam) a witness to the Divine
Unity. In the Koran it is told that Allah bid the angels
worship Adam. Iblis, then named Azazil, refused:

“I am more excellent than he. Thou hast made me
of fire and him of clay.”

And Satan, or Iblis, was cast into hell—even as the
emperors Akbar or Jehangir might have cast him into
torture, for Allah is a true oriental sovereign. But Hallaj
relates that Iblis cried aloud to Allah:

“Wilt Thou not behold me whilst Thou art punishing

And Allah answered, “Yes.”

“Then,” said Iblis, “do unto me according to Thy
Will. Thy beholding me will destroy all consciousness
of punishment.”

Such is love. And elsewhere, being reproached for
disobedience as regards Adam, Iblis answers:

“It was no command but a test.” A test of his unswerving
devotion to the Divine. Therefore Hallaj
makes Iblis declare:

“Even in refusing to obey Thee I glorified Thee.”
And he continues: “My friends and teachers are Iblis
and Pharaoh. Iblis was threatened with hell-fire and
yet did not recant. (How could he adore any but God?)
Pharaoh was drowned yet did not recant, for he would
not acknowledge anything between him and Allah. And

I, though I am killed and crucified and my hands and
feet cut off, I do not recant.”

Yet it is interesting to observe how imperfect appreciation
of the heights which may be scaled as in the Vedanta
flung even a translucent soul such as that of Hallaj
into the old dilemma of free will. He writes:

“God cast man into the sea with his arms tied behind
his back. And said to him, ‘Take care, take care, lest thou
be wetted by the water!’” This will remind all of Omar
Khayyam’s sad statement of the same cruel difficulty:

“Oh Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make,

And ev’n with Paradise devise the Snake,

For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man

Is blacken’d—Man’s forgiveness give—and take!”

It was natural that orthodox Islam could bear no such
heresy; the man must die. Love, however, led Hallaj
through the maze. “I cannot understand—I love” might
have been his watchword. Thus it is told:

“When Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj was brought to
be crucified and saw the cross and the nails, he laughed
so greatly that tears stood in his eyes.” He knelt on the
prayer-carpet of a friend and recited the Fatiha (the profession
of faith) and a verse of the Koran, and then prayed
a prayer so remarkable that though his friend remembered
it only in part it should be remembered universally:

“I beseech Thee to make me thankful for the grace
bestowed in concealing from the eyes of others what Thou
hast revealed to me of the splendors of Thy radiant Countenance,
which is Formless, and in making it lawful for
me to behold the mysteries of Thine inmost conscience
which Thou hast made unlawful to other men. And
these Thy servants, who are gathered to slay me in zeal
for Thy religion, pardon and have mercy upon them; for
in truth if Thou hadst revealed to them what Thou hast
revealed to me, they could not have done what they have
done; and if Thou hadst hidden from me what has been

hidden from them I should not have suffered this tribulation.
Glory to Thee in whatever Thou dost and willest.”

They did him to death with tortures impossible to
relate, and so befell what he had spoken of to a friend:

“And how will it be with thee, O Ibrahim, when thou
seest me crucified and killed and burnt and that day the
happiest of all the days of my life?”

The friend was speechless.

“Kill me,” he said, “that you may be rewarded and I
have rest; for so, you will be fighters for the Faith—and
I a martyr.”

It is easy to see how the way was prepared for this
high thought by the Mithra-worship of Persia, and therefore
how in one sense it derived directly from the Indian
Veda, of which Mithra was a recognized deity. Even the
close and almost passionate devotion which existed between
teacher and pupil in India persists in Persia and in
Sufiism. That worship of Mithra the sun god, the soldier,
the beautiful, might at one time easily have become
the worship of Europe. Europe indeed trembled in the
balance between Christ and Mithra; but the former was
to conquer and the latter to divide into many fertilizing
streams of thought. One of these tinctured Sufiism,
which in its turn gave to Mohammedanism a spirit and
inspiration that it had lacked in the harsh realities and
fatalism of the often noble teachings of Mohammed.

I give a specimen of the passion that broke on India
from Persian Sufis, kindling a new fire in literature and
music and affecting the devotion to the native gods in no
small degree. This, though an Indian song and with
purely Indian music, is a flower from the root of the
Persian ecstasy.

I am mad for my Beloved;

  They say, what say they?

Let them say what they will!

  It concerns me not

Whether they are pleased or angry.

  May One only be gracious to me!

Let them say what they will.


The Sheik walks round his holy place.

  I offer myself at Thine altar,

Call it shrine or hovel.

  They say, what say they?

Let them say what they will.

  I have gazed on the glory of the cheek of my Beloved.

I am burnt as a moth in the flame.

  I am as one drunken.

They say, what say they?

  Let them say what they will.

Most of all is this seen in the heavenly songs of Kabir—he
who wandered through India equally beloved by
Hindu and Mohammedan—songs of union, of devotion
and adoration so passionate, so tender, that even the colder
western nature is swept by them to the height, where pure
radiance dazzles the eyes and the unstruck music is
sweeter than all sound. When Kabir died, Hindus and
Mohammedans contested the possession of his body—each
longing to do honor to the shell that had once contained
the bird of God. And at last one lifted the pall,
and there lay beneath it only a heap of roses; they divided
these, and the Hindus burned theirs into pure ashes, and
the followers of Islam buried theirs, that the perfume
and color might pass into the earth to kindle the fire of
other such roses; and both were content.

In the present day Rabindranath Tagore carries on
the tradition of Kabir and the Sufis, united to the deeper
depths and higher heights of the Vedanta.

“The way of truth is one,” said Clement of Alexandria,
“but into it as into a never-failing river flow the
streams from all sides.” And the Mithraic doctrines of
the Incarnate Word, sacrifice, and above all communion
had prepared the Persian mind for the inspiration of the
Sufis, as a way to the highest consciousness, wherein the
pearl of the soul is dissolved in the wine of God.

Thus Sufiism is another burning light of the great

Aryan consciousness in the Orient; and a flame indeed
was the philosophy of the Orient. There can be no doubt
that the discipline which directed the eastern will in the
direction of the spiritual and idealistic in philosophy and
religion gave it a power almost unknown among the
western Aryans, and enabled it to breathe in a rarefied
atmosphere which they could not endure. Such enthusiasms
and inspirations cannot be felt where the religion
or philosophy is a foreign one grafted on an alien consciousness
and not springing from the root itself.

Christianity was an imported faith, and its languor
even as a militant impulse may be seen by comparing the
Crusades with the fire and fury of an Islamic holy war.
Taking another direction, as this force did in India, it
permeated and molded a whole nation (many of them
men of lower races, in whom, therefore, the lower racial
characteristics still persist) into a faith and philosophy
that but for some of the early native animistic beliefs
colored all India. The rush of that wave was tremendous,
and though its fighting strength was the force of the spirit
rather than of the sword there is nothing like it in the
history of Europe, where philosophy and faith have
rather been decorations than life itself as in the East.

Chapter XV


THE first feeling of the average man on leaving the
comparatively well-known ground of India and
coming to the consideration of Chinese thought is that
of entering a land strange and alien, shut away behind
inflexible and rigid customs, peopled by men and women
whose movements of mind and spirit have become almost
automatic from the long discipline and constraint imposed
upon them inwardly and outwardly. We expect
no independence, no spontaneity, from the Chinese, either
in philosophy, faith, or the conduct of daily life; all must
be regulated by precedent and opinion. They are interesting
because so far from our experience.

But we forget that the achievements of a nation in art—or,
in other words, in beauty—are conditioned by its
philosophy; and it has taken the West a long time to discover
that China has probably made a larger contribution
in beauty to the world’s well-being, through her own
achievement and the achievement of those she influenced,
than any other nation known to us. We forget also that,
highly as her philosophy is beginning to be appreciated
in the West, it is still not known in its fulness, and cannot
be until our familiarity with the Chinese and their literature
and habits of mind is much greater than at
present. We must be placed completely at their point of
view before their thoughts can color our own in the
mass, as those of Plato and Aristotle have done.

Yet it is quite as possible as desirable to understand

China, and the writer who succeeds in humanizing Confucius
to the level of western comprehension and brotherhood
will have deserved more of the world than the most
learned scholar who has translated his words into difficult
English—for Confucius is China. Without him, she
could never have been the China which demands our
comprehension, and demands it as one of the pressing
necessities of the time we live in.

On the Confucian ideal China has modeled herself
with all her own patience and discrimination. Whether
a man of her people is Buddhist or Taoist he will also
be Confucian. He cannot escape it nor would if he
could. And not only so. This mighty influence was accepted
by Japan, and in a very subtle measure it molded
the nascent character of that great people. Many Japanese
have said to me, “Whether our people are Shinto or
Buddhist we are still Confucian. It clashes with neither
of the others. It is a part of our being.”

And since all this cannot be denied it will be seen that
the whole world has to reckon with this man who lived
so long ago and with his ideals of government and of the
individual “princely man.” When present troubles are
forgotten and we are brought more closely into relation
with China, we and our posterity shall be constrained to
own that no character in history is of more importance to
us than his from its results upon two mighty nations and
their reaction upon the civilization made and upheld by
the white races.

Like all other philosophies this dynamic force has not
been wholly advantageous to China’s progress, for the
very fulness of acceptance made it a drag on the wheel
sometimes; but that it has been the most powerful means
of holding the nation together and keeping the empire
afloat, in the stormy seas of shock and change in which so
many civilizations have gone down, can never be denied
by those who know the facts.

It is necessary to learn to know the man and his times,

before his teaching can be appreciated in its strong and
simple verity. I tell his life according to the facts admitted
by the greatest scholars as veridical, but I do not
omit the ancient traditions which the Chinese themselves
have believed and handed down. Such stories, divested
of actual legend, are often truer than bare fact, because
they give the imaginative point of view, which penetrates
to the essential, as true imagination must in art and all
else. This is the imagination which apart from actual
historical record has reconstituted for us the figures of
the Buddha and the Christ. It should not be disdained
in striving to arrive at a living conception of the man who
has influenced at least as many millions of lives and
thoughts as either.

The greatest and most honored family in China is that
of the K’ung, the descendants of Confucius, who himself
is known in China as K’ung Fu Tsu (K’ung, the Master)—Confucius
being the Latinized form of this name and
title. They have enjoyed many privileges and immunities,
and were the only subjects of the empire not of royal
blood who were permitted a hereditary title of nobility.
This family holds an authentic genealogy, which may
well be older and more illustrious than any other in the
world. Since the death of their great ancestor, each succeeding
dynasty of China has striven to raise higher and
higher the strain of praise in which the Master received
due honor; and this redounded to the glory of his descendants.

By the contemporary prince of his own state of Lu
he was addressed as the Great Father. The Han dynasty
created him (posthumously) “the Duke Ne, perfect and
illustrious.” This became later “the First of Holy Men—the
Royal Preacher”; and his statue was clothed in
royal robes with a crown set upon its head. Later again
the Ming dynasty saluted him as “the Most Holy, Virtuous
of Teachers.” The first emperor of the Manchu
dynasty (now itself a memory) styled him “K’ung, the

ancient Teacher, accomplished and illustrious, all-complete,
the Perfect Sage.” This style was later shortened
into “K’ung, the ancient Teacher, the Perfect Sage,” and
so it has since stood.

But if the descendants of Confucius look back with
pride to their glorious ancestor born in b.c. 551, he himself
looked back with pride and joy to his own. Frequent
genealogical tables trace the family to the inventor
of the cycle, a man named Huang Ti, in the
twenty-eighth century b.c. This is probably more or less

The account of his ancestry historically received
gives his descent from a family related to the last emperor
of the Shang dynasty, 1121 b.c. This emperor had
an elder brother (the son of a concubine), who seeing
that the tyranny of the emperor was dragging the dynasty
to ruin left the court to its fate. Later he was created
Duke of Sung—the eastern division of the present province
of Ho-nan—by the second emperor of the Chao
dynasty; and there his line dwelt in honor. After several
generations the dukedom lapsed. It was the rule
that after a title had lapsed for five generations the family
should choose a new surname and under it merge from the
nobility into the people. By the line of the former dukes
of Sung the surname K’ung was chosen, which Confucius
was later to make the most illustrious in China.

He had every reason, even from that time on, for the
pride in a fine ancestry, which is universal but perhaps
most marked in China. There was not one of his forebears,
beginning with the imperial House of Shang,
whom he could not mention with confidence; they had all
been ministers, soldiers, and scholars. Of the women of
the family, Chinese historians are likely to say little; but
one at least has achieved remembrance, not only for
beauty and noble courage, but because her tragedy led to
the removal of the family into the state of Lu, where Confucius
was born later. This lady’s husband was master

of the horse in the dukedom of Sung. The chief minister
of state accidentally saw her and coveted her beauty.
His intrigues ended in the murder of her husband and
the reigning Duke of Sung. He sent in triumph to seize
his prize, but when the litter reached his palace it held
a corpse. The high-spirited beauty had strangled herself
with her girdle. The affair obliged the K’ung family
to flee to the state of Lu.

China at that time was a collection of small kingdoms
under one more or less nominal head, the sovereign. The
vassal states under him were held on feudal tenure, as
they had doubtless been from the earliest time which can
be traced. Wu Wang, the great ruler, had thus divided
the empire, like Napoleon placing his own relations on
the minor thrones—a system well enough at the time, but
as family ties weaken unlikely to last.

It ended as such a system must, in disunion among the
several states and disloyalty to the sovereign, who practically
ruled only in so far as his own character and power
enabled him to do. That was often to a very limited
extent, and the state of China at the birth of Confucius
was one of rapine and turbulence. Not only were the
states often at war among themselves, but powerful families
in some of them disputed the rule with the princes,
just as in the Wars of the Barons in England. In the
state of Lu where Confucius was born, there were three
such families, and their head virtually governed the state,
having made their prince or duke a mere cipher.

The father of Confucius, Shuh-liang Heih, was a
soldier, who played a stirring part in the distracted times.
He was a sort of Chinese Hercules, brave and faithful,
distinguished by his height and strength; and an anecdote
of him shows devotion of no small order.

In the year 562 b.c. he was besieging a place called
Pei-yang. His friends made their way in at a gate left
open to tempt them, and as he was following the portcullis
began to drop. He saw the descending mass, and

rushing forward caught it on the drop and with furious
strength supported it, until his friends slipped under and
escaped, and he followed.

Such a soldier was honored and feared, but a sorrow,
heavy indeed in China, shadowed his private life. He
had married as a young man, and his wife had borne him
nine daughters but no son, though a concubine had given
him two, one a cripple. This raised a question of the
impossibility of performing certain religious rites at his
death, and was in every way a grave matter. He was over
seventy years of age when he resolved to marry again.
It is uncertain whether he divorced his wife or no; but
a failure to produce sons was ground for divorce in China—necessarily,
because a son was needed for the observances
due to a father’s spirit.

He looked about him. The bride must be young and
of good family, since such a son as he hoped for could be
accepted only from a woman whose blood would mix on
even terms with that of the highly descended K’ung;
great requirements in a man who had passed his seventieth
year! But the courage which had upheld the
portcullis and produced so many other valorous deeds
was still alive.

So he presented his suit to a gentleman of the noble
house of Yen, who had three fair daughters; he little
guessed that the beloved disciple of the son-to-be would
afterwards spring from the same stock. Their father,
perplexed, took the unusual step of summoning his three
daughters to his presence and putting the case before

“Here is the Commandant of Tsao. His father and
grandfather were only scholars, but his ancestors before
them were descendants of the wise emperors. He is a
man extremely tall and of high valor, and I warmly desire
his alliance. Though he is old and austere you need
not distrust him. Which of you will be his wife?”

It is possible in the strange blending of human qualities,

so little understood as yet in its conditions, that the
whole fate of a great people and therefore of the world
might have been different if either of the elder two had
responded. But they kept a submissive silence which
meant rejection—in itself almost an act of daring in the
presence of a Chinese father.

Ching-tsai, the youngest, came forward with deep

“Father, why do you ask us? It is for you to determine.”

It is allowable to wonder what wish lay behind the
frank obedience of this speech, but that is a truth no one
would have learned from the lips of a high-born Chinese
maiden. Her father looked her in the eyes.

“Very well. You will do.”

The scene may be imagined as in some Chinese picture
of very long ago. The father, robed and stately,
with wide falling sleeves concealing high-bred hands,
the girls fair-faced as the higher ranks of Chinese women
often are—I have seen them with complexions of lily
and rose—black-haired and delicately browed, graceful
as willows bowing in a breeze. The open windows give
on a garden such as is described in the odes which Confucius
was later to make a standard of preëminent excellence
in beauty and doctrine.

The wild doves coo to each other in the islet in the stream where
lives in strict seclusion the pure maiden whom the prince has
chosen. Lilies float on the surface and green grasses line the
banks near which the beauty lives hidden.

And the lilies and rushes grow luxuriant in the clear waters where
she solaces herself in loneliness with her beloved harp and

A bright picture seen for a moment through the veil
of two and a half millenniums.

Ching-tsai married the old warrior, and gravely comprehending
the reason of her marriage and the duty required

of her threw herself on the mercy of heaven and
the great spirits for help. There was a mountain named
Ne-kiu within reach, holy because it was one of those
which the great sovereign Shun in remote antiquity had
dedicated in every division of his empire for the worship
of their guardian spirits. And there the young Ching-tsai
went up to pray for the blessing of a son. A natural
simple story, carrying truth on the face of it, the more so
because she commemorated the name of the mountain in
her son’s, when the blessing was granted. But marvels
follow, as in the case of all supremely great men.

As Ching-tsai climbed the hills the leaves of the trees
all stood upright and on her return bowed low. That
night as she lay entranced a spirit appeared and made its

“You shall have a son wise beyond other men. He
must be brought forth in a hollow mulberry tree.”

Again she dreamed and saw enter the hall five stately
old men, who led a strange animal covered with scales
like a dragon yet resembling a small one-horned cow—the
sacred kilin, still to be seen sculptured outside temples
in China, Japan, and Burma. Kneeling before Ching-tsai
it dropped from its mouth a tablet of precious stone
on which were cut these words: “The son shall be a
throneless king.” She tied a piece of embroidered ribbon
about its horn, and it vanished. This vision is worth
remembering, for it relates to a circumstance preceding
the death of Confucius, which will be told in its place.

As the time drew near she asked her husband whether
there was any place at hand known as the “Hollow Mulberry

Yes—a dry cave in the south hill.

“There shall the child be born,” she answered; and
there, as she wished, the great event took place. Confucius
was born in October or November of the year 551 b.c.,
thus being almost a contemporary of the Buddha in

A biographer of Confucius, G. Alexander, makes an
interesting remark about these mythical animals—dragons,
kilins, and others—which so often appear in the
stories and indeed the histories of China. He wonders
whether the accounts may not be traced to traditions of
the last appearances of creatures belonging to extinct
species, adding:

Geological researches have not yet opened out the
paleontology of Tartary and China; may it not be
found that the last haunts of the ichthyosauri and
plesiosauri were in the swamps and wilds of Chinese

This seems to be a curious anticipation of later American
researches in Mongolia.

At his birth Confucius was given the name of Kiu
and afterwards that of Chung-ne. It is said the first part
of the name relates to his being a second son and the last
to the sacred hill of Ne visited by his mother.

Of her it is unlikely that we should hear much, though
in the case of the later philosopher, known as Mencius
in the West, some charming stories of his mother survive.
All we know of Ching-tsai may be briefly told. She was
no small-footed, tottering creature, for that fashion did
not appear in China till some centuries later. And she
seems to have acted with discretion when she was left a
widow three years after her son’s birth. Certainly she
won his affection. It is a Chinese tradition that she was
a young woman of force of character, and perhaps that
may be deduced from such an incident as I have told of
her wooing. If so, she conforms to the almost invariable
rule of the mothers of great men, and it is a pity so little
is told of her.

A pity also that so little is known of the boyhood of
Confucius, though what remains suits well with his later
life, for we see him grave beyond his years, interested in
the sacrifices to the spirits and the solemn rites accompanying

them. It is recorded—and the same tale is told
of his own grandson—that sitting one day with his grandfather
he heard him sigh deeply as some sorrowful image
crossed his mind. The boy looked up quickly:

“Sir, have I done anything to grieve you or shown any
inclination which might cast a shade on your memory?”

Greatly astonished at such words from a child, the
grandfather asked who it was who had taught him to
speak so wisely.

“You, sir, for I have often heard you say that a child
who behaves ill not only disgraces himself but brings
disgrace upon his ancestors.”

His grandfather was silent, but from joy.

This is a story that should be true, for it corresponds
with the grave and formal atmosphere in which his life
began and was to end. From the beginning he loved
knowledge, and it is recorded that at the age of fourteen
he had learned all his master could teach and indeed was
able to help him with the work of the other boys. He
himself told his disciples:

“At the age of fifteen the acquisition of knowledge
was the one object which engrossed all my thoughts.”

Perhaps he did himself a little injustice there, for he
grew up a manly man as well as a scholar. He was regular
in his gymnastic exercises, a skilful charioteer, a lover
of the chase in its proper place and time, and above all a
passionate devotee of music and performer on the lute. It
is almost needless to say he was a lover of poetry in all
its highest beauties, for that was and is a Chinese accomplishment
with men of birth. In fact he may be
taken as an example not only of the great Chinese gentleman
(a type among the highest in the world) but of the
great gentleman all the world over, stately-mannered,
valiant, talented—and what more, this account of him
will show.

It was natural that such a young man in such a country
as China, where high intellect has always been honored,

should soon find public employment; and it was
urgent, for he and his mother were poor. It is said that
his hunting and fishing were needed to supply a very
thinly spread table, and later when the variety of his
knowledge in these and other lines was praised he himself

“When I was young my condition was low, and so I
gained ability in many things—but they were mean

Scarcely mean, it is to be thought, if they forged the
hard steel of a character which carried him nobly
through so many misfortunes. Great men are not commonly
cradled and reared in luxury.

He received an appointment in the state of Lu at
about the age of seventeen, a subordinate one connected
with the storage of grain and the charge of the public
fields and lands. According to one of the greatest of his
later followers, Meng-tzŭ (Latinized as Mencius), Confucius
said at this time in describing his duties:

“My calculations must all be right. That is what I
have to care about.”

And again:

“The oxen and sheep must be fat, strong, and superior.
That is what I have to care about.”

He evidently succeeded, for he was held in ever-growing
respect. There was that about the man which
made him a personality and a presence to be noted, go
where he would. It is easy to believe that at nineteen
such a man would have no difficulty in winning a wife
from a noble family. She gave him a son a year after;
and it is a proof of the golden opinion he had won from
the ruler of the state of Lu that the duke sent a courtier
to congratulate him, and to present him with two costly
and symbolic carp to be eaten at the banquet in celebration
of the birth. Confucius acknowledged the honor by
calling his son Li (the Carp), and added the name Pi Yu,
which also relates him to the royal gift of the fish. The
child thus became Pi Yu Li.

Chapter XVI


WHEN Confucius was twenty-four he lost his mother,
the loving Ching-tsai, and that due filial honor
should be paid to her memory he retired for nominally
three years from public life, in reality two years and three
months. To the western mind it is almost incredible
that such a time can be given to the formalities of grief,
but these things were done even by the supreme ruler the
emperor, often to the great discontent of his people.

He buried her at the original home of his ancestors
and removed his father’s coffin that they might lie in the
same grave. For as he said:

“We owe our being to both parents alike, and an equal
debt of gratitude is due. We must express that feeling
by rendering them the same homage, and it would not be
just if those bound by such ties in life were separated in

That is a true instinct, honorable to parent and child.
He remained in the neighborhood of the tomb for two
years and three months fulfilling the command:

Three years the infant in its parents’ arms.

Three years the mourner at his parents’ tomb.

Then, laying his mourning robes on the tomb, he returned
to life. Five days afterwards he took up his
silenced lute again and tried to sing, but he had no heart
for music. His voice choked in his throat, and it was five
days more before he could bring himself to enjoy the
music he loved so dearly. Song implied a forgetfulness

in himself which wounded him. Beneath the surface of a
grave ceremonious carriage, one can easily see that he was
a man of quick nervous sensibility, very open to suffering,
very tender of inflicting it upon others, except where high
considerations demanded it.

It is related, though some cast doubt on the story, that
he had a domestic problem of his own to confront, which
is apparently not uncommon with philosophers; and it is
possible to wish that Chinese historians had given a little
more information on the cause inducing Confucius to
separate from his wife. Nothing is alleged against her,
but that of course does not prove that she may not have
been intolerable for one reason or another.

On the other hand, it must be owned, there is something
about philosophy that does not seem to harmonize
with the feminine mentality. There have been too many
examples of this to leave it in doubt. But there is the
wife’s side also; and if the reasons for divorce were and
are many in China that may not always be to her disadvantage.
It is not apparently realized of that great country
that the wife is not always as reluctant to go as her
lord may believe, and that in the seven causes for divorce
she may easily find or create the means of an escape which
she is not sorry to accept.

It becomes interesting, however, to learn the views
of Confucius upon marriage. They have colored the
whole ethic of China on that very important matter—more
important there by far than in the West, where
the family is now in practice a very discredited quantity,
whatever it may be in the nobly conceived speeches of
public men. In China it is still the unit and the safeguard
of the land, and will so remain after the billow of Bolshevism
has broken on the sands of time, though family-life
may succumb later to the more insidious inroads
of western example and education.

The ruling Prince of Lu had asked the opinion of
Confucius on the subject of marriage. He replied:

“Marriage is the natural condition of man and the
state which best enables him to fulfil his destiny in this
world. It is a state which dignifies those who enter it,
but it must be seriously considered, that its duties may
be scrupulously carried through. These duties are two-fold—those
which are common to the two sexes and those
which belong to either respectively.

“The husband as master must command; but both are
equally required to act in the way which best harmonizes
with and imitates the relations between heaven and earth,
by and through which all things are created, sustained,
and preserved. The basis should be reciprocal tenderness,
confidence, truth, and scrupulous consideration for
each other’s feelings; the husband ever leading and
directing; the wife ever following and yielding, while
every act is kept within the limits set by justice, modesty,
and honor.”

A beautiful ideal indeed if every husband were worth
following and every wife right in yielding. In which
did Confucius or his wife fail? He resumes:

“In every condition of her social life the wife is entirely
dependent on her husband. Should he die she
does not recover her liberty. Before her marriage she
was under the authority of her parents or, should they
have died, of her nearest relations. As a wife she lived
in subjection to her husband, and as a widow is subservient
to her son or, if she has more than one, to the eldest.
And it is the duty of this son while serving her with all
possible affection and respect to watch and guard her
from those dangers to which from the natural weakness
of her sex she may be exposed.

“Custom does not sanction a widow’s remarriage.
On the contrary it requires that she should remain in
strict seclusion within her own home for the remainder
of her days. She is forbidden to take part in any business
external to it, and even in her own house is to occupy
herself only with indispensable domestic matters. During

the day she is to avoid all unnecessary movement from
room to room, and at night a light is to be kept constantly
burning in her chamber. She will be glorified by her
posterity as one who has lived in the scrupulous performance
of the duties of a virtuous woman.”

He laid down also the rules for the suitable ages for
marriage and pointed out the great need for care in the
choice of husbands for daughters.

“No man should be thought eligible who has committed
a crime or exposed himself to the action of the
law, or who is suffering from a constitutional disease, or
who has any mental or physical malady likely to produce
distaste. Or a son, being the head of his family, who
has lost both parents.”

The last sentence is extremely difficult to understand.
The annotation of a Chinese scholar upon it would be desirable.

Now come the reasons given by Confucius for the
divorce of a wife:

“A husband cannot exercise this right without just
cause. Of such causes there are seven. First, when a wife
cannot live on good terms with his parents. Second, if
she be found incapable of bearing sons. Third, if she
be guilty of immodest or immoral behavior. Fourth, if
she injures the character of her family by spreading unfounded
or calumnius reports. Fifth, if she suffers from
ailments which produce a natural feeling of repugnance.
Sixth, if she cannot be restrained from using violent language.
Seventh, if she secretly appropriates, no matter
from what motive, anything belonging to the household
without her husband’s knowledge.”

But yet pity must be remembered in the midst of judgment.
A husband must not exercise his right under the
following conditions:

“First, when the wife having lost both her parents
has no home to return to; second, when on the death of
the husband’s father or mother the appointed three years

of mourning have not been completed; and third, when
the husband having married the wife in the days of his
poverty becomes rich afterwards.”

All this leaves large field for conjecture as to why
Confucius separated from his wife. It seems likely that
she could not have been a great offender, for many years
after, he sorrowed on hearing of her death (though no
etiquette commanded grief in such a case) and spoke of
her with tenderness. Letting imagination play over the
facts of history, I incline to think that she may have
“appropriated no matter from what motive” some little
household goods, perhaps even taking the liberty of considering
it her own, and so met with her fate. Perhaps
it was easier to forgive a very youthful crime in hearing
of the death of the old woman who cared for none of these
things now.

To the western mind these rules and regulations for
marriage, even the formality with which they are set
forth, may appear truly ridiculous and impossible. Yet
let us remember that China is very old and very wise;
we are very young, and perhaps foolish in spite of our
precocious mechanical achievements—which really matter
so much less than success in the social adjustments of
life. As an old Chinese gentleman once said to me:

“In the West you think it of much importance to reach
a place in sixty minutes rather than in sixty hours. In
China we consider that what matters is what you do when
you get there.”

Based on the family and its pieties China has survived
as a great nation during nearly two thousand, five
hundred years of wealth and prosperity and storm and
battle since Confucius uttered those words; and she may
now be renewing her youth under our eyes. Who would
dare to prophesy the same duration for the white civilizations?
Do we yet understand all the implications of placing
women in the same position as men judicially, socially,
in every way?

It is not what Nature has done. She does not recognize
the principles of equality and inequality in her work.
She recognizes differences, which must be adjusted by
differences of treatment. I have so great a respect for
the wisdom of the Orient both in India and China that I
cannot feel there is nothing to be said on their side in
relation to their attitude toward women. I am certain
also that the western peoples do not with a few notable
exceptions in the least understand either the attitude or
its reasons. And be it remembered there have been great
empresses in China, poetesses, artists, women who have
made themselves felt in every department of life. What
China declined to lose in her women are the things which
nothing else can offer in their place: sweetness, the wisdom
of tenderness, delicacy, intuition, the home, the family—and
much else more easily felt in Asia than expressed.

There is another feature in the character of Confucius,
which because it bore an important part in his
philosophy must never be forgotten—his passionate love
of music and belief in it as a necessary part of good government.
This is the more to be noted because it was a
belief shared by some of the greatest of the Greeks. The
very name of the collective Muses and the word “music”
have the same derivation, expressing the rhythm and harmony
upon which all creation moves. In China it had
been a belief in remotest antiquity that even birds and
beasts might be brought into docility and harmonious
relations with mankind through the influence of sweet
sounds; of all the arts it was the most powerful of humanizing
forces and the best way of moving the hearts of a
semibarbarous people to higher things. This reminds us
of the western idea as expressed in the words: “Let
me write the songs of a nation and I care not who makes
its laws.” For that way lies power.

“It is impossible,” Confucius said once, “for a vicious
man to be a good musician.”

An interesting story is told of the love of Confucius
for music. When he was still under the age of twenty-nine
news was brought him of a musician named Siang
living in the state of Kin and skilled in the ancient music,
which Confucius venerated beyond all else. Eagerly he
set out to visit Siang, though traveling through the distracted
states was attended with many risks. Siang, seeing
the quality of the young man, opened his heart and
spoke with passionate enthusiasm of the glories of the
art of music as one of heaven’s best gifts to man, while
Confucius listened enthralled. Then seizing his lute to
illustrate his words Siang played a piece composed by the
great Prince Wan Wang—most enlightened of patriots
and one of the ideal heroes of Confucius. In breathless
silence he listened.

For ten days Siang repeated and Confucius studied
this music of the prince, and then Siang desired him to
perform it with the other pupils for audience. He played
it with such exquisite skill that Siang said with delight:

“This piece is achieved. Let us pass on to another.”

But Confucius would not. He saluted with formality:

“Permit me to beg for delay. Thanks to your skilled
instruction I have played the piece correctly, but I have
not yet grasped the prince’s intention. I am not content.”

“I give you five days to master it,” replied Siang.

At the end of five days Confucius came, still doubting.

“Allow me to beg for five days more. The great
prince’s intention in his music looms darkly on me
through a thick cloud. If I cannot then see it clearly,
music is too high a study for me, and I shall give it up.”

He returned on the fifth day, transfigured with delight.

“I have found it! I have found it! This morning
waking I was a changed man. All I sought stood revealed.
I took my lute and felt the meaning of every note
I played. It seemed that I stood before the great Wan

Wang, that I looked into his large and shining eyes and
heard the sound of his sonorous voice. My heart expanded
toward him, for now his thought was mine.”

He had become an accomplished musician.

Siang heard him play in silence, then spoke:

“Sir, you are a man of such insight that I cannot act
as your teacher. With your permission I enroll myself
henceforward among your disciples.”

It will be easily understood that neither Confucius
nor Siang could have taken this line if they had regarded
music only as an esthetic enjoyment. To Confucius it
was one of the highest intellectual and moral forces, and
as such it will find its place in my account of his philosophy.

The kin or lute, upon which he played is still used in
China by the most elegantly cultivated Chinese, and
many famous pictures of bygone days represent Chinese
gentlemen playing it. Alexander describes it thus:

“It is about three and one-half feet long and six inches
wide, with a curved, slightly tapering convex surface,
over which the strings are stretched, and a flat under-surface,
the space between being hollow. It had originally
only five strings but two have since been added.
They are of silk and vary in size. They are fastened to
the two extremities of the instrument and kept in their
places by a bridge fixed near the broadest end. The
sounding-board is fitted with twelve mother-of-pearl
studs to assist in the fingering.”

Not long ago, in a voyage across the Indian ocean, I
had the privilege of hearing more than once an accomplished
Chinese gentleman sing some of the ancient songs
of China to an inefficient substitute for the kin. But
even then their pathos, fire, and ardor gave me some idea
of what such music must have meant to “the princely
man” of China, as he sat to delight his own ears and those
of others with what moved his very soul. His kin was
his pleasure in times of joy and his comfort in the many

sorrowful hours which fell to his share. He is said to
have played the harp also.

It was about this time that proof occurred of the
notice attracted by his great personality. One of the ministers
of the reigning Prince of Lu lay on his death-bed.
He had been a student of the Rites honored from of old in
China, and a great and necessary part later of the philosophy
of Confucius. Thus waiting at the door of death
he called to him his chief officer and spoke:

“A knowledge of the inner rule of conduct is the stem
of a man. Without it he has no means of standing firm.
I have heard that there is a man named K’ung [Confucius]
skilled in this. He is a descendant of wise men, and
it has been observed that if men of intelligent virtue do
not gain celebrity themselves, distinguished men will certainly
appear among their descendants. I think these
words are to come true in K’ung. After my death tell
Ho Kei to go and study the inner rule of conduct under
this man.”

Ho Kei was the son of the dying minister and with a
son’s obedience he enrolled himself as a disciple of Confucius.
Others of the family followed, and so the number
was swelled of the disciples already attracted by his wisdom.
The wealth and standing of these new disciples
brought him fresh celebrity, and his position as a famous
teacher was assured.

We are now in the time when the rays of his great personality
drew many into the atmosphere of what they
felt to be almost unearthly wisdom. It was as though
one of the mighty sages, seen dimly through the veil of
time, had returned to bless the distracted empire with
guidance from some higher sphere. And in the master,
as we must now call him, this wisdom was combined with
such courtesy, such love and reverence for antiquity and
its semidivine heroes, that it might be said all the ideals
of China met in this one man. He threw his house open
to those who wished to learn, and gave teaching willingly

to those who could afford to pay little or nothing for the
privilege, feeling this to be a part of the duty to the state
which he taught to each disciple in his measure. But
he demanded intelligence and application, and anything
less produced a haughty withdrawal.

“When I have presented one corner of a subject to
anyone, and he cannot discern the other three from it,
I do not repeat my lesson,” he said.

But his was sometimes a peripatetic university for he
loved travel. He had early described himself as “a man
of the north, south, east and west,” and he is to be pictured
in his cart drawn by a single ox, moving about from one
place to another, learning and teaching as he went. The
disciples walked beside him, keeping pace with the slow-footed
ox, and he would illustrate his discourse with any
incident which accorded with his philosophy. Several
of these stories shall be told later.

So for three years he worked, sowing good seed, but
always with the hidden hope that the prince of his perplexed
state might call upon him to help with more than
advice, with practical power in its government. He
knew his own gifts and longed to put them to the test,
for as will be seen in the record of his philosophy its aim
was to create and rule the Perfect State, in accordance
with the inspired teachings of the men who had made the
empire of China.

“I do not claim originality for my teachings. I am a
transmitter,” he said with the modesty underlying his
utterances about his mission. And at first in that character,
but later in a more exalted one as his unique greatness
broke upon the people, his fame for knowledge of what
constitutes good government and a happy nation spread
through his native state of Lu. It grew the more because,
from the dissensions and clashes of the various
states, some of them paying little or no obedience to the
will of the emperor, arose great miseries of battle and
oppression, so that enlightened minds grasped eagerly at a

doctrine which held out hope of peace and contentment.
There were thirteen great principalities and many small
dependencies, and in many of these the duke or prince
was a law unto himself, and the misery or happiness of
the people depended upon his personal character.

Here to the mind of Confucius was a great field for
his wisdom and he lived in daily hope of a summons to
the ruler of Lu. That was not yet to be. The weak and
worthless Prince of Lu had not realized the scope of Confucius’s
great subject. Meanwhile as his consequence
increased he was given a chariot with a pair of horses
by the prince, and, with a band of his disciples about him,
was permitted to make a visit to the court of the emperor,
then established at the city of Lo in Ho-nan.

That expedition was one of the brightest spots in the
outward life of Confucius. Even through the vast
stretch of years between his time and ours can be felt the
pleasure with which he set out, honored by his own sovereign.
He was still in his prime, and it must have
seemed that the world was at his feet, as he guided his
chariot by the springing fields of rice and blossoming
meadows of that land of flowers.

He prided himself upon being a skilful driver, an
art which he thought part of the equipment of a gentleman.
He was a sportsman too after a fashion, though so
mercifully inclined that his disciples record of him that
he never caught a fish by net and never shot a bird with
his arrows except in flight, considering that they were
entitled to a fair chance for their lives. It may have been
on this very excursion to Lo that he saw a party of huntsmen
and immediately got out of his chariot to join in the
chase. One of the disciples was filled with horrified
astonishment at such an undignified proceeding.

“What, sir! Can it be possible that you would do a
thing so ill harmonizing with your great reputation?
Surely your time should be spent in studying the sciences
and fostering noble principles.”

Confucius halted and looked at him, one may be sure
with amusement.

“Really you are quite wrong. A wise man will consider
everything within his purview. Besides, everything
connected with the chase is interesting. It was one of
man’s earliest occupations. It not only fed and clothed
him, but was the means of protection of life and agriculture
from wild animals. For great kings it served as a
relaxation, and for the scholar it is not only that but a
means of restoring a wearied mind. And there is a still
higher value. By the chase a man can best carry out the
rite of offering up animals killed by his own hand, in
honor of his ancestors.”

And off he went with the sportsmen and remained
with them for a week. Although these arguments can
be effectively countered except in countries where protection
is needed from dangers, I think one is glad to
know that Confucius as a skilful charioteer and huntsman
was something more than a sapless scholar. Undoubtedly
“the princely man” of his ideal will touch life at every
point and know how to understand all its desires.

So he proceeded to Lo with his band of students about
him, observing and commenting as he went. Those
young men are to be envied, for there is no education like
contact with a rich and fruitful mind, and personal affection
and reverence kindle aspiration and understanding.

The account, traditional and historic, of his stay in the
city of Lo is full of interest. The emperor did not honor
himself by inviting Confucius to an audience, nor did
any but one of the principal ministers. It is unknown
whether this wounded Confucius or whether it was his
choice to visit Lo as student of the usages of ancient days,
preferring privacy with his disciples. But one result
it certainly had, for it is recorded that he met the famous
philosopher Lao Tsŭ, the Teacher of the Way, whose life
and views I shall give in due course.

Surely the meeting of two such minds must have been

a great occasion, for here face to face were Confucius,
the man who considered that what man could know of
the supernormal was most safely approached through the
practical thoughts and acts of daily life, and Lao Tsŭ,
whose beliefs centered on the Absolute, the transcendental,
walking with his eyes fixed upon a glory which
dazzled him. It may be compared with a meeting between
Plato and Aristotle at their best.

It is said that Lao Tsŭ, then an aged man, spoke freely
on the subject of what appeared to him the worldly aim
of the teaching of Confucius. If so, it must be owned that
he did less than justice to the great man before him. An
Indian philosopher would have completely understood
the Karma Yoga (the high evangel of noble deeds) which
Confucius taught, and would have perceived that it was
another road to his own goal. So great a mystic should
have known that to all mystics the practical is the garment
alone. But he spoke thus of the passion of Confucius for
the wisdom of the ancient sages:

“Those men of whom you speak are dead, and their
bones dust. Only their words remain. When the times
suit the princely man he mounts aloft, when they do
not his feet remain entangled.”

Thus, as it were, indicating that there exists metaphysically
a higher way than the practice of the stately virtues
enjoined by Confucius. He objected also to the
public life of Confucius and his following of disciples as
ministering to self-sufficiency instead of to the solitary
and impassioned search for wisdom. His own tastes were
those of the true yogin.

“For,” as he said, “the wise man loves obscurity. He
avoids public employment, knowing that at his death all
he can hope is to leave a few true maxims entrusted to a
chosen few. He will not unbosom himself to the world,
but regards time and circumstance. He who possesses
a treasure guards it and does not boast of it to everyone
he meets.”

He is said to have dwelt also on the danger of the
Confucian system of using dead forms as a means of giving
life to China, insisting that slavish obedience to these
would hamper the growth of the nation. He did not believe
success could be thus attained. This could not have
been acceptable to Confucius, who though so much the
younger man kept his eyes fixed on the past golden age
and incessantly used it for every example and illustration;
but his deep courtesy and reverence for age would
enable him to hide any resentment, and he must have listened
with profound interest if not with sympathy to the
teachings Lao Tsŭ opened before him in speaking of the
spiritual and universal Intelligence which he called “The

The text of his discourse might have been: “The letter
killeth; the spirit giveth life.”

Here it seems there is much to be said on both sides
and that the truth lies in the Mean, but those who have
studied the philosophies of both must judge between two
great thinkers.

It is said that Lao Tsŭ turned at last to Confucius with
a searching question:

“And you—have you also learned to know the Divine
Intelligence—the Way?” And that the younger man
answered sadly:

“Alas, I have not. I have been a seeker for nearly
thirty years and have not found it.”

It is told that he remained troubled in spirit after the
interview, and being questioned by his disciples answered

“When I meet one whose thoughts fly upward like a
bird I can aim an arrow and bring him to the earth.
When I meet one whose thoughts range far and wide like
the running deer, like a hound I can pursue and drag him
down. When I meet one whose thoughts dive into the
deeps like an angler I can bait my hook and pull him to
shore. But when I meet one whose thoughts rush heavenward

like the flight of the dragon and lose themselves in
the Immensities, what power have I? So it is with Lao
Tsŭ. When he speaks I listen with wonder. My mind is
troubled and perplexed.”

So met and parted two of the greatest minds of mortal
men; and if a part of this story be traditional it is still of
the profoundest interest, for it reveals the two great
schools of Chinese thought in opposition. Its significance
will be better understood when I come to deal with the
doctrines of either and both.

Chapter XVII


DURING this important visit to Lo, Confucius was
presented by his host Ch’ang Huang to one of the
ministers of the emperor, who perhaps may have had
orders to sound him before further honors were granted.
This man asked:

“May I be permitted to know the nature of your
doctrines and your manner of teaching them?”

Confucius replied—and a touch of pride may be
guessed in his voice: “As to my doctrines they are very
simple, being none other than those which were held by
our unerring guides and ancient heroes Yao and Shun
and are incumbent on all men to follow. I cite the examples
of the ancients, exhort my hearers to follow the
sacred books, and I emphasize the necessity of meditating
deeply upon them.”

“But how should a man begin who wishes to acquire

“A large question!” answered Confucius. “But certain
propositions may be remembered when needed.
Here they are: As the hardest steel is the most brittle, so
that which is most solidly established is the easiest to
destroy. Pride puffs up, and the ambition of the arrogant
is boundless; but the proud man falls, and the claim of
the arrogant is empty. The too complaisant man yields
everything to gain his end and finds himself the dupe of
his own facility. Now all this may seem trivial, yet
the man who practices it will advance in the road of

Here we have the warning that the oldest institutions
are the most easily ruined and that personal conduct is the
basis of all good government: the true Confucian note.
One may wonder what were the thoughts of the minister
as he retired, ceremoniously no doubt, to report on the
new portent. But it is pleasanter to dream oneself back
to the beauties of the ancient city and its magnificent
temples, simple in comparison with later developments
but beautiful in simplicity. In such surroundings Confucius
was in high delight, as he wandered from point to
point of interest with his eager disciples—explaining,
commenting on what they saw and the value of its antiquity
and power in forming the characters of men to
reverence and obedience to just authority.

There is an account of one of these visits, when he
and his followers entered the Hall of Light where audience
was given by the emperor to the feudal princes of
the empire. He walked about, examining with deep content
all the arrangements handed down from antiquity,
and sighed with pleasure.

“Now I know the great wisdom of the Duke of Chao
and how his house attained to the imperial throne!” he
said with deep satisfaction.

On the walls hung portraits of the sovereigns of
China, from Yao and Shun downward, with words of
praise or blame written upon them. Among them was a
portrait of the Duke of Chao—the favorite ideal of Confucius—with
the infant king, his nephew, sitting upon his
knee, as he gave audience to the feudal princes. Then
indeed joy dawned upon the master’s face, as he turned
to his watching disciples and said:

“As we use a glass to examine the forms of things so
we must study the past to understand the present.”

In the hall of the ancestral temple was a statue of a
man with three needles fastening his lips. The disciples
grouped themselves about it, while the master read aloud
the inscriptions upon the back, of which I give a part:

Do not be overanxious for relaxation or repose.
He who is so, will achieve neither.

If a man does not resent slight injustices he will
soon be called upon to face giant wrongs.

Heed words as well as acts; thoughts also; and
remember even when alone that the Divine is everywhere.

A sapling may be easily uprooted. With a tree
an axe is needed.

Do not glory in your strength. There is always
a stronger.

The masses and ordinary men have small prescience
or power in dealing with the unknown and
can only follow a leader.

Heaven has no favorites.

The ocean is full. Yet inflowing rivers do not
overflow it.

My mouth is closed; I cannot speak. Do not
consult me. I cannot solve your doubts and I have
nothing to ask. My teaching is enigmatic and true.

I stand elevated above you, but no man can harm
me. What mortal can say so much?

A house may be burned by smoldering fire, when
a fierce flame would have shown itself and have been
easily extinguished.

A river is the flux of many streams.

The union of many threads makes an unbreakable

To him the silent voice might well seem inspired. He
said afterwards: “In these words we have all that is most
useful for knowledge, and he who studies and applies
them will not be far from perfection. Observe them, my

children. I shall do my best to use them and I hope
you all are equally resolved.”

Farther on, he led the way into the palace, and there
another sight halted him.

By the throne among the silken and lacquered splendors
stood an ordinary bucket such as housewives use for
drawing water. Confucius understood its use but, willing
to test the officials, asked for information. None
knew. It had stood there from time immemorial, and
that sufficed. So taking the bucket the master carried it
to the cistern of a fountain close by and dipped it in.
He bade the disciples notice that to fill it in equilibrium
the exact degree of pressure must be used. With too little
it floated useless, with too much it sank to the bottom.

“And this is a parable of good government, which
never either exceeds due force or neglects it. Here is the
lesson of firmness and moderation, and it was formally
shown at the beginning of each reign that the sovereign
might see and learn. My grief is that such a lesson
should be disused!”

His host in the city of Lo was, as I have said, a gentleman
named Ch’ang Huang, who not only treated him
with the utmost hospitality, but being an authority on
music gave the master an opportunity of much discussion
and instruction on that vital subject. And Ch’ang Huang
moreover has left a delightful description of his friend,
which I give first in what may be called a literal translation—so
far as literal translation is possible—preserving
the Chinese flavor, and afterwards in ordinary English.

“I have observed about Chung-ne [Confucius] many
of the marks of a sage. He has river eyes and a dragon
forehead—the very characteristics of Huang Ti. His
arms are long, his back is like a tortoise, and he is nine
feet six inches in height [the Chinese foot was much
shorter than ours]—the very semblance of T’ang the Successful.
When he speaks he praises the ancient kings.
He moves along the path of humility and courtesy. He

has heard of every subject and retains a strong memory.
His knowledge of things seems inexhaustible. Have we
not in him the rising of a sage?”

Or in more ordinary words:

“He is a man with whom none other of our day can
be compared. In person as in mind he is singularly
gifted. You cannot see him without perceiving that he
has supreme intelligence, which streams from his eyes
in two broad beams of light. He is very tall, with
rounded shoulders and long arms, and has a majestic
presence. In conversation he constantly recalls the ancient
royal sages, and every word gives rise to virtuous
reflections. He presents the most perfect model for posterity
to form itself upon.”

It is recorded that Confucius when this was repeated
to him exclaimed:

“I am entirely unworthy of such praise. It would
have been nearer the mark if Ch’ang Huang had said:
‘Here is a man who knows a little music, who wishes to
obtain knowledge, and who tries to understand and give
effect to the ever-holy Rites.’”

The Rites must have been very present to his mind at
the time, for he was in the imperial city in the virtual
presence of the sovereign by whom all the most important
of those Rites must be performed, in circumstances of
infinite solemnity. Each feudal prince could sacrifice
and offer propitiation for his own subjects, but only the
sovereign for the whole vast empire. There was then no
professional class of priests in China; only the rulers
and heads might offer these sacrifices. Those who know
the Great Altar of Heaven in Peking alone can realize
the profound and awe-striking position held by the emperor
as representative of the people in this tremendous
ceremonial. As I stood there it seemed to me that the
weight of the ages and all the vast destinies of China,
past and to be, descended upon the mind and rapt one
away from common things and into full understanding of

the attitude of Confucius toward these mighty matters.
His declaration to his disciples on these points appeals to
all who value truth and beauty:

“I love and reverence the ancients, for their writings
are so far-reaching and comprehensive that I never weary
of studying them. They are an inexhaustible mine of
wealth, and so it is that when I write I care little to originate
new ideas but confine myself as much as possible
to compiling and elaborating everything taught by the
sacred wise men of old.”

It followed that he would set neither himself nor any
other on the same level as the royal teachers and exemplars.
As he said:

“The sage and the man of perfect virtue, how dare I
name myself with them? It may simply be said of me
that I strive to become such without satiety and teach
others without weariness.”

And now, returning to Lu and still continuing his
teaching to rich and poor—for he would take those who
brought even a little parcel of dried flesh for the fee,
provided he saw they were in earnest—he began to turn
his attention to collating the ancient classics, which recorded
and embodied so much that he believed was
necessary to the welfare of China. To some he added;
all passed through his hands. These will be referred to
in the account of his philosophy.

Since he was now famous and surrounded by disciples
from different parts, even to the number of three thousand
at times, material accumulated daily for the book
that will always be most valuable to western readers—the
account given by his disciples to their own disciples
of the manners, appearance, and sayings of the great
master. In these he lives and is as real to us as the Greek
Socrates in the dialogues recorded by Plato; for though
the utterances of Confucius are more gnomic they are as
vivid with personality. This is the famous book known
as “The Digested Conversations,” or the “Analects,” and

it may be called his portrait drawn by himself and by
those who knew and loved him.

On his return to Lu he found his native state in confusion
from the aggression of the three noble families
who held the ruling prince in terror, very much after the
fashion of the great Earl of Warwick, known as “the
kingmaker” in the reign of Henry Sixth of England. It
came at last to war, and the prince, beaten in the field,
fled into the neighboring state of C’hi for safety. Confucius
followed to avoid the turmoil which disturbed his
academic peace.

He may have had another reason for choosing C’hi as
a refuge for he had already had messages from the Prince
of C’hi, which he had dismissed with a certain curtness—messages
demanding his advice as to how a troublesome
people could be satisfied and ruled. He had answered:

“Tell your royal master that I know nothing of him
or his people. How is it possible for me to be useful?
Had he wished to know anything of the ancient sovereigns
or how they would have acted, then certainly I
could have told him, for I have a right to speak on subjects
I have studied. But I am ignorant of the condition
of his people.”

Now that the events of his life pointed to C’hi it is
probable that he may have imagined a possible future
there for his great gifts of government, seeing that such a
thing had become almost hopeless in Lu. There were
other attractions also, for though the Prince of C’hi was
in himself a weak voluptuary, he had a chief minister
with a reputation for good sense and—still more attractive—a
carefully preserved collection of music composed
by the ancient sovereign Yun. This was irresistible to

To C’hi accordingly he set out, with a little band of
disciples. Little, for naturally the larger number were
seldom all in attendance. They came and went as they
needed instruction on some special point. Perhaps this

is the time to picture some of these faithful men, who
like planets on their orbits surrounded the great sun
Confucius and whose spirit-tablets are still preserved
with his in the Temple of Confucius in Peking. There
I have seen them in the solemn shadows of that august
place. I will give in the words of Confucius and their
own the names and characteristics of one or two who
stand out among the crowd. They are perhaps typical,
each in his own way, of others who sat at the feet of their

And first there is Yen Hui—dearest of all to the master,
a scion of the same family as the master’s mother. He
wept inconsolable tears when Yen Hui died, saying:

“Alas! God has forsaken me—God has forsaken me!”

Yen Hui was a man, calm, silent, and simple, devoted
to the master, devoted to the study of wisdom, whose
whole life was passed in poverty which would have
soured many a spirit, but could never touch the loftiness
of his. He was so silently reflective that some of the more
ardent disciples inclined to think him stupid, but said
the master:

“I have talked with Yen Hui for a whole day, and
he made no objection to anything I said as if indeed he
were stupid. He has retired, and I have examined his
conduct when away from me and found him able to illustrate
all my teachings. Yen Hui? No, he is not stupid!”

And again Confucius asked another distinguished disciple:
“Which do you think superior? Yourself or Yen

He answered: “How dare I compare myself with
Yen Hui? He hears one point and knows all about a
subject. I hear one and know only a second.”

The master said: “You are not equal to him, I grant
you! No, you are not equal to him.”

And again the master said:

“Such was Yen Hui that for three months there would
be nothing in his mind contrary to perfect virtue. The

others may attain to this once a day or a month, but no
more. Admirable indeed was the virtue of Yen Hui!
With a single bamboo dish of rice, a single gourd dish of
drink, and living in his mean, narrow lane, while others
could not have borne the distress he never allowed it to
trouble his joy. Admirable indeed was the virtue of
Yen Hui!”

This man stands out as a living figure even, so to
speak, in death. We see the master’s bitter tears at his
death and hear the disciples, amazed at the break-up of
his stately calmness, assert:

“Sir, your grief is excessive!”

“Is it excessive? If I am not to mourn bitterly for
this man, for whom am I to mourn?”

And so, doubtless touched themselves, they proceeded
to give the true-hearted Yen Hui a sumptuous funeral,
very little in accord with the pinching poverty of his life.
Confucius had buried his own son very simply, because
his strong sense of fitness revolted at the unnecessary and
foolish cost of the funeral rites, though no one laid more
stress on true mourning and honor, and he was displeased
at this ostentation. He said with grief:

“Yen Hui behaved to me as a son yet I was not able
to [bury] him as I did my son. The fault is not mine;
it is yours, O disciples!”

It is one of the tragedies of true greatness that often
it is so little comprehended by those who stand nearest
to it. But Yen Hui had understood and he had his reward.
Even while he lived Confucius knew and recorded

“There is Yen Hui. He has nearly attained to perfect
virtue. He is often in want.”

That such a man could be happy in this poverty is
the meaning. Another of the disciples described him as
“empty-hearted”—or, as they would have said in India,
“desireless”—free from all vanities and ambitions and
utterly devoted to the master. Once when they were

making a dangerous journey the master missed him, and
on his coming up again with the party said anxiously:
“I thought you had died!”

Yen Hui answered with love which shines through
the formality: “While you were alive how could I presume
to die?”

And this man of simplicity and poverty receives great
honors from a country which has never forgotten his
virtues and never will. In his master’s great temple at
Peking his spirit-tablet has the first place east among the
Four Assessors, and the title of “The Second Sage, the
Philosopher Yen.” And there his gentle spirit is believed
to descend at the time of solemn offering and laudation,—a
man of many griefs, white-haired at the age of twenty-four,
dead at thirty-three, dear to his country and to all
who esteem true greatness of soul. I cannot raise the
image of the master in my mind without Yen Hui at his

Then there is Tsŭ Lu—a very different character yet
lovable in his way—rash, impetuous, brave to a fault,
hasty and mistaken in some of his judgments, a soldier
given to dashes and excursions in philosophy as on the
field of battle. Confucius early predicted of him that he
never would die a natural death, nor did he, for he fell
fighting gallantly in one of the ferocious little battles
that disturbed the warring states. The master was often
obliged to check him and to rebuke his rashness gently.

“Shall I teach you what knowledge is?” he said to
Tsŭ Lu one day. “Well—it is when you know a thing
to hold to the fact that you know it, and when you don’t
know a thing to allow that you don’t. This is knowledge.”

No doubt—but a difficult approach for Tsŭ Lu, who
had much confidence in his own powers. But Confucius
loved him also, though with far less respect than Yen Hui
had won from him. He said one day:

“My doctrines make no way. I had better put myself

aboard a raft and drift out to sea. And the one who will
come with me, I dare to prophesy will be Tsŭ Lu.”

Tsŭ Lu ventured a little exultation on this compliment
to his fidelity, upon which Confucius said (and one can
see the smile):

“Tsŭ Lu is fonder of daring than I am, but he does
not exercise his judgment upon things.” And later when
another asked whether Tsŭ Lu could be called perfectly
virtuous, Confucius answered a little discouragingly:

“I do not know. In a kingdom of a thousand chariots
[a small principality] Tsŭ Lu might be employed to
manage the military levies. But I really do not know
whether he is perfectly virtuous.”

Yet he was an eager soul. It is recorded that when he
heard any teaching he had not carried into practice his
one terror was lest some other great apothegm should
come crashing about his ears before he had mastered the
first. He could not appropriate it fast enough. There
is a very instructive little scene when the master invited
Yen Hui and Tsŭ Lu to reveal their inmost ambitions
for his consideration. In broke Tsŭ Lu first:

“I should like having chariots and horses and light fur
robes to share them with my friends, and I would not
care—not I!—though they should spoil them. I would
not be displeased!”

Yen Hui said reflectively:

“I should wish never to boast of my excellence nor
to make a display of my right deeds.”

In broke again the audacious Tsŭ Lu: “I should
like, sir, to hear your wishes.”

“As for my wishes: in regard to the aged to give them
rest; in regard to friends to show them sincerity; in regard
to the young to treat them tenderly. Those are my
wishes,” the master answered.

One may see the three with this beam of the bright
light of memory falling upon them through the dark of
ages. Tsŭ Lu’s courage never failed him. When the

master gave the honor of a visit to a lewd woman (Nan-Tsŭ,
wife of the reigning Prince of Wei) Tsŭ Lu was
highly displeased at so great and misplaced a favor, insomuch
that where no one else would have dared to criticize
he stirred Confucius to unwonted emotion and
asseveration. He cried aloud in answer to Tsŭ Lu:

“If I have done wrong in this, may Heaven reject me,
may Heaven reject me!”

This lovable rashness and audacity cropping out in
Tsŭ Lu are seen on every occasion, and always this wakes
what Browning calls “the sympathetic spasm,” and the
reader half smiles, half acknowledges the justice of the
master’s rebuke.

Confucius said to Yen Hui: “To undertake the duties
of office when called to them; when not so called to live
retired and content: it is only you and I who have attained
to this.”

Tsŭ Lu put in, evidently eager of praise and determined
not to be left out: “If you had the conduct of the
armies of a great state, whom would you have to act with
you?” One can hear the “Aha! that would not be Yen
Hui!” in his mind.

The answer came coolly:

“I would not have that man to act with me who unarmed
would attack a tiger or cross a river without a boat,
or would die without any regret. My associate must be
the man who proceeds thoughtfully to action, who adjusts
his plans and then carries them into execution.”

Tsŭ Lu seems to have been silent. But nothing could
silence him when his love for his master was awake and
watchful. Thus when Confucius was once very ill Tsŭ
Lu asked leave to pray for him—i.e., to recite his excellences
as the ground for entreaty.

“Is there a precedent for this?” asked Confucius.

“There is,” replied the eager Tsŭ Lu. “In ‘The Eulogies’
it is written ‘We pray unto you, O Spirits of Heaven
and Earth.’”

The master said: “My prayers began long ago.”

He meant that a life lived in harmony with the Good,
the True, is in itself a prayer. This anecdote, for which
we may thank Tsŭ Lu, gives much insight into the inner
calm of a great soul. But this disciple’s eagerness led
him into excesses later, when Confucius was suffering
from serious illness and Tsŭ Lu proposed that his disciples
should act as ministers to him. This was after
he had held and abandoned office; and the idea in Tsŭ
Lu’s mind was a consolatory measure to surround him
with the shadowy pomp of the time past, when ministers
attended him at the court of Lu. He should have known
the master better. Confucius broke in:

“Long has the conduct of Tsŭ Lu been deceitful. By
pretending to have ministers when I have none, on whom
should I impose? On Heaven? Moreover I would
sooner choose death among my disciples than among

Yet the master loved Tsŭ Lu and speaking of him
could say with joy:

“Dressed in a tattered robe quilted with hemp, yet
standing not ashamed by the side of men dressed in furs—ah,
it is Tsŭ Lu who is equal to this! He dislikes nothing,
covets nothing! What does he do which is not good?”

A brave and generous soul! and we see the firmer
mind forming in Tsŭ Lu in spite of all his haste and vanity.
Truly Confucius was a great teacher. As he said
himself he knew when to urge Yen Hui forward and
when to hold Tsŭ Lu back. But he derived much quiet
amusement from the excursions and alarms of the latter.
He turned to him one day as some of the other disciples
sat with them, saying with humor:

“Almost daily you are saying, ‘We are not known.’
Now what would you do if some prince were to know

Tsŭ Lu answered hastily and lightly:

“Now let us suppose the case of a state of ten thousand

chariots: [a large state] let it be pinched between other
large states; let it be suffering from invasion; and to this
let there be added a famine in corn and all growing
things. Well, if I were entrusted with the government,
in three years’ time I could not only make the people
courageous, but teach them to recognize the laws of righteousness.”

The master smiled. He was not likely to believe that
his teachings filtered through such a medium could produce
such a miracle. That was one side of Tsŭ Lu; but
of the other his teacher could say:

“Ah, it is Tsŭ Lu who can settle litigations with half
a word.”

He had reason to know his teaching had not fallen on
dry ground. To Tsŭ Lu was awarded the noble praise
that “he was one who never slept over the fulfilment of a
promise.” And we ourselves have cause to thank him, for
he had the gift of wholesome irritation—of drawing forth
some of the finest sayings of Confucius by unnecessary
questions. Thus on his asking for a brief precept for
good government he had the answer:

“Go before the people with your own example and
be laborious in their affairs.” And Tsŭ Lu, unsatisfied
and still persisting, got with stern emphasis the repetition,
“In these things never weary.”

Again we find him one day insisting in his usual

“The Prince of Wei has been waiting for you that he
may administer his government with your help. Now
what will you think the first thing to be done?”

“Why to rectify names!” said the master.

Tsŭ Lu was seriously upset at this irrelevance. Indeed
he permitted himself to assure the master he was
quite wide of the mark. Instruction immediately fell
upon him like an avalanche.

“Tsŭ, how unmannerly you are! When a princely
man does not know a thing he shows reserve. If names

are not correct, language cannot be in accordance with
the truth of things, and affairs cannot succeed. When
they cannot succeed, rules of conduct and the art of
music cannot flourish, punishments are not rightly dealt
out; and when this is so, the people do not know how to
move. Therefore the instructed man knows it is needful
that the names he uses should be appropriate, so that what
he speaks may be carried out in truth.”

Here we have I think one of the wisest of the utterances
of Confucius. Apply this rule to the storm of
words let loose in our parliaments, by our so-called statesmen,
and note the result. Apply it to certain men of
our own race such as Cromwell and Abraham Lincoln,
and note with what stern rectitude they observed it, and
how in them the inevitable word was father of the inevitable
deed not only in themselves but in others. Such
are usually men of few words but those unforgotten—unforgetable.

Again, Tsŭ Lu, who always concerned himself with
great persons and matters, asked how a sovereign should
be served:

“Do not impose on him,” said the master, “and moreover,
withstand him to his face.”

This is the doctrine of utter sincerity which forms
such an important part of the Confucian philosophy.

Of these two disciples one might say much more and
also of the others, but perhaps enough has been said at
present to give a glimpse of the men who learned from
and loved Confucius and the great lesson of personality
that was ever before them. So we leave them with some
last words, describing a group which often gathered
about him:

“The disciple Min stood by his side, looking bland
and precise; Tsŭ Lu looking bold and soldierly; Yen
Hui and Tsŭ Kung with a free straightforward manner.
The master was pleased!”

Let us go forward now with these men we know on
their pilgrimage to the neighbor state of C’hi.

Chapter XVIII


THERE could have been little hope in his mind as
Confucius traveled slowly to the state governed by
a prince of whom it was said later: “He had a thousand
chariots of four horses each, but when he died none
praised him for a single virtue.”

The journey there must be pictured as the master sat
in his little ox-cart calm and observant, certain of the
seventy disciples beside him, Yen Hui and Tsŭ Lu among
them. Some of the incidents of the way survive. As they
passed the T’ai mountain they saw a lonely grave with a
solitary woman weeping bitterly beside it. Confucius
halting sent Tsŭ Lu to question her.

“You weep as though you had known sorrow on sorrow,”
he said with sympathy.

“And so I have,” she answered. “Here on this spot
my husband’s father was killed by a tiger. My husband
also, and now my son.”

Confucius leaned forward in his car. It was his
custom in such cases to bow forward to the front bar as if
to do homage to the majesty of grief. Then he spoke:

“If this is so why do you not leave this terrible place?”

She answered with streaming eyes: “Here there are
tigers but at least the government is not harsh.”

He turned to the disciples standing about him. “My
children, hear and remember. Oppressive government is
fiercer than a tiger.”

And revolving this they passed on slowly and left
her weeping.

Another curious incident is referred to this journey.
They had entered the borders of the state of C’hi, when
from a grove hard by were heard choking cries and
struggles as if from a dying man, and on searching they
found one in the agonies of death from strangling. Confucius
rushed to the rescue and unknotted the cord about
his throat and when he could speak asked what cruelty
had brought him to this. The man sobbed aloud and
told them he had intended to die by his own hand.

“For I began life well. I loved knowledge and
studied with zeal. Soon I outdistanced my masters, and
then I resolved to travel and see the world that I might
gain knowledge of men. Far and wide I traveled, and
after many years returned home and married. But within
a very short time my father and mother died; and then
too late I realized with horror how naked I had been of
filial duty, how I had done nothing to repay them for all
their tender love. It bowed me with remorse, yet I hoped
I could make amends by other duties. I was full of
knowledge and experience. I offered my services to my
prince, and he would have none of me—would not even
grant me an audience.

“Still, I would not despair. I hoped much from the
affection of my friends. There too I was wrong. I
found nothing but cold and careless indifference. And
my only son, whom I loved with all my heart, followed
my own example and wandered the wide world over, and
still does so—disowning his miserable father and pretending
to be an orphan.”

He broke down into tears and then continued: “Well
I know that I have not performed the most ordinary
duties. As a son I have failed utterly. As a citizen I
have done nothing for my prince and state. I could not
keep my friends’ affection nor win my son’s. Therefore
I would have ended my life if you had not prevented

Confucius listened with deep sympathy.

“And yet you were wrong,” he said, “very wrong.
Despair only adds to a man’s ills. Certainly you brought
this misery upon yourself, and to your neglect of the
greatest of all duties—filial piety—all your ruin may be
traced. But everything is not lost. Go home. Act as if
today for the first time you had learned the true value of
life and use every moment of it rightly. Even now you
may attain to the wisdom you missed so long ago.” He
turned earnestly to his disciples. “Mark what you have
heard. Apply it, each one of you, to his own needs.”

Thoughtfully he continued the journey; and quietly
one by one his followers dropped off, until by the end
of the day thirteen had gone back to their homes that
they might fulfil the duties which they had learned
must not be laid aside even for the pursuit of wisdom.
That result must have pleased Confucius, to whom words
at all times meant less than the spirit of practical obedience
to conviction.

It seems probable that the following pronouncement
from “The Analects” may have been suggested by this

“The master said: ‘While his parents are alive the
son may not go abroad to a distance. If he does go abroad
he must have a fixed place to which he goes.’” That is
to say a place where the needs of his parents can reach

As he entered C’hi in honor—for the prince had come
out to meet him—he declared he could tell from the bearing
and refined manners of a lad who passed them carrying
a pitcher that the influence of the music of the great
King Shun was abroad in the land. He hastened his
ox that he might not lose a moment in reaching the capital
and sharing the delight of the stores of ancient music
hoarded there. And hearing its beauty he was so transported
beyond the limits of the senses that it is said he
tasted no flesh for three months, and that he cried aloud,
“Little did I know that music could be so surpassing.”

The indwelling spirit of this harmony confirmed his
belief that music is an essential basis of a nation’s civilization,
and he keenly noted its influence in C’hi.

But more than music met him there. Opportunity.
The prince might be weak and worthless, but not so
much so as to forget that the wisest man in China was
within his gates. He sought his advice, putting, as he
thought, difficult questions on the science of government,
and very likely expecting easy panaceas and flatteries in
reply. Those days were not the far more dangerous
modern days of flattery of the people; but sufficient harm
might be done by flattery of the princes to make it an
obvious and profitable task for a philosopher of the baser
sort. Confucius, however, had no temptation to waver
from his doctrine of sincerity as a mark of the gentleman.

He amplified the remark he had made when Tsŭ Lu
demanded a definition of good government. He had then
said, “What is necessary is to rectify the names of things.”
Now he answered, “Good government is present when
the prince is prince; the minister, minister; the father,
father; and the son, son,” meaning that nature in the laws
of the family and society lays down the unalterable pattern
of good government, which needs only development
from the right government of a family to the paternal
government of a great state, and that when the prince is
truly a royal man as the father is a paternal one, all is
achieved, for the little is the condensing of the great, and
the great the amplification of the little.

The wisdom and personality of his great guest must
certainly have impressed the Prince of C’hi, for he desired
to keep the master as the adviser and ornament of
his court, with an assignment of land for his support. It
might have come to pass had not his chief minister intervened
on grounds which are interesting and to be expected
when an unusual man is likely to interfere with

“These scholars,” he said, “are impracticable and

cannot be imitated. They are proud and vain and must
have the best positions. They value ceremonies and
give way to grief, wasting money on great burials, all
of which injures the outlook of the people. The master
K’ung is truly a most peculiar person. Certainly he
knows all about the Rites, but this is not the time for
bothering about his rules for what is fitting. If your
Majesty employs him to change the customs of C’hi you
will not be considering the people’s best interests.”

It was easy enough after this to put the weak prince
out of love with his adviser.

He said to Confucius, “After all I am old. How can
I use the new teaching?”

Yet he tried to make what seemed to him amends,
offering the master the lands of Ni Ki, with their revenues
as an income.

But these Confucius refused with pride, saying:

“A man of high instinct will take rewards only for
service rendered. I have advised the prince, and he has
rejected my advice. Very far indeed is he from understanding

So, wearied in heart a little more because he saw no
way of realizing his high vision among men, he set out
on his return to the much perturbed state of Lu, to hasten
his researches into the poetry, music, history, and Rites of
the ancient civilization of China, with his disciples aiding
him, and in their going and coming spreading the
seeds of his ethic of government and social life to germinate
in other states.

For fifteen years he occupied himself in these researches,
which the Chinese people have accepted as
invaluable, combining his work with his teaching.
About him and his disciples disorder seethed. Every
day was forced upon his mind the deadly peril of neglecting
the rule of virtue and the science of government.
Selfishness and cruelty in the rulers struggled with brutality
and ignorance in the people, and no way out of the

confusion was apparent to any mind except his own. For
him the light fell on one straight path, and he could not

Occasionally some distracted chief or ruler would
send to him for advice; but those who asked were incapable
of profiting by it; and he went his way digesting,
collecting, editing, emitting wisdom, which he believed
would have saved them all if they could only have applied
it. But that was beyond them.

Very little is known of the relation of Confucius with
his son Li—who was to die so long before his great father—but
one anecdote which survives is interesting.

One of the disciples came up one day to Li as he stood
alone and, filled with curiosity as to the son’s advantages,

“Have you had any lessons from your father differing
from those given to us all?”

“None. He was standing alone once when I was
hurrying along the court below and he said to me, ‘Have
you yet read the Odes?’ [The book of ancient poems on
which he set such store.] I answered, ‘Sir, not yet.’ He
replied, ‘If you do not read the Odes you will really not
be worth talking with.’ Another day in the same place
he asked, ‘Have you studied the Book of Rites?’ I replied,
‘Sir, not yet.’ He added, ‘If you do not learn the
Rites of Behavior you will have no stability of character.’
I have heard only those two things from him.”

The delighted disciple said:

“I asked one thing and behold I have got three! I
have heard about the Odes. I have heard about the Rites.
And I have also learned that the higher type of man has
no secrets even with his own son.”

Possibly Li needed a measure of restraint, for we hear
that on the death of his mother—the separated wife of
his father—he insisted on wailing aloud for her long after
the allotted time for such demonstrations. So much so
that Confucius asked what the noise was about, and on

hearing said, “Pshaw, it’s too much!” and sent a message
reminding the weeper that it was quite time he subdued
his sorrow. Whereupon Li dried his tears and wept no

We come now to the time when public affairs in the
state of Lu, going from bad to worse, fell into such a condition
that however averse the prince may have been to
the teachings of Confucius there really seemed no other
choice than to give them a trial. The chief troubler of
the peace had fled, and the way was open for “the princely
man” to try his hand at public affairs if he could be induced
to come forward at all.

Confucius was away from home when the prince’s
message reached him, but he hurried at once to the capital,
glad at heart that the moment had come.

The time for words was past. Deeds were at hand.
He was made chief magistrate of the town of Chung-tu.
A beginning, if no more.

It is of great interest to see him at last in a public
position. On a smaller scale we may see the result predicted
by Plato if the philosopher became king. He
threw himself into his work with the utmost ardor, holding
in his mind the idea of the ruler as father of a great
family. And as in the family nothing can be too small
or great for the father’s notice so it was with the chief
magistrate of the city of Chung-tu.

He made rules for the feeding of all the people, for
what father can see a child starve? Rules also for due
observances to the dead, for on this the ancestral honor of
a family is based. Different foods are suitable to the children
and to the aged in a well-ordered household. This
too was his care. Men and women were debarred from
intercourse in the streets—he considered that sex and its
differing occupations demanded this rule. And under
this paternal care extending into every branch of life, a
great and astonishing reformation took place in the manners
of the people.

A thing of value dropped in the road lay there, for
none would steal it. There was no fraud. Since Confucius
considered that valuable agricultural land should
not be wasted for the making of graves they were now
made on grounds useless for agriculture, no mounds were
raised nor trees planted about them.

He said:

“Grave-places should never resemble pleasure gardens.
They should harmonize with the feelings of the
mourners, and to give way to mirth in such places insults
the memory of the dead. Far better is some lonely
height, unfitted for the plow, without enclosure, planting,
or adornment, where true feeling takes the place of
frivolities. Let us in this fulfil the inmost spirit of the
Rites as they were set forth by the wise ancients.” A
saying which required some courage at the time; which is
worth attention now.

In short such great results flowed from his wise and
kindly rule that the princes of neighboring states wished
nothing better than to imitate his methods.

His own prince asked eagerly: “Doubtless this is the
way to rule a city but can it be applied to a state?”

Confucius assured him that it could, and to the empire

He was immediately appointed assistant superintendent
of works, and thereupon gave his mind to improvement
in agriculture, for which no doubt his early experience
fitted him. From this he was promoted to minister
of crime, and it is said his success was so great that it was
no longer worth while to be a criminal. Prevention by
wise rule was better than cure by punishment. If there
is exaggeration in these accounts, they are yet most valuable.

Instances of his human feeling shine through all his
life, like gold woven in a rich tissue, for Confucius had
a tender heart, not easily to be recognized in the formal
figure generally presented to the West. A little instance

from the Book of Rites gives touching evidence of this,
and draws him nearer to us across the ages.

“The dog kept by the master having died he employed
Tsŭ Kung to bury him, saying: ‘I have heard that a worn-out
curtain should not be thrown away, but may be used
to bury a horse in, and an umbrella should not be thrown
away, but may be used to bury a dog in. I am poor and
have no umbrella. In laying the dog in the grave you
may use my mat; and do not let his head get buried in the

I like this anecdote the more because it dates from the
days of his poverty and wanderings, so soon to follow the
brief sunshine of his official position.

But he was now to be tried in a sterner issue:

It was arranged that the princes of Lu and C’hi were
to meet and form a pact of alliance and friendship, and
Confucius was called to attend as master of the ceremonies,
which would certainly not be abridged at his
hands. Meanwhile, the chief officer of the Prince of
C’hi, despising Confucius as a mere scholar easy to
frighten and overcome, had advised his master to attack
the Prince of Lu during the conference, make him a prisoner
and force him into any terms desirable for the state
of C’hi. Confucius suspected the trap and was prepared
for it.

He boldly addressed the Prince of C’hi: “You have
brought a band of savage vassals to disturb the conference.
What have these barbarians to do with our Great
Flowery Empire? In the eyes of the spirits this conduct
is ill-fortuned. It is contrary to social virtue.”

And he walked out of the conference taking the
Prince of Lu with him and leaving the enemy astonished.

The conference proceeded, however, to the terms of
the proposed alliance; and here again the men of C’hi
mistook Confucius. They read aloud:

“And so be it to Lu if it does not contribute three
hundred war chariots to the help of C’hi when its army
crosses its borders.”

The delegate of Confucius wrote against this:

“And so be it to us if we obey your commands unless
you return to us the fields south of the Wan.”

Still hoping to entangle Confucius and his prince, the
Prince of C’hi proposed a great banquet to conclude the
meeting; but Confucius, knowing well the design on his
ruler, refused this on the ground that the Rites would not
allow such a conclusion. The men of C’hi went off,
furious and disgraced by “the man of ceremonies,” and
the lands stolen by the state of C’hi were returned
to Lu.

And still Confucius pursued his shining course as
minister of crime. When an important matter came up,
he would take the opinions of a group of wise and sensible
men and would say, “I have decided according to
the view of So-and-so.” Legge points out that there is
a hint of our jury system in this plan, Confucius intending
to carry opinion with him, and, it may be added, to
inspire general confidence. One incident very striking
in view of his resolute insistence on parental power and
filial obedience must be told.

A father brought a charge against his son. Confucius
kept both in prison for three months and then dismissed
them. The chief minister was dissatisfied and said:

“This is trifling with me. You have always insisted
that in a state filial piety is paramount. Why not put to
death this unfilial son as an example?”

Confucius replied, sighing: “When superiors fail in
their duty should inferiors die? This father had never
taught his son to be filial. To act upon his charge would
be to kill the innocent. The manners of this age are sinking.
Can we expect people not to break the law?”

So he went on his high way—the wise man no longer
hidden from the world but acting in and on it. He
made his sovereign great and created a transforming government.
“Loyalty and good faith became the characteristics

of the men, and chastity and gentleness those of
the women. Far and wide went his praises, and the people
all but worshiped his name.”

And then came the Unforeseen. An opportunity of
very different action.

The state of C’hi had nursed its jealousy since its failure
to blind the watchfulness of Confucius, and the
Prince of C’hi trembled, possibly also with rage, at the
chance he himself had lost.

“With Confucius at the head,” he said, “Lu will become
supreme among the states, and C’hi, which is nearest
to it, will be swallowed up. Let us court it by surrendering

One of his ministers, knowing the Prince of Lu, proposed
that they should first sow bitterness between Confucius
and his sovereign. They knew the way well
enough. They chose eighty girls, irresistibly beautiful
and skilled in all the arts of music and dancing, and added
a hundred and twenty horses of the noblest strain. This
great gift they sent to their enemy.

The prince was captivated. What were the dull lessons
of Confucius compared with this living joy and
beauty? How should it matter what the great Yao and
Shun, now so long dust, had taught? He spent all his
time with the women, and neglected Confucius. For,
three days he saw none of his ministers, lost in the delights
of the inner chambers.

“Master,” said the brave Tsŭ Lu, ever on the watch,
to Confucius, “the time is come for you to be going!”

But still Confucius hoped against hope. The great
Sacrifice to Heaven, uniting the whole empire would
soon take place. Surely that high solemnity when Earth
prostrated herself at the feet of Heaven in the person of
her rulers would bring the prince to his right mind! It
did not. The ceremony was hurried as a thing to be done
with, and the share of offerings given by custom to the

various ministers was forgotten. The women had conquered,
and though he did not then know it had condemned
the master to thirteen years of sorrowful wandering.

Chapter XIX


WITH a heavy heart Confucius departed, going
slowly, hoping at each stopping-place for a recall.
But beauty was stronger than wisdom, and it drove him
out to wander homeless for many sad years.

He went westward to the state of Wei. He was a
man now fifty-six years of age and very sorrowful, his
life’s work torn from him by the rough hands of folly
when at its brightest flowering. As he went he thought
aloud in verse:

“I would still look toward Lu if I could,

But the Hill of Kwi stands between.

With an ax one may cut through forest,

But against hard rock man is helpless.”

And again, seeing a young bride’s litter borne to her new
strange home, her own forever left behind, the bitter
grief broke out of him:

        “Cold rain falls thick and fast,

        And a freezing wind sweeps the valley.

        I see a young bride borne from her home:

        Never again shall she see it.

        And I——I too am driven from my home,

        Doomed to wander.

        O azure Heaven, look down and pity my grief!

All is dark; and who among men cares for worth and honor?

There is no light upon the way that leads me to the grave.”

His disciples went sadly beside him. On the borders
of the state of Wei, the warden came out to meet him, and
they talked together. Afterwards the warden called the

disciples about him, speaking cheeringly to raise their
drooping spirits:

“Friends,” he said, “why grieve at your master’s loss
of office? Long has the empire lacked the principles of
truth and light. Now you will see that Heaven will use
him as a bell with a wooden tongue that must needs be

Perhaps a better consolation was their master’s own
saying when asked for a definition of the noble man:

“The noble man knows neither grief nor fear. If on
searching his heart he finds no guilt, why should he
grieve? Of what should he be afraid?”

And yet he might well grieve on nobler grounds than
self-pity that such an opportunity was lost to his state and
to China. So wandering on, he came to the capital of
Wei and there, very wearied, he took up his abode with
a high-minded officer. The Prince of Wei was a listless
voluptuary and husband of that very worthless woman
Nan-Tsŭ; yet so great was the fame of Confucius
that the prince could not neglect him without shaming
himself, and he gave him a revenue of grain sufficient to
support him.

But in Wei his heart could not rest. An evil woman
influenced the prince, and the master left Wei soon to go
for a while to Ch’in, speeded by an incident which gave
great scandal at the time. One day the prince invited the
master to make an expedition with him into the country,
and drove through the capital with the infamous Nan-Tsŭ
displaying herself in the light of day by his side,
while Confucius followed in another carriage. The very
people in the streets cried out:

“Look! Vice goes in front, and Virtue follows

Again he set forth upon his wanderings. The anecdotes
showing the master on his human side are very
precious to those who would see one of the greatest of
men as he really was and not as the formalists have made

him. It was on a journey to Ch’in that he passed a little
house where he had once stayed, and hearing the master
was now dead went in to condole with the family. Coming
out he spoke to his disciple Tsŭ Kung:

“Take one of the horses from my chariot and give it
as a help toward the funeral expenses.”

“But it is too much—far too much,” remonstrated
Tsŭ Kung. “You never did such a thing at the funeral
of one of your disciples! Surely on the death of a host
this is excessive.”

Confucius answered only this:

“When I went in, my coming brought a burst of grief
from the chief mourner and I wept with him. I should
hate it if my tears were not properly evinced. Do this,
my child.”

It was also on his way to Ch’in that, attacked by a
band of ruffians as he sat under a tree, Confucius made
one of his greatest utterances. He said to the frightened

“Was not the cause of truth lodged in me? If Heaven
had wished to let this perish, then I, a mere mortal, should
not have been related to it. What can these people do to

Dispersed and wearied, all made their escape; but
Confucius was somehow separated from the others and
reached the east gate of Ch’in alone. One of the disciples
who had got there before him was told by a man
of Ch’in:

“There is a man standing by the east gate with a forehead
like Yao [the ancient sage], tall and majestic, but
for all that looking just like a lost dog!”

The disciple guessed who it must be and hurried to
him with his story to tell, and Confucius laughed aloud:

“The description matters little, but to say I was like a
lost dog—that’s capital! Capital.”

He was little better so far as peace and comfort went.
He returned to Wei, found it impossible, returned again

to Ch’in, and lingered there hoping against hope for
return to his native state of Lu. On one of their expeditions
he and his disciples even wanted for food. A sad
record of sufferings and cares! But courage never deserted
him. A noble man was never more noble than in
adversity, and though they suffered Confucius could at
times forget his sorrows in the music which was one of his
inspirations. His lute appears to have accompanied all
his wanderings.

It was about this time that a rebel chief asked Tsŭ
Lu how one should think of the master. Confounded by
the magnitude of the question, Tsŭ Lu really could not
reply. He put it before Confucius himself, who answered
with touching simplicity:

“Why did you not say, ‘He is only a man who in his
eager pursuit of knowledge forgets to eat, who in the joy
of attainment forgets his grief, and who does not perceive
the approach of old age.’”

There is something dignified and worthy of the greatness
of China in the way in which rulers sought the counsel
of the wisest man they knew. In the West that would
be impossible; but Asia sought and seeks the counsel of
a wise man, recognizing that he has climbed peaks inaccessible
to the ordinary person, and free from passion
and vain opinion, looks out from them over an unbounded
prospect. In this manner Japan begged the advice of
Herbert Spencer on some of her more intimate and complex
problems, and though one may not wholly agree
with his views it was given and received in a manner
worthy of both the man and the nation.

Trouble and disappointment went beside Confucius,
yet he was not wholly uncomforted. Such thoughts as
his could not leave him altogether desolate, though sorrow
and age were darkening down upon him. His disciples
still surrounded him, some dying and passing on,
others growing up to take their places. And their talk
was of high things, each being permitted to ask his question

at the fount of wisdom. The Analects are indeed
mines where men may dig for gold and jewels to this day.

There is recorded how in a noble flash Confucius anticipated
the Golden Rule of Christianity, to be pronounced
by the Christ under other skies and centuries
later. One of his disciples, Tsŭ Kung, had asked him:

“Is there any one word which may serve as a rule of
practice for daily life?”

One may well picture the eager watching eyes as
Confucius turns his serene face upon them.

“Is not ‘reciprocity’ such a word? What you would
not have done to yourself do not to others. Tsŭ, you have
not attained unto that.”

And in another great out-flash:

“Lay down your life rather than quit the straight way.
In a state governed on right principles, poverty and low
station are things to be ashamed of. In an ill-governed
state, riches and rank are things to be ashamed of.”

There speaks the very voice of eternal verity.

And here is another jewel from the mine which has
been condemned most unwarrantably, as I think, on the
ground that it falls short of Christian benevolence. He
was asked:

“What should be thought of the principle that injury
should be recompensed with kindness?”

He answered at once: “With what then will you recompense
kindness? Recompense injury with justice and
kindness with kindness.”

It appears to me that this is true wisdom. The man
who has met you with kindness can be trusted to appreciate
all its bearings and neither to presume upon it nor to
undervalue it. The man who has done you an injury
should be made to realize the strict application of the
universal law he has broken; and this for his own sake,
not for yours. Confucius had the highest interest of the
wrongdoer in mind, realizing that a man who has done
an unjust thing requires the lesson of being met with perfect

justice, by no means in itself unkind but in its nature
a revelation. Then, if he is touched to kindness, the
latter part of the injunction comes into play, and he must
be met with kindness. This seems a point of high wisdom—nobler
than practicing a virtue which he has shown
himself so far incapable of understanding.

There comes, however, a pronouncement that must
not be ignored in presenting a portrait of a great man.
His disciple Tsŭ-hea asked him what course should be
pursued by a son in dealing with the murderer of one of
his parents. He answered instantly:

“The son must sleep upon a matting of grass with his
shield for his pillow. He must decline to take office. He
must not live under the same heaven with the slayer.
When he meets him in the market-place or the court he
must have his weapon ready to strike him.”

“And what is the course on the murder of a brother?”

“The surviving brother must not take office in the
same state with the slayer. Yet if he go on his prince’s
service to the state where the slayer is, though he meet
him he must not fight with him.”

For the first of these two answers Confucius has been
universally condemned in the West, but I think with little
realization of his reasons. In the first place the appeal
to law was almost useless in the struggling feudalities of
China in the days when he spoke. In the next the son, in
such a case, was avenging no merely private quarrel but
justifying a principle on which the Chinese Empire was
founded—namely, that filial duty must carry a man to
and beyond any limit of consideration for personal safety.
The injunction is not universal, nor can it apply to other
countries and times; and its urgency is accentuated by
the different teaching given on the question of a murder
of a brother. There, there is no question of any gratification
of a blood feud, though the inclination may be as
strong in the one case as in the other.

We find a noble note struck in his view of the responsibility

of the ruling powers, which statesmen would do
well to remember, and here the injunction is neither local
nor temporary. It relates to the light by which a great
soul enlightens others in all times and places. The chief
Ki K’ang asks for instructions as to wise government, and
Confucius replies:

“To govern means to rectify. If you lead the people
with rectitude, who will dare to break the rule of rectitude?”

“But in the state are many thieves? How is it possible
to do away with them?”

The master answered:

“If you, sir, were not covetous, they would not steal
even if they were paid to do it.”

“And what do you say to killing the unprincipled for
the good of those who obey the social laws?”

It is possible to realize the answer Ki K’ang expected
and to contrast it with that he received.

“Sir, in carrying on your government killing need not
be necessary. Let your evinced desires be for what is
good, and the people will be good. The relation between
superiors and inferiors is like that between the wind and
the grass. The grass must bow when the wind sweeps it.”

In other words it may be said that Confucius believed
with Plato in the rule of the philosopher as king. It is
to be wished very earnestly that he had had the chance of
demonstrating its benefits personally among a race so
susceptible of influence as the Chinese. Fate made the
experiment once in Rome, when Marcus Aurelius was
emperor; but either the European race was hastier and
fiercer than the oriental, or example weighed light
against their hurrying passions, for Marcus Aurelius
passed, and left the world pretty much as he found it,
except among those already elect of spirit; and the empire
was bequeathed to his vicious son Commodus.
Whereas the example of Confucius though shown on
lowlier levels has enlightened and uplifted uncounted

millions, and had it been displayed upon a throne might
have done for China even more—if more can be conceived.

So the master went on his way, learning and teaching,
courteous and calm. In the Discourses and Dialogues,
Tsŭ Kung the well-known disciple says:

“Our master is benign, upright, courteous, temperate
and complaisant, and thus he gets his information. The
master’s mode of asking information is not different from
that of other men.”

That description has a gracious beauty borne out by
many anecdotes and traditions. It supports also the descriptions
of his own inward beliefs and feelings, rarely
given by Confucius and contrasting sharply with the dogmatic
superiority ascribed to him in the West. He is
not so misunderstood in China. Hear this:

The master said:

“How should I be afflicted at men’s not knowing me?
I will rather be afflicted that I do not know men.”

And again:

“At fifteen I had my mind bent on learning. At
thirty I stood firm. At forty I had no doubts. At fifty
I knew the decrees of Heaven. At sixty my ear was an
obedient organ for the reception of truth. At seventy
I could do what my heart desired without transgressing
what was right

Always is to be seen the fine spirit pointing straight to
the inward and spiritual.

His disciple Tsŭ Yu (now among the “Wise Ones”
who form the spirit court of Confucius in his great temple
in Peking) asked him concerning the duties of filial piety,
and he replied:

“Filial piety now means the support of one’s parents.
Yet this is something in which even our dogs and horses
likewise can share. Reverence also is needed. Without
that what distinguishes the one case from the other?”

Another disciple, the recurrent Tsŭ Kung, asked what

constitutes the superior or perfected man. The master

“He acts before he speaks, and afterwards speaks according
to his actions.”

Some of his sayings are gnomic, wonderfully condensed
and needing long and deep reflection. Among
those I would set this:

“It is only the truly righteous man who can love or
hate others.” And again that strangely wise saying which
few countries but India in her wisdom have comprehended:

“Riches and honor are the desire of men. If they
cannot be gained rightly they should not be held. Poverty
and meanness are the detestation of men. If they
cannot be gained rightly they should be avoided.”

It is the fashion in the West to call Confucius merely
a moral philosopher, and to dismiss him at that. True,
that would be much in itself; but he aimed higher, though
he shrank from casting the spiritualities into the arena
of ignorant discussion. Probably development on the
spiritual side had not reached the point where his aims
could be profitably discussed. But now and then come
sentences in the Analects of searching insight. Here is
one which aims at the heights indeed, though the
man to whom he spoke did not perceive the full implication.

The master said:

“My teaching is that of one all-pervading principle.”

Tsang the philosopher replied, “Yes.”

The master went out, and the other disciples asked,
“What do his words mean?”

Tsang replied: “The teaching of our master is to be
loyal to oneself and charitable to our neighbors and
nothing more.”

Thus Confucius summed up the two great commandments
in a spirit not distant from the Two Commandments
of the New Testament. For he who is loyal to the

Divine in himself obeys the first, and the second inculcates
the love of our fellow men. Truly he himself may
be described as the noble man whose virtues he set on
high as a standard for his people.

Chapter XX


EVENTS were now drawing Confucius back after
long and sorrowful wanderings to the state of Lu.
“Let me return. Let me return!” he had said long years
before, little knowing for how long Fate could compel
him to wait. His course had been disapproved alike by
those who wished to see him in power and believed he
shrank from taking office and those who (with the great
philosopher Lao Tsŭ) considered the life of solitary
meditation the higher way. Confucius had chosen the
middle way—the Mean—and had pleased few. An example
of the ascetics’ opinion was that of one known as
the Madman of T’su, who meeting the little carriage of
Confucius sang scornfully aloud as he passed it:

“O Phoenix, O Phoenix, how is your virtue fallen!
Reproof for the past is useless, but the future is still
yours. Give up your vain pursuit!”

Confucius, who may have himself had the moments of
self-distrust that assail all great spirits, and probably
remembered Lao Tsŭ and his exhortations only too painfully,
got down hurriedly and would have spoken with
the man; but he rushed off and was seen no more.

Time went by and old age darkened over him and his
high hope of usefulness to his country. It is likely that
at this time no one would have expected less than he the
stupendous future which awaited the least of his sayings
and doings. It is true that Prince of T’su distinguished
him when he entered his state and listened gladly to his

wisdom. To him was spoken the summary which has
come down the ages:

“It demonstrates good government in a state when
those who are near are given happiness and those who are
far away are attracted.”

But again as always came disappointment.

The Prince of T’su would have given him great territory
and its government, and fixed him to his court; but
once more a minister intervened, seeing his own power
threatened by greatness.

“Consider well, your Majesty. Have you any such
great men about you as this K’ung has in his three disciples,
Yen Hui, Tsŭ Lu, and Tsŭ Kung? You have not
an officer to stand beside them? With himself and these
three how can you suppose he will work simply for the
good of your kingdom and not for himself? Remember
how Wu and Wan long ago made themselves masters
of the empire! Be warned!”

And because intellectual power seldom prospers in a
world of little men the prince was frightened. He drew
back, and Confucius left his state and returned to Wei.
Like others of his fiber he had to pass into the cold atmosphere
of death, where hatreds and envies die, before
he could assume his rightful throne.

Yet there were still moments of hope. The prince
whose connection with the infamous beauty Nan-Tsŭ
had driven him out was dead and his grandson sat on a
tottering throne, defending it against his own father, who
had been driven out of the kingdom because of an attempt
on his mother Nan-Tsŭ’s life. The young prince
felt that if he could gain the approval of Confucius and
thus the support of the great apostle of filial piety, his
position might be secured despite his plight; and such
overtures were made that when Confucius reached Wei,
the brave disciple Tsŭ Lu could meet him with the offer
of power in his hand.

“The Prince of Wei is waiting for you, that with you

he may administer the government! What will you do

What Confucius considered the first thing to be done
was to reject such offers. How could he support a man
in rebellion against his father? or support that father,
who had himself been guilty of slaughtering a mother,
however wicked? Let them go their own way—fight
their own battle! Here he would not intervene. Therefore
he remained in Wei continuing his private work and
seeing hope ebb daily.

But as I have said events were shaping for his return
to Lu. He was to see the hills of home before the ages
claimed him. His beloved Yen Hui was to do him one
more service before the disciple’s early death. Yen Hui
had returned before to Lu, on the invitation of the ruling
power, and distinguished himself in some military operations.
He was asked how he had learned such skill
and had replied that he owed that and everything else
to Confucius. Who could compare with him? His listeners,
deeply impressed, declared that they must bring
the master home to Lu. Yen Hui listened and answered
with his own serenity, suggesting scorn of the past and
hope for the future:

“If you do so, see at least that you let no mean men
come between him and you!”

Three officers were sent bearing rich gifts to beg the
master’s return to the state that is remembered only as his
birthplace. And he went, now sixty-nine years old and
hoping for the last time that his ripened wisdom might
once more benefit his native land. But it was grief, not
success, which was to test his great heart to the end.

In the very year of his return, the beloved disciple
Yen Hui, who had brought about that return, died, and
the master was left desolate indeed, weeping as one uncomforted.
I have told some of his lamentation. This
also survives:

“Yen Hui is dead and lost to me forever, and where

is there another to fill his place? He never lagged, he
never wearied. His face was set forward as a true lover
of knowledge, and to him toil was pleasure. He is gone
and I cannot find his equal. Heaven is destroying me.”

There are moments of terrible solitude for the highest
of men. Wisdom cuts them off from fellowship and sets
them apart on more than Alpine peaks uplifted into cold
and starry skies. But those who study the utterances of
Confucius will realize that Yen Hui by the very force of
love and devotion had climbed the snows and sat at the
feet of his master, warming them with the glow of love.
That companionship was now withdrawn, and henceforward
he walked to the end in a great loneliness of spirit.

Yet another shadow was to fall upon his life in the
death of his long unseen wife. Years had passed since
their separation, but memory moved him.

“Yes,” he said, “her life is done, and it will not be
long before mine is done also.”

Then his only son Li died. That could not move him
as the loss of Yen Hui had done, for little is known of Li
and that little is colorless. Yet he left a son in whom
Confucius might hope with a hope that was not to be disappointed.
His grandson K’ung Kei’s name is esteemed
and with reason as that of a philosopher whose work on
the classics honorably follows that of the master.

And now the end was drawing near, and the master,
working at the great classics—which were to be one of his
priceless bequests to China—conscious of the lengthening
shadows of night, toiled with unwearied energy at the
only task his country would permit him for its benefit.

For no power, no share of government, was offered to
him in Lu. He had attained the plane of wisdom in
which as he said of himself: “I could follow what my
heart desired without transgressing what is right.” But
though the prince and his ministers would talk with him
now and again and raise questions of good government he
was not needed at the helm of the ship of state. It is said

that he interrupted his labors to make a last pilgrimage
to T’ai Shan, the holy mountain, and that the disciples
who attended him allowed themselves to hope for many
years more of his wisdom, so strongly he climbed the
steep, so keenly did he look from the summit over the
wide country below. According to tradition he offered
a sacrifice on his return to commemorate the end of his
literary work, and then calling his disciples together bade
them a solemn farewell, declaring that his mission as a
teacher was now ended, he was no longer their master but
a friend—for that bond between them no time could

It is to be wished that some master of the greatest age
of Chinese painting could have immortalized that moment
in the life of the teacher with those men who had
been faithful to him in so much disappointment and
sorrow—a moment of grief and gratitude and of the profoundest
sense of mighty gifts given and rightly accepted
in so far as their lesser capacities permitted.

There is another anecdote of this time which has
beauty of perhaps more human order. The teacher was
present at a little village festival—one of gratitude to the
spirits of the elements at the ended toil of harvest. The
poor people rejoiced with noisy gaiety, and Confucius
stood watching them with a pleasure some of the more
priggish of his companions could not approve.

“How far better,” said they, “if instead of rejoicing in
this boisterous unmannerly way they had solemnly expressed
their gratitude and hopes in prayer!”

“Not at all!” replied the master. “Why cannot you
see that they are expressing both in their own simple
way? They cannot share in the higher points of view.
Their life is one of unceasing toil, and surely these poor
fellows may have one day of untrammeled enjoyment
after their own fashion. A bow never unbent is useless.”

If his long and sorrowful wanderings had taught him
nothing but this sympathy for the neglected life of the

suffering peasants of China, he probably would have felt
they had not been wasted. But they had taught him the
ruin and misery following evil government, and the passions
and jealousies which divert man from the only
road to peace and wisdom. He had learned the desperation
of disunity which set state against state; and travel
as he would from one to another in hope of better things
he found betterment impossible in one and all.

He had seen the brotherhood of man—the pattern of
the perfect family repeated in that of perfect government—all
his ideals for the good of suffering humanity, set as
a dying rainbow against black clouds, dissolving as a
rainbow does; and the only comfort left to him was still
to love human nature, to sympathize in its struggles and
believe that the way was there if men’s blinded eyes could
be opened to the truth.

One last heavy grief awaited him before the end—the
death of his brave, impetuous disciple Tsŭ Lu. He
had remained behind with a disciple named Ch’ei. A
revolution broke out in Wei, and these two were caught
in its meshes, Tsŭ Lu following his master’s principles
and defending the prince against the rebels.

This was told to Confucius. He said sadly:

“Ch’ei will come here, but Tsŭ Lu will die.”

Too true! Tsŭ Lu fought gallantly for the prince
and was killed; and Confucius mourned in the last great
sorrow earth had in store for him.

According to tradition a warning was now granted
that he might prepare even more solemnly for the end.

It is told that in the spring of 480 b.c. a huntsman of
the Duke of Lu captured in hunting an extraordinary
animal, which immediately died. It is described as four-footed,
scaled like a dragon, with fleshy protuberances
instead of horns. It was thrown down in a public place
near the palace, and crowds went to see it, the news
flying far and wide. Confucius also went, but seeing it,
showed signs of consternation. As it is recorded by

Kung-yang, he recognized it as the marvelous animal
that had appeared before his birth to whose horn his
mother Ching-tsai had attached a ribbon.

“It is the kilin, the kilin!” he cried. “For whom
have you come? For whom have you come? That sacred
animal, typical of all that is good and holy—behold,
it is dead! What evil does not this foretell to the empire?
Living, it gave notice of my approaching birth. The
course of my teaching is run.”

It may be supposed that he redoubled his work in
consequence of the portent, for about this time he completed
“Spring and Autumn.” In this book, written from
the standpoint of the state of Lu, he sets forth in brief
the chief events occurring throughout the empire, “every
term being expressive of the true character of the actors
and events described.” His own estimate of the book sets
it high for he said:

“It is ‘Spring and Autumn’ which will make men
know me, and it is that book which will make men condemn

It was of this that the great Chinese philosopher
Meng-tsŭ (Mencius) said later:

“Confucius completed ‘Spring and Autumn,’ and rebellious
ministers and villainous sons were stricken with

With failing strength he could still testify to the right.
The Prince of Ch’i was murdered, and though this was
not his own prince, Confucius thought it his duty to make
a solemn protestation to his sovereign the Prince of Lu.
He bathed, robed himself in his dress of ceremony, and
went to court. There, coming before the prince, he said:

“Ch’in has slain his sovereign. I beg that you will
undertake to punish him.”

The prince hesitated, saying that Lu was a weaker
state than Ch’i, but still the master persisted:

“One-half of the people of Ch’i are not consenting to
the deed,” he said. “If you add to the people of Lu one-half
of the people of Ch’i, you cannot be overcome.”

But all was useless, and he returned home in sadness,
believing as he did that the slaughter of a sovereign was
a terrible and dangerous form of parricide and a ruinous
example to the empire. So the rulers picked his brains
for aphorisms and suggestions to guide them in their tortuous
course, but power they would not give him. And
slowly the light that was to light China, that might have
lighted it more immediately, flickered down.

One morning in the dawn he rose, and with his hands
behind his back clasping his dragging staff, he moved
listlessly up and down before his door murmuring to

“The great mountain must crumble,

The strong beam must break,

The wise man must wither like a plant.”

He returned to the house and sat down silently facing the
door. One of the disciples, Tsŭ Kung, heard and said to

“If the great mountain crumble, to what shall I look?
If the strong beam break and the wise man wither away,
on what shall I lean?”

He hurried into the house, and the master said:

“Tsŭ, why are you so late? According to the rules of
Hua the corpse was dressed and coffined at the top of the
eastern steps, the dead thus treated as one who receives his
guests. Under the Yin dynasty the ceremony was performed
between the two pillars, thus making the dead
both host and guest. I am a man descended from the
royal house of Yin, and last night I dreamed that I sat
with offerings before me between two pillars. No wise
sovereign arises; there is none in the empire who will
make me his master. My time is come to die.”

These are his last recorded words. He fell into a
deep lethargy and so gradually sank into death in the
year 479 b.c.

It was natural that his disciples should attach the utmost
importance to the burial rites. His grandson K’ung

Kei was too young to lead the rites, and two of the disciples
acted for him. They robed the master in ceremonial
robes, with the cap of ceremony, and the official
badge on a cord of colored twisted threads. Three small
portions of rice were placed in his mouth. The body in a
double coffin, adorned with the insignia of great houses
of old times, lay under a rich canopy.

They bought a plot of ground to the north of the capital,
and there raised three cupola-shaped mounds—the
central one for the grave. A great procession of disciples
and friends followed the relics of their master, and by
the grave Tsŭ Kung, the most famous of the disciples,
planted a tree of which it is said traces can still be seen.

It was decided by the disciples that the time of mourning
should be the same as for a father, but Tsŭ Kung did
more. By the tomb he built himself a hut, and there led
a hermit’s life for six years.

The death of Socrates though man-inflicted was happier
in its circumstances and carries a nobler ring down
the ages; yet not even Socrates was to light such a beacon
in the world as the great man who passed away so quietly
and with so heavy a sense of failure in the state of Lu.
In the beneficent influence he shed upon mankind two
only can stand beside him: the Indian prince known as
the Buddha and the Christ. Some might include Mohammed;
but though I yield to none in admiration and
reverence for his mighty work I cannot class his doctrines
nor his life so highly as those of the Three. The mountains
lift their peaks into the blue, but Gaurisankar
(Everest) outsoars them all and mingles with the stars.
So, the Three.

Before we turn to the spirit of the man as represented
in his philosophy, it is well to consider his manners and
customs and the impression he made on those who knew
him best. These his disciples treasured and handed down
with minute and loving care, realizing that they presented
the standard for the highest type of human being

that China at that time, and for ages afterwards, could
present for general admiration.

They knew in their own hearts, even if it were not
generally admitted as yet, that here was the great man, he
whom intellect enthroned and goodness crowned and
stately manners adorned. All could not be like him—that
was true—but all could measure themselves by that
ideal and mourn their failure; all could rejoice when
some small ray of that light shone upon their darker path.
Therefore in the Analects—that most lovable book—we
find little personal details which endear the master to
us, even where it is difficult for nations whose leaders
have never made an ideal of dignified behavior to follow
the symbolism of some of the traits. Many are beautiful
to all who read.

We see a man stately in presence—for he was often
spoken of as “the tall man”—rather dark in complexion,
with the broad Mongolian nose and keen eyes. There
are portraits which it is held in China give the traditionary
likeness, but to those no real importance can be

The dress of his day was more like the Japanese kimono
than that worn in modern China, with loose flowing
sleeves covering the hands. He would turn up the
right sleeve to free his hand. In summer his robes were
of linen. Linen was then more costly than silk. His cap
was of silk. His winter robes were lined with fur—the
yellow ones with fox fur, the white with fawnskin, the
dark with black lambskin. Red and brown were colors
he disliked, nor would he allow his robes to be trimmed
with green, purple, or red, the reason being that the approved
colors in the Book of Rites were blue, yellow,
carnation, white and black. Thus we have the mental
portrait of a distinguished gentleman, one who attached
self-respect to dress as to all that concerned him, considering
it as the part of manners and revelation of personality
that it undoubtedly is.

When his work was laid aside, he was always cheerful
and smiling, yet with gravity as a background, attentive
to all who spoke, serene in manner.

If a man who was in mourning for his parents sat beside
him at dinner, it appeared to Confucius courteous
not to ignore his grief, and therefore he ate slightly and
sparingly as though to curtail his own enjoyment.

Four things were the special subjects of his teaching,
as forming the necessary equipment of a gentleman
(using that word in its deepest truest sense): literature
and the arts, with special emphasis on music; conduct;
a conscience trained to unerring instinct; and sincerity
in word and deed.

When he saw a person in mourning or dressed in robes
of office, or one who was blind, he would at once rise from
his seat even though the other were his junior, thus marking
his sympathy with sorrow, his respect for rank, and
his tenderness for the afflicted. Another instance of this
tenderness may be given.

A blind musician having come to see him, Confucius
guided him with his own hand up the steps and to the
mat prepared for him. He told him where all the visitors
were sitting and who they were. After the guest had left,
one of the disciples asked, in some astonishment at the
stiff rules of rank in ancient China having been thus
infringed: “Is it the right thing to speak thus to a
[mere] musician?”

The master answered: “Very certainly it is right to
give help to a blind man.”

Yet no man was more punctilious as to the forms and
ceremonies antiquity had taught and he believed necessary
as a safeguard to the intercourse of man and to his
social well-being. At some of these, those will smile who
cannot perceive the underlying spirit that characterizes
intercourse between educated and often between uneducated
people, not only in China but throughout all the
great countries of Asia.

If in illness he received a visit from his prince he had
his court robe thrown round him and wore his girdle. He
entered the palace for an audience by a side door as if to
avoid the undue honor of using the great entrance, then
with bent head, gathering his robe about him with both
hands, he went on to the dais in the inner apartments,
bowing right and left with clasped hands to the officers
who lined the approach; and as he passed the prince’s
empty chair he hurried as if in awe. Returning from the
audience he let his expression relax as if with satisfaction.
He advanced rapidly to his place for the public
audience, spreading out his robe on either side like a
bird’s wings. When he carried the jewel-badge of
authority of his prince it was with bent body and an air
of deep awe and apprehension.

These were the ceremonies for the feudal courts. At
the imperial court much more state would have been

When fasting he wore his clothes brightly clean and
made of linen.

In eating he would always have his rice carefully
clean and his meat finely minced. The meat he took only
in due proportion to the rice. With wine he was more
liberal, but never to the extent of confusing himself.
Ginger was served to him at every meal. He ate sparingly
and in silence. Even if his food was only coarse
rice and vegetables, he reverently offered a little of it in
sacrifice to the ancestral spirits. When a rich banquet
was provided for him he would rise to return thanks to
his host. When the villagers were feasting he would not
precede the ancients of the village but followed them;
and when they held the ceremonies for driving away evil
influences and entered his house noisily for the purpose,
he would put on his court dress and receive them standing
on the eastern steps, as a host does with guests. When
any friend died without relations who could be depended
upon to perform his burial, the master said:

“I shall bury him.”

In a word Confucius was careful to fail in none of the
pieties and duties of life; and more so because, as will
be seen in the next chapter, the duty of right example
was an essential part of his philosophy.

Of his disciples, ten, divided into four classes of differing
attainments, are known as the Ten Wise Ones.
Of their love of their master and devotion to his teachings
little need be said, but it is interesting to know how they
viewed him. The beloved Yen Hui, sighing, said of the
master’s doctrines:

“I looked up to them, and they seemed to become more
high. I tried to penetrate them and they became harder.
I looked at them before me and suddenly they were behind.
By orderly methods he leads men on skilfully.
He enlarged my mind with learning and taught me the
rules of conduct. If I wished to give up the study of his
doctrines I could not; and yet after I have exerted all
my powers something seems to stand up high before me,
and though I wish to follow and grasp it I cannot.”

Another disciple said:

“Our master’s teaching really comes to this: loyalty to
oneself and charity to one’s neighbor.”


“Let me use the simile of a house surrounded by a
wall. My wall rises only to the height of a man’s shoulders,
so that anyone can look over and note the excellence
of the building within. But my master’s wall is many
fathoms in height, so that one who cannot find the gate
cannot see the loveliness of the temple nor the noble
adornments of the priests within. It may be that only a
few will find the gate.”

And another, on hearing Confucius disparaged:

“It is no good. K’ung Fu Tsu is proof against detraction!
The wisdom of other men is like hills and
mounds, which can be stepped over. But he is like the
sun and moon, which man’s foot can never reach. True,

a man may refuse to receive their light, but that leaves the
sun and moon untroubled. It only demonstrates that he
has no notion of the measurement of capacity.”

With this summing up the Chinese Empire has concurred.
There are few places in the world which convey
such a profound impression of antiquity and solemnity
as his great temple in Peking. The air breathes the
serenity of wisdom enshrined in the worship of the ages.
China appears to prostrate herself in this august place
and thus to honor herself as well as the greatest of her

It may be seen in the dim light of the Hall of Perfection
that there is a hall behind, containing the tablets and
images of certain of his ancestors and other distinguished
men. In the Great Hall is his own tablet, the tablets of
his chief disciples and of others who have spread his
teaching. On the first day of every month are made offerings
of fruits and vegetables, and on the fifteenth an
offering of incense. But formerly twice a year came a
solemn ceremony of worship. The emperor then invariably
attended as the chief officiant.

Twice he knelt and six times bowed his head to the
earth in the invocation of the spirit of Confucius.

“Great are you, O perfectly wise man.

Your virtue is full; your doctrine complete.

None among mortal men has equaled you.

All kings honor you.

Your statutes and laws have come down gloriously.

You are the model of the Imperial School.

Reverently we have set out the sacrificial vessels.

With awe we sound the bells and drums.

“I, the emperor, offer a sacrifice to the philosopher
K’ung, the ancient teacher, the perfect sage, and I say:

“O teacher, in virtue equal to Heaven and earth, whose doctrines embrace the past and present,

Transmitter of the six classics,

Hander-down of lessons for all generations,

Now in reverent observance of the old statutes with victims, silks, spirits, and fruits,

I carefully offer sacrifice to you.

With you are associated the philosopher Yen, your continuator;

The philosopher Tsang, exhibitor of your fundamental principles;

And the philosopher Meng, second to you.

May you enjoy the offerings!”

Confucius died comparatively unnoticed and with a
sense of failure. He could not have foreseen the outburst
of glory so soon to follow his death and to continue to
the present time. What man could foresee such triumph?
It holds in it something superhuman and awful. So men
spoke of the ancient gods. In the words of Dr. Legge:

“Confucius is in the empire of China the one man by
whom all possible personal excellence was exemplified
and by whom all possible lessons of social virtue and
political wisdom were taught.”

Chapter XXI


THERE was no good news for the masses in the worship
practiced by the wealthy and educated classes
headed by the emperor. There were moral precepts, and
none who know will undervalue their work among the
toilers of the empire; but the atmosphere about them,
associated as they necessarily were with reverence of
the dead, was cold and chilling, and lacked the spiritual
warmth which draws the love of men as well as their duty.
As will be shown in due place it gained glow from India
and enforced the precepts with added incentives and
hopes unknown to ancient China. Yet though Confucius
was an aristocrat in all his instincts he had true democratic
sympathies, and government worthy of the people
was his principal aim.

I shall now briefly allude to the books which he edited
and added to, wrote or partially rewrote, and then sum
up their teachings.

The books of highest authority are the five canonical
works known as the “Book of Changes,” the “Book of
Historical Documents,” the “Book of Poetry,” the “Record
of Rites,” and “Spring and Autumn.” Confucius is
credited with the compilation of all these and the authorship
of one of them; but it is known that much of the
Record of Rites is from later hands.

This is indeed an amazing book. If a book of etiquette
can be imagined directing manners and behavior
even to facial expression in every possibility of life, yet
imbued with deep religious and ancestral feeling, it is

here. There are moments when to those unused to Chinese
habits of thought an impression of calculated insincerity
may be given, but unjustly; and there are certainly
moments when the injunctions may seem as absurd to the
West, as those of a western book of etiquette seem to those
who are born to the manner and need no teaching.

But like many other customs of antiquity and of foreigners
the thing needs understanding. Confucius taught
that with a gentleman of the highest type the use of ceremonies
is “to give proper and becoming expression to his
feelings.” That he should do this for the benefit of all is
an integral part of the philosophy of Confucius, and a
highly important one. His definition of ceremonial runs
as follows:

“Without the rules of becoming behavior, respectfulness
becomes toilsome bustle; carefulness, timidity; boldness,
insubordination; and straightforwardness, rudeness.”

Were ever truer words written? And let it be remembered
that the first sentence of this book begins, “Always
and in everything let there be reverence”; and that, apart
from the general questions raised, this classic presents
as has been said, “the most exact and complete monography
which the Chinese nation has been able to give of
itself to the rest of the human race.”

Agreeing with this, I would add that both in its
strength and its littleness we have no way of understanding
the natural and trained sense of decorum in the Chinese
people. We are alert, hasty, sudden, rough, where
they are unhurried, courteous, foresighted, and stately.
Yet nearly all our own habits also are ceremonies. Without
them society would crash; and if we consider that the
Chinese go too far, who are we to enunciate the perfect
mean? It is certainly better to be extreme on the Chinese
side than on our own.

The Book of Rites does not encourage grimace. It
states throughout that ceremony without the reverence

of the heart is worth nothing. Not that we need suppose
that everyone who practiced these forms sincerely felt
them. Undoubtedly that high standard was not always
attained. But the man who did not attain knew and in
his own heart admitted that he had fallen far. And probably
then and certainly now the Chinese nation has a level
of manners very much above our own, and in its perfection
often very beautiful.

Still some of the injunctions have a humorous aspect
to the western mind, and some occasion the profoundest
astonishment that constraint could go to such length and
especially that such rigors of mourning could be endured
by human beings. Here are a few examples of prescribed
behavior from this famous book:

When a father has just died, the son should appear
quite overcome and as if he were at his wits’
end. When the corpse has been laid in the coffin he
should cast quick sorrowful glances this way and
that, as if seeking for something which cannot be
found. When the burial takes place he should look
alarmed and restless, as if looking for one who does
not return. At the end of the first year’s mourning
he should look sad and disappointed, and at the end
of the second year he should have a vague and unreliant

There is the advantage that three years of this experience
might produce a very finished actor, but it must be
remembered that less would have been thought deeply
disrespectful to the dead. It was said by the ancients
that even a dying fox would lift its head and look in
the direction of the mound where he was born. Could
a gentleman show less feeling for a parent?

As a matter of fact they all showed much more, and
there was a spirited competition in the display of proper
feeling. When one (who seems to have made a new
record) was mourning for his parents, “his tears flowed
like blood for three years and he never laughed so as to

show his teeth. Superior men considered that he did a
difficult thing.”

And most people will agree with them. One trembles
to think how an epidemic in any virtuous family
might have resulted for those who had to escort the victims
courteously to the tomb!

A singular ceremony is that the vessels made for serving
the dead must not be such as could be actually used.
They were made so that they were useless. The earthenware
vessels could not be used for washing, the lutes were
unevenly strung, the pipes were out of tune, the bells had
no stands.

“They are called vessels to the eye of fancy. The
dead are thus treated as though they are spiritual intelligences,”
says Confucius.

The point was that they must not be treated as though
they were dead, for that would hurt their feelings and
show a want of affection. But they could not be treated
as if they were living, for that would show lack of wisdom.
The happy mean of vessels nominally practical but
unusable would exactly meet the case.

The wedding etiquettes are also curious. Confucius,
who believed that all these observances promoted and
preserved right feeling, dwelt at length upon marriage

The family that has married a daughter away
does not extinguish its candles for three nights, for
it is thinking of the separation that has taken place.
The family that has received the new wife for three
days indulges in no music, remembering that the
bridegroom is now in place of her parents. After
three months she presents herself in the ancestral
temple and is styled “the new wife that has come.”

But I must not linger on these etiquettes, though so
conservative is China that many in the Book of Rites
still hold sway.

Of the Book of Changes I dare say little, for though
Confucius loved and studied it, no clear explanation of
its mysteries has been given to the West. It is dear to
those who have studied the geomantic knowledge determining
auspicious or inauspicious moments for the great
crises of life, death, and burial. Systems of divination
have been built upon it. But the key is not in the hand
of the West, and though many western scholars have
made attacks upon its mysteries, I do not even know
whether the ancient Chinese system of divination, which
I have seen practiced, is based upon it. In the Book of
Changes there are again additions said to be by Confucius
in the shape of appendices; but “Spring and
Autumn” is the only one of the five canonical books that
can be approximately described as actually composed by
Confucius himself.

Of the four famous books which follow the five, the
first is the Analects (which I have quoted so often), i.e.,
the Conversations and Observations of Confucius, the
next is “The Great Learning,” attributed to his distinguished
disciple Tsang Sin. The third is “The Doctrine
of the Mean,” ascribed to K’ung Kei, the famous grandson
of Confucius. The fourth is written by the great
Meng Tsŭ or Mencius. But all these books, if the work
of Mencius is excepted, are so saturated with the personality,
the teaching, and even the words of Confucius,
that it must be said that all emanate from the Confucian
school, and are “faithful reflections of his teaching.”
From these books then, his philosophy may be confidently
deduced, for all these men and books are mouthpieces
of the great Confucius system.

His view of the nature of God was never given, yet
it must not be supposed that he had not deeply reflected
upon the subject and that in observing silence it was from
want either of words or thoughts. It may be safely asserted
that he felt discussions or speculations on this point
were not suited to the condition or powers of the average

man. Who that has studied the theological dogmas and
speculations of the West but must feel some sympathy
for his point of view? Dr. Legge is inclined to think
Confucius doubted much more than he believed but
silence is not necessarily a symptom of doubt. There are
other ways of accounting for it in so great a moral teacher.
The man who said, “He who has offended Heaven [the
synonym for God] has none to whom he can pray,” was
not without his beliefs and reflections on the Divine. And
consider the following:

“Alas,” said the master, “there is no one that knows

Tsŭ Kung answered: “What do you mean by saying
that no one knows you?”

He replied: “I do not murmur against Heaven. I do
not grumble against men. My studies lie low, and my
perception rises high. But there is Heaven—That knows

Dr. Legge complains that not once in the Analects
does he use the personal name of Deity, and he calls him
“unreligious rather than irreligious.” My verdict would
be that he was neither, but rather that a deep sense of
reverence prevented him from using the personal name,
which was considered too great for use, or from dragging
into discussion high things that he did not believe the
mind of man was competent to settle.

Dr. Legge brings the charge of insincerity against
Confucius—the teacher whose system of development of
moral character and all the virtues of the true gentleman
and “princely man” was based on the fundamental virtue
of sincerity! On what are these charges founded?
On the fact that he excused himself from seeing an untimely
visitor by saying he was ill. In the first place it
must be considered that the courtesy of China would by
no means permit the blunt truth on such an occasion and
that true kindness saves the visitor’s face also by permitting
him to assume that nothing but illness would stand

in the way of his reception. In the next place such excuses
were and are as well understood in China as the “not
at home” of the West. Nothing but an overstrained Puritanism
can object to either. He instances also the case
of Meng Che Fan, who when the army of Lu was defeated
brought up the rear of the retreat, and being
praised for courage replied:

“My horse was slow. There was nothing more in it
than that.”

Confucius commended this reply. Dr. Legge asserts
that it was weak and wrong. Would he have had Meng
say, “It was my gallantry which placed me in the danger

No, Confucius and all China understood that here
was the grace of a gentleman and a brave man, who disclaimed
praise with a smile. No question of insincerity
for a moment comes into the question, which is one of
what the West calls “good form,” conduct perfectly well
understood in China.

But Dr. Legge has a graver charge of insincerity—indeed
untruth. The case was as follows: Confucius was
returning to the state of Wei in circumstances of danger
and tumult. A rebel officer of Wei stopped him and compelled
him to engage that he would not go on to Wei—an
engagement he had of course no right to exact. When
released, the master proceeded to Wei, and when his
disciple Tsŭ Kung asked whether it was right to violate
the promise he had made, he answered:

“It was a forced oath. The spirits do not hear such.”

This is treated as a deliberate lie, but it is difficult to
allow that even the tenderest conscience can treat it as
such. It may not be praiseworthy—that is one thing—but
to treat it as a betrayal of truth is a very different
matter. It is a question of expediency, which only the
man himself in those circumstances and at that moment
can settle, and the whole teaching of Confucius and the
array of his conduct as known to us must be considered

in relation to that charge. If anyone wishes to allege that
he was a man inconsiderate of the truth such a charge
must awaken ridicule, because he himself placed truth as
the basis, and his view of human nature and its possibilities
of self-discipline must be put first.

In “The Doctrine of the Mean” we have K’ung Kei,
the grandson of Confucius, declaring the teachings of his
august grandfather often in his own words. The scope is
set forth by another well-known philosopher thus:

“First it [the Doctrine of the Mean] deals with one
principle. Next it spreads this out and takes all things
into its circumference. All these returning, it gathers
under the One principle. Spread it, and it brims the universe.
Regather it, and it is in the background, though

What is this all-sufficing principle?

“Man has received his nature from Heaven.”

That is the first proposition. It follows that it is
essentially good, inevitably drawn toward the Better.

It will be noticed that this is the same teaching
(though far less advanced) as that of the Vedanist in
India, who proclaimed that man is one with the Divine.
Confucius proceeds:

“Conduct in accordance with that nature constitutes
what is right and true. It is pursuance of the true way.
The cultivation or regulation of conduct is what is called
instruction. . . .

“The path may not be left for an instant and the man
of high virtue is cautious and careful in reference to
what he does not see and on his guard against what he
does not hear. There is nothing more visible than what
is secret, nor more manifest than what is minute, and
therefore the man of high instinct is watchful over his

Here is the teaching that nobility cannot be attained
but by considering that in the spiritual—or as Confucius
would have called it the moral—life nothing is a trifle.

The infinitely little may prove to be the infinitely great
in relation to the real issues of life, and therefore his
aloneness. The innermost chambers of the heart are what
the man who travels toward the heights will watch.

Then because this book deals with what is called the
Mean we have the doctrine of equilibrium and resulting
harmony of nature.

“While there are no movements of pleasure, anger,
sorrow, joy, we have what may be called equilibrium.
When these feelings have been moved and all act in due
measure, we have what may be called the state of harmony.
This equilibrium is the root of the world, and
this harmony is its universal way.”

Here we have indicated what is called in Vedantic
teaching in India the “desireless” state of mind, in which
no state can arise where one emotion predominates unduly.
One may use the analogy of an ocean sleeping in
calm; a wind comes; a wave is raised; all is tumult.
So perfect will the harmony and equilibrium of the emotions
of the ideal man be that no wind of circumstance
can disturb the complete serenity of his emotions, for each
balances the other and none can sway the rest.


“Let the states of equilibrium and harmony exist in
perfection, and happy order will prevail throughout
heaven and earth, and all things will be nourished and

Undoubtedly. Such happy order as in the revolution
of planets and procession of the season proceeds in silence
and complete harmony, making no noise about it, yet
developing all life and beauty. As a great disciple of
Lao Tsŭ says:

“Beautiful is the universe, yet it does not talk. The
four seasons abide by a fixed law, yet they are not heard.
All creation is based upon absolute principles yet nothing

These paragraphs give the heart of the book of which

the rest is an amplification, yet much flows from these
brief passages, which are, as it were, the text of the discourse.
Purify the heart according to the nobility that
is in you, and its influences will flow far and wide, for
though the path of duty carries a man into the world and
its doings, the mainspring of all is at home in the citadel
of being. All is in truth one, for the path itself is a part
of the man, being his effluence. Well does Confucius say
“The path is not far from man.” “In hewing an ax-handle
the pattern is not far off,” says the Book of Odes,
which he helped to transmit to posterity. True, for on
the pattern of the ax that hews must the new ax-handle
be wrought. They are the same though apparently apart.
And the man who is born to rule and attains rule by the
virtue in him will know that men must be governed by
the nature that is in them, and according to the stages
of development they have reached—no more and no less.

Their feeling must be considered and consulted as far
as possible on the Golden Rule which the master enunciated:

“Reciprocity. What you do not like when done to
yourself do to no other.”

But yet the man of high virtue will neither weakly nor
complaisantly give to others what he knows is bad for
them. He will temporize. Chuang Tsŭ, a later philosopher,
illustrates this point with a delightful fable. It
contains the essence of wisdom in peaceful dealings with
others in a few words.

A keeper of monkeys said with regard to their rations
of chestnuts that each monkey was to have three
measures in the morning and four at night. But at
this the monkeys were exceedingly annoyed, and the
keeper therefore said they might have four in the
morning and three at night, with which arrangement
they were all well pleased. The actual number of the
chestnuts remained the same, but there was an adaptation
to the likes and dislikes of those concerned.

Such is the principle of putting oneself into subjective
relations with externals.

This little parable, which is uncommonly useful for
either household or imperial ends, sets forth one aspect
of the wise and great man’s dealings with those who have
not reached his own moral and intellectual plane. He
will not change the rule. That rule is for their welfare,
for he knows better than they; but he will adjust it to
their satisfaction.

Practically, there are four primary obligations upon
the man who is earnest in pursuing the path, and neglecting
these he cannot attain. He is to serve his father as he
would wish his son to serve him. That is the root-virtue
of China; and some say that her days as an empire have
been long in the land because she made that filial virtue
peculiarly and nationally her own. But in the hands of
Confucius it did not preclude reasoning with unworthy
parents, and he himself in a celebrated instance, which I
have given in the details of his life, set free a son who
had offended against the canon of filial behavior on the
ground that the father who had so ill taught him was
the one to blame. One saying of his on this point should
be quoted:

“In serving his parents a son may remonstrate with
them, but gently. When he sees they do not follow his
advice he shows an increased degree of reverence, but
does not abandon his purpose. Should they punish him
he does not allow himself to murmur.”

Submission therefore was not to be unreasoning, but
it was to be submission for the sake of higher good to
the son and to the nation than could be gained from
breaking away into revolt. The next requirement was
that a man should serve an elder brother (the second head
of the family) as he would choose his younger brother
to serve himself. A part of the reason for this command
is to be found in the family and clan system of China,

where the elder brother may at any moment be called
upon to take the father’s place and with the same right
to obedience.

The next essential is that a man should serve his prince
as he would require a minister to serve him. In other
words a man should be as faithful, loyal, and obedient
to the government of his country, as though he himself
formed a part of that government and every item of its
laws had been imposed by himself. And the last essential
is to behave to a friend as a man must hope a friend would
behave to him.

But in addition the man who loves the right will be
earnest in practicing these and the other ordinary virtues
and sparing in talking of them. He must be vigilant in
exertion to attain, and if his words tend to be excessive
in quality or quantity he must curb that license. “For his
words are related to his actions and his actions to his
words—and complete sincerity must mark the man.” But
Confucius distinguishes between two sorts of sincerity—the
first is inborn in some and practiced without effort;
the second requires discipline and practice. He asserts
that some men (certain of the old sages among them)
are born naturally perfect in nobility and virtue—a belief
which would in India be held as justified by the natural
result of many previous incarnations and struggles—and
he taught further that those not so born still have it in
their power to attain that status, though with struggle
and pain. In this doctrine of innate nobility we have a
sharp cleavage with the doctrine of original sin as taught
by a Christian philosopher like St. Thomas Aquinas—the
Angel of the Schools. It would be impossible that any
teacher trained in the Confucian methods should assert
that the heart of man is naturally deceitful and desperately
wicked; and the best friends of the doctrine must
own it is not encouraging.

This fundamental difference has formed a bar to the
full appreciation of the greatness of Confucius in the

West, where, filtering through the missionaries of all the
Church sects in China, it has been considered a heathenish
and presumptuous way of looking at the relation of
man to God. On the other hand the way was smoothed
for the reception of the philosophy of Buddhism when
it came down the steep passes and along the terrible
deserts from India to China.

It followed from these teachings of Confucius that he
set the utmost store on two things: altruism and example.
The true gentleman, the man born to guide others
whether in the day of small things or great, must be one
whose personal interests can be subordinated without
hesitation to the needs of others, in whatever relation
they stand to him. And not only this, for active energy
on others’ behalf is also expected of the man who understands
the secret of life.

“A man of perfect virtue, wishing to be established
himself, seeks to establish others; wishing to be developed
himself, he seeks to develop others and to be able to judge
others by what is nearest in ourselves: this may be called
the art of virtue.” Not the science—that word might
connote something cold and aloof. No—the welling joy
of creative art, which is virtue on the esthetic side as it
is also in perfect beauty of character. Every faculty must
be so trained and disciplined that it would never obtrude
itself to the destruction or shaking of the equilibrium of
perfect harmony.

One of the reasons (for there were many) why Confucius
loved music was that he felt it to be a symbol of
varied interests, blending in the harmony which can also
be observed in the well-ordered unit of the family and
the state as the aggregate of the family. It will not be
forgotten by students of Plato that he also in “The Republic”
attaches the same importance to that strange art
of music—the most inspirational of all and the very cry
of Nature in her inanimate (to use a contradiction in
terms) and animate life.

Again and again Confucius insists on the importance
of esthetics but more especially music and poetry—for
he placed the starry Muses side by side—in the formation
of a great people. We do not hear of the glyptic art
nor that of the painter’s brush in the same way, but other
reasons may be assigned for that omission. By precept
and example he drove it once for all into the soul of the
Chinese nation that beauty—beauty in small things as
well as in great—was to be their formula of life.
“Man does not live by bread alone” is a saying which
might have sprung from his own lips, as in other forms
it did; and well was it accepted and acted upon, as those
who know China can testify, and those who know only
her great arts can echo, with a gratitude due to few other

He saw also that accomplishment in these kingdoms
of Beauty must be based on the human duties. They
come first. He says:

“A young man when at home should be dutiful, when
abroad reverent to his elders. He must be earnest and
sincere. He should overflow with charity for all and
cultivate the friendship of the good. When he has time
and opportunity after these things, he must employ them
in study of accomplishments of a gentleman—i.e., music;
the rules of courteous behavior, which imply knowledge
of the fitness of things; archery; horsemanship; writing
and numbers; the knowledge of literature and poetry and
the study of history.” In a word, his must be an all-round
character developed like the themes in a great fugue,
which meet in sublime and perfect union-in-difference at
the close. Confucius himself used such an illustration.

“How to play music may be known. At the commencement
of the piece all the parts should sound together.
As it proceeds they should be in harmony, while
severally distinct and flowing without break; and thus
as one to the conclusion.”

A description which applies to his ideal man as well

as to the art. For such a character these rules are enunciated.

“Hold fidelity and sincerity as first principles. Have
no friends not equal to yourself. When you have faults
do not hesitate to abandon them.”

Luxury too was forbidden to the gentleman (I use
the word as Confucius took it—a word of deep meaning).
Luxury could not delight a soul so finely tempered or
moved to such high issues. To sum up; the development
of perfect manhood at once valorous and humble, wise
and serene, must be based on the retention of a tender
conscience, the habits of a simple life, the spirit of humility,
and the strengthening of constancy, be it in study,
in action, or in moral endeavor. And these qualities
must be maintained by self-examination. As the master
says in “The Doctrine of the Mean”:

“The poets say that though the fish sinks and lies at
the bottom it may be seen. Therefore the noble man
examines his heart that he may have no cause for self-dissatisfaction.”

And in the Lung Yu (the Analects):

“When self-examination discovers nothing wrong,
what is there to be anxious about and what is there to

The master said: “He who aims to be a man of complete
virtue, in his food does not seek to gratify his
appetite, nor in his dwelling-place does he seek the appliances
of ease. He is earnest in his undertakings, careful
in his speech. Such a man may be said to be an
ardent student.”

Tsŭ Kung, his famous disciple, replied: “It is said in
the Book of Odes, ‘As you cut and then file, as you carve
and then polish.’ I think the meaning is the same as
that which you have just expressed.”

The master said: “With one like Tsŭ Kung I can
begin to talk about the Odes. I told him one point, and
he knew its proper sequence.”

The praise was deserved. Never was there a more apt
quotation, for the ode quoted by Tsŭ Kung is one very
ancient in the day of Confucius, in praise of the great
Prince Wu, who had dealt with himself as a lapidary
who first cuts the gem and then with many tools and
infinite art polishes it until all who see it must rejoice
in its radiance. In other words, work and example. On
the examples given by such characters Confucius based
his hope for family and state.

The seven steps of ascent would be in this order for
the individual: The investigation of things and their
causes; the completion of knowledge; the truth and sincerity
of the heart; the cultivation of esthetics, the regulation
of the family; the government of the state.

In the family will shine the virtues of the man who
has thus attained, with a light as sustaining and nourishing
as that of the sun. Such examples will spread like
the vibrations of water from a stone dropped into a
pool. The master believed goodness and nobility to
be infectious, and he saw in the enforced bonds of the
family a most powerful urge to goodness, both on the
grounds of imitation and emulation. From the seed of
the family virtues will spring the Tree of the State. The
humbler virtues applicable to family life will not be
changed in essence, but will widen in their scope. In
the classic known as “The Great Learning” we are told
that filial submission will in state matters appear as
loyalty to that state and its ruler. The reverence for an
elder brother will be transmuted into reverence and ready
obedience to elders and those in authority. Family kindness
will appear as universal courtesy. It is said:

“From the loving example of one family a whole state
becomes loving, and from its courtesies the whole state
becomes courteous.”

From the example of such a man on the throne all
might be hoped. Here again we have Confucius according
with Plato. Passage after passage from the

Analects strikes that lesson home to people and ruler.
K’e Kang, distressed at thieving in the state, asked Confucius
for a precept. He replied:

“Sir, if you yourself were not covetous they would
not steal—no, not even if you paid them to do it.”

“And what is your view about killing the wicked for
the sake of the good?” was the next question.

The master replied:

“Sir, in carrying on your government why use killing?
Let your evinced desires be for what is good, and the
people will be good. The relation between governors
and governed is like that between wind and the grass.
The grass bows when the wind blows over it.”

And again he said:

“If good men were to govern a country in succession
for a hundred years they would transform the violently
bad and dispense with capital punishment.”

How fine is this realization of collective responsibility
for crime!

He dwelt much too on the necessity of education for
all. It was not to be a monopoly of the classes. Even
for war he would have an educated people. An ignorant
and uneducated people are neither worthy nor fitted to
fight for their country.

It may be said: “Is this practical? Can so much
be hoped from the personal characters of those composing
a government?” While admitting that such influences
would be more directly felt in a feudal government like
that known to Confucius, where the example of the king
would percolate through the feudal princes to the lowest
official, I still answer:

Yes . . . It is practical even now and from two points
of view. If we can imagine a government of gentlemen,
using the word in the Confucian sense, one may say that
in the complication of modern government there are
many more channels and therefore a much wider opportunity
of spreading honorable example and teaching

than in his days. Consider a present-day government
with its titulary or elected head, its cabinet, its lower
ministers, the representative houses, the judiciary, the
systems of education from high to low, the hundreds of
thousands of officials who in the least degree represent
the power of the state; is it possible to deny that if in
such a state the Confucian ideal were set before the people
in every movement of the government, it might bear
mighty fruit in their lives?

It will be replied, “That dream could never be realized.”
And I own that looking upon the present-day
governments in all the countries of the earth one might
well despair if one did not share the Confucian faith
in the innate goodness of man. It must at least be admitted
that when he ruled a city he himself made a fine
success of it, even if we allow for natural exaggeration.
And I think we must also admit that there is hot one single
government in the world at the present moment where
his elementary precept has been followed: “Employ the
upright and put aside the crooked.”

Until we have learned the alphabet we can scarcely
expect to read the classics.

Chapter XXII


WE turn now to the philosophy of Confucius. It leads
us, as he would have it, directly to the wisdom of
the ancients, the springs of pure water that he like a
skilful irrigator collected, divided, and formed into a
network of flowing streams to fertilize the thirsty empire.
This is an illustration he would have approved, and none
the less because on the material side and literally such
had been the work of one of his ideal heroes, and his was
the example Confucius followed on the intellectual and
moral plane. “I am the transmitter of the wisdom of the
ancients” was his own too modest claim.

It is hopeless to understand his teaching unless a view
is taken of a China very ancient even in the days of the
master, who was born five hundred and fifty-one years
before our era.

Before our knowledge of China becomes historical
and concrete, there stretch away into the past what may
be called the traditional and legendary periods. Of
those, though their interest to students of a certain order
can scarcely be overrated, I shall not speak here except
to say that, in so much as legend and tradition mold belief
and therefore philosophy, they are more valuable
than the modern world is willing to admit, even as the
idea is often more valuable than what is called the fact.
But according to Chinese opinion, Chinese history may
be said to begin about four thousand five hundred years
ago or two thousand six hundred years before our era.

Record of Chinese dynasties begins with the time of
the Five Rulers 2852 b.c. It is said that the first of these
invented what are known as the Eight Trigrams—a hidden
writing never since solved but used in China then and
now as a decoration. He is also said to have written a
record and to have fixed the calendar. If there is any
approximate truth in these statements civilization was
highly developed even at that time.

Of this extraordinary people it seems that almost anything
may be true. Here is the monumental democracy,
controlling its monarchy, dismissing dynasties as easily
as unsatisfactory servants, accomplished in literature
when Europe had scarcely begun its alphabets, despising
war as mad folly; a nation of philosophers, yet prepared
to defend their rights and liberties with the sword from
internal and external foes. All must approach the
thoughts which guided the destinies of such a people with
the same sense of awe as that felt in presence of the
Sphinx’s brooding silence. Fortunately the Chinese were
not silent. They formed schools, as has been seen in the
story of Confucius; and from these we may know what
molded and will mold their history.

According to Dr. Legge, the great Chinese scholar,
the religious belief of the Chinese was monotheistic at
that time. The earliest character for the name of God
symbolizes “Lordship and Government.” In his opinion
the name Ti represented to the ancient Chinese what the
name “God” represented to our own ancestors. One of
the Manchu emperors of China confirmed the belief of
the Jesuits that this represents the Supreme Ruler and
that any other expression was used by the Chinese to
avoid what was considered a disrespectful direct mention.

Round this idea crystallized another belief in subsidiary
spirits. One class of these was related to heaven,
a second to earth, a third to the spirits of dead men. The
ancient Chinese therefore believed that death did not
extinguish a man’s being.

The heaven and earth spirits were invoked as serviceable
to men under the Divine Sovereign. Dr. Legge
gives a prayer from “The Statutes of the Ming Dynasty”
which though in itself comparatively modern he considers
as faithfully representing the ancient tradition of
the position held by spirits in relation to God and man.

To the spirits of the Cloud-Master,

The Rain-Master,

The Lord of the winds, and the Thunder-Master!

It is your office, O spirits, to superintend the clouds and the rain and to raise and send abroad the wind as ministers assisting the Supreme Ruler.

And to the earthly spirits—

The spirits of the mountains and hills,

Of the four seas and four great rivers of the imperial domain,

And of all hills and rivers under the sky!

it is said:

Yours it is, O spirits, with your Heaven-confirmed powers and nurturing influences,

Each to preside as guardian over one district

As ministers assisting the great Worker and Transformer,

And thus the people enjoy your meritorious services.

Roughly this seems to correspond to the lesser deities
of other faiths and to have presented a model for the
imperial court of the empire, including the ruling sovereign,
his ministers and prefects in charge of various
territories and districts—benefactors of the people, who
can only approach the sovereign through these intermediate

The spirits of the dead were and are believed, when
evoked for state and ancestral worship, to descend into
small rectangular wooden tablets, inscribed with the
characters “Seat of the Spirit” or “Lodging-Place of the

Spirit” and with the surname, name, and office of the
dead man. These are set up before the worshiper. At
other times the spirit is absent, and the tablet, which is
laid aside until the next occasion, is not holy.

In very early times living members of the worshiping
families were chosen as vessels to receive the ancestral
spirits. Thus a boy and girl might represent their grandfather
and grandmother as though they were their spirits.
They then ate the sacred foods prepared for the ancestors,
sat in state to receive homage from the family, and the
grandson pronounced words of blessing. Such a service
ended with a song to the following effect:

Thou comfortest me with long life,

    giving me many blessings so that

    I am become great.


I offer this sacrifice to my

    meritorious father and to

    my accomplished mother.

No doubt in ancient times human victims were sacrificed
to accompany the dead into the unseen world; but
as civilization advanced it was recognized that the immaterial
idea was what constituted the true value of this
offering, and from that time paper representatives of
beautiful or necessary objects have been burned on the
occasion of Chinese funerals—the educated Chinese of
the present day respecting the custom as traditional.

We now come to the venerable “Shu King” (the word
King” means “classic”), the Book of Historical Documents.
This collection is the oldest of Chinese books.
The first two parts of it extend over one hundred and
fifty years, and give the events of the reigns of two sovereigns,
Yao and Shun—names never to be forgotten by
those who wish to understand anything of Confucius and
his system. Dr. Legge records that a Chinese gentleman
of intelligence and education said to him, “We have nothing
in China the roots of which are not to be found in

Yao and Shun.” A statement which I have heard myself
and which yet has profound meaning though no longer
wholly true.

A Chinese commentator, Tsei Chin, who wrote a
preface to the Book of Historical Documents about 1210
a.d., says:

“I labored at it assiduously for ten years. This classic
contains the acts and ordinances of the two great sovereigns
Yao and Shun, together with those of the founders
of the three succeeding dynasties; and these acts and
ordinances must be regarded as the rule and pattern for
all future ages. Their importance is such that they cannot
be dealt with superficially. . . . Every act of these
five gifted rulers was based on sound principles originating
in personal rectitude. . . . But whether we find them
exhibiting these principles in their own persons or impressing
on others the value of benevolence, reverence,
truthfulness, or valor it will be found that what these
great men did was the exhibition of personal rectitude.”

Of the book a European translator, W. A. Medhurst,
observes (I condense):

“The lessons of practical wisdom contained in the
‘Shu King’ are applicable to all times and nations. Even
in enlightened Europe something may be learned from
it, and so long as the world retains the distinction between
high and low, rich and poor, so long will the principles of
reciprocal justice, affection, respect, and obedience, laid
down in its pages, keep their ground.”

It will be seen that the admiration of Confucius was
not misplaced. For the rulers were his models alike in
philosophy and the practical science of government.

The first chapter breaks dramatically into praise of
the great sovereign Yao—he who corrected the calendar,
restrained the floods and irrigated the land. He began
his reign at the age of sixteen and lived to be a hundred
and six.

“He was kind as Heaven, wise as the gods. He wore

a yellow cap and dark tunic and rode in a red chariot
with white horses. The eaves of his thatch were not
trimmed, and the beams had no ornamental ends. He
drank his lentil broth from a clay dish with a wooden
spoon. He did not use jewels, and his clothes were simple
and without variety. In summer a simple garb of cotton,
in winter deerskins. Yet was he the richest, wisest,
longest-lived, and most beloved of all that ever ruled.”

On him the comment of Confucius is: “Heaven alone
is great and none but Yao could imitate Heaven.”

The time had now come that he should appoint a
successor; he is seated among his ministers and nobles
for that purpose. And first he speaks to his prime minister,
known as the “President of the Four Mountains.”

“Harken, President of the Four Mountains! I am
old and infirmity has clutched me. Seventy years have
passed since I ascended the jewel-throne. You can carry
out my commands. I shall resign my place to you.”

The chief said: “I have not the virtue. I should disgrace
your place.”

The sovereign said: “Show me one among the illustrious
or put forth one among the poor and mean.”

All said to the sovereign: “Among the lower people
there is an unmarried man called Shun of Yu.”

And the sovereign said: “Yes, I have heard of him.
What have you to say about him?”

The chief minister said: “He is the son of a blind
man. His father was obstinately wicked, his mother insincere,
his half-brother Hsiang arrogant. Yet he has
been able by his filial piety to live in harmony with them
and to lead them gradually to self-government, so that
they are no longer filled with great wickedness.”

The sovereign said: “I shall try him. He is unwed,
and I shall wed him to my two daughters.”

Thus he determined and sent down his two daughters
to the north of the Kwei to be wives in the family of Yu.
The sovereign said to them:

“Be reverent.”

Thus tested, the lowly born Shun did not fail, and he
first became coruler with the mighty Yao. In the next
chapter his accession to sole power is recorded. The
ancient book describes him as a man of great force of
character and energy, wise and vigilant for the welfare
of “the black-haired people.” He improved the methods
of astronomy, made a ritual for the worship “when sacrificing
to the Supreme God and presenting offerings to
the presiding spirits of the land.”

In the Canon of Shun are recorded several acts of
worship, beginning with his inauguration in the Temple
of the Accomplished Ancestor. A solemn sacrifice to
God followed, “according to the ordinary forms,” so it
appears, as Legge points out, there was even at that remote
time a representative worship of God by the ruler of

Shun instituted a uniform system of weights and
measures; adjusted the musical scale; codified the criminal
laws and established fines for lesser offenses. Not
only thus, but the lowly born sovereign set forth rules of
conduct for all those who administered the country. His
charge to his surveyor general is immortal:

“Be careful, be cautious in the administration of the
law. Offenses of ignorance and misfortune must be
freely pardoned, and in all matters of doubt let your judgment
incline to the side of mercy.”

He divided the empire into twelve states and fixed
their boundaries. He was great in the reclamation of
land and the drainage of floods and marshes. China, always
democratic in spirit though reverent to authority,
has no reason to be ashamed of her sovereign chosen from
“the lower people,” as his reign is described in the Book
of Historical Documents.

Shun lived to a great age and was succeeded by his
surveyor general, who had been chosen as successor in
his lifetime on account of his great practical powers in

establishing boundaries, controlling floods (always the
sorrow of China) and driving the waste waters into the

The third chapter describes these great works to their
conclusion, and gives details of the distribution of lands
and titles among the nobles, with the regulation of their

Then comes a very interesting part of the book, giving
an address of the sovereign to his soldiers before battle
with a rebel vassal. He recounts the reasons which have
decided him to “execute the judgment of Heaven [God]
upon the rebel,” and the speech proceeds:

“And now, spearmen and archers, I warn you. Take
heed that you obey my orders, and you, charioteers, see
that your horses are well guided. I have great rewards
for welldoers, to be given before my ancestral temple,
and death for the man who earns my anger—death for
him and his children.”

Passing on we come to the (possibly) supreme hero
of Confucius, Fa, afterwards the Duke of Chao. Old
customs had fallen into disuse, and a brutal tyrant, the
last sovereign of the Yin dynasty, sat upon the throne with
a beautiful wife, Ta Ki, whom the people considered a
devil incarnate from her acts of cruelty. “She invented
the trial by fire, the hot brazen pillar, and the punishment
of the roasting-spit. And the people repined with

But the sovereign and his wife heeded nothing, drinking
from cups of crystal and eating the paws of bears
and the wombs of leopards. He was a drunkard, a man
of ferocious strength, and appeal after appeal was made
to him in vain. His was the right to tax the people almost
to extinction for his pleasures, so he replied.

Of all the tributary princes the greatest and best was
the Duke of Chao. His state was the model for an empire,
and to him all hearts turned—to him and to his son
Fa, who was worthy of his father’s great soul. The duke

ventured to rebuke the sovereign. He was seized and
cast into prison, and there, because

Stone walls do not a prison make,

  Nor iron bars a cage;

Minds innocent and quiet take

  That for an hermitage,

he spent his time in writing a part of one of China’s
famous books.

But his escape was necessary to China, and his son
Fa temporized. He sent a beautiful woman, instructed
in her part, with a large gift of money to the tyrant.
She pleaded and wooed, and in an evil hour for himself
he released the duke, who returned to his son Fa and his
state. About them gathered the angry nobles and the unhappy
people; and every day came in more horrible tales
of the tyrant’s evil deeds, and every day men’s hearts
turned more steadily to the hope that the duke might displace
him and extend his merciful rule to the whole

From prince to peasant all saw it with wonder and
delight. Some years before, two princes of neighboring
states who had quarreled as to their boundaries had resolved
to ask the good duke to arbitrate, and came to his
state for that purpose. There great amaze possessed
them, for in that state each man appeared to consider the
general good rather than his own. The farmers helped
one another, fields had no landmarks, travelers moved
about with courtesy and consideration, and there was a
law that no old man should carry a heavy load. The
princes marveled. In the palace all was the same. Cooperation
reigned instead of rivalry. There was fine
emulation instead of competition. One prince turned to
the other:

“And why should we weary these good men with our

Why, indeed! They would not trouble the duke,

whose whole life was given to the good of others; and
so they went home at peace with each other, and settled
the business and the boundary without more ado.

Such was the man to whom the hope of China turned.
It was not to be realized in him, but in his great son. He
died, ninety years old, and Fa, now Duke of Chao, seeing
his father dead, his uncle murdered by the tyrant whom
he had dared to rebuke, and the people driven to madness
by cruelty, knew that the time had come.

He addressed his army:

“The sovereign squats on his heels; he cares nothing
for the worship of God or of his ancestors. He says,
‘God made me king, who can disturb God?’”

And the duke marched to battle, saying, “I have offered
sacrifices to God. I lead you all to execute the will
of Heaven.” In one hand he carried his battle-ax, in
another a flag of the royal white. And as the chariots
charged, the sovereign’s troops gave way, and there was a
mighty slaughter and victory.

The sovereign fled to the Stag Tower. There he
adorned himself with pearls and jewels and when he saw
all was hopeless set fire to the tower and died in the
flames; and he and his beautiful, abhorrent empress went
to their own place.

The great duke ascended the throne and made wise
and healing laws for the suffering—such as Confucius
studied night and day with delight and hoped to perpetuate
in China. He gave to his dead father the title of
Wen Wang—that is to say King Wen—and he himself
took the title of Wu Wang, or King Wu. Among the
greatest and best of the sovereigns of China their names
are loved and honored; and none ignorant of their story
can understand Confucius.

“The king sent back the war-horses to the Flowery
Mountain. The weapons of war he wrapped about with
tiger-skins, and covering the chariots and armor he stored
them away. Thus he made an end to war.”

When Confucius was a very old man, failing in health
and hope, he said one day:

“Extreme is my decay. For a long time I have not
dreamed of the Duke of Chao.” So constantly had that
presence been with him in his meditations.

It is natural that “Spring and Autumn”—the book
which is most truly his own, and therefore profoundly
venerated in China—should be a history of a period in
the Chao dynasty. There he could permit love as well as
intellect to guide his hand. It is said that in that famous
book he sets the example of meticulous care in the art of
“rectifying terms”—that is, using the words which express
to a hair the finest shade of thought in dealing with
his great subjects. For example: If a king is slain by his
subjects Confucius used the word “murder” to express
the deed. If a tyrant meets the same fate Confucius employs
the word “kill,” with the implication that a tyrant
has ceased to be a king in any reasonable meaning of the
word. Each word and phrase is given an ethical as well
as literary value.

This is a book whose appearance, it is said, struck rebellious
ministers and villainous sons with terror, so directly
was it aimed at the conscience, so clearly did every
word perform its office in distinguishing truth from
falsehood and good from evil. There men might learn
that a government departing from virtue ceases to be
government in any real sense. In that book, as in all his
teaching, stands clear the fact that the world’s good depends
upon the individual, and he who would hope to
reform it must begin at home—a truth at once cheering
and awe-striking. A world in which this truth is realized—is
called by the master “The World of the Great
Identity.” That name would have been understood by
the Indian philosophers. They would have said:
“Though this teacher does not know it he has realized
that the Manifold is the Appearance. The One is the
Truth. And duty done to others is done to ourselves.”

The Book of Historical Documents contains many
stories of old, unhappy, far-off things, human yet almost
diabolical in cruelty, but it also contains stories of noble
things and of the Golden Age of simple and generous
government which could never be permitted to die. It
is the dearer to the Chinese heart because the hand of
Confucius is everywhere apparent about it. It has not
survived intact, for the tablets on which it was written
narrowly escaped extinction (with many other books of
ancient times) in the famous or infamous “Burning of the
Books” by that foolish emperor who was first of the
Ts’in dynasty; and the scholars of the Han dynasty, who
came later, found the books—such as they could retrieve—mutilated
and in disorder. The account of this burning
given in the Historical Records cannot be left out.
It took place in 212 b.c. and would have broken the heart
of Confucius if he had lived to see it. (I condense.)

The emperor returning from a visit to the South
gave a feast in the palace when the great scholars
[men of official rank] to the number of seventy appeared
and wished him long life. The superintendent
of archery came forward and praised him,

“Your Majesty by your spirit-like efficacy and intelligent
wisdom has tranquilized the whole empire,
so that wherever the sun and moon shine all appear
before you as guests, acknowledging subjection.”

The emperor was pleased with this flattery.

The chief minister said:

“At the risk of my life I say that now when your
Majesty has consolidated the empire, scholars still
honor their own peculiar learning, and combining
together they teach men what is contrary to your
laws. They discuss every ordinance. They are dissatisfied
in heart. They keep talking in the streets.
And so they lead on the people to be guilty of murmuring
and evil-speaking. If these things are not
prohibited, your Majesty’s authority will decline.

“As to the best way to prohibit them I pray that
all the records in charge of the historiographers
be burned excepting those of Ts’in [the state of
which the emperor had been prince before he became
emperor]. Also that, with the exception of
officers belonging to the board of great scholars, all
throughout the empire who presume to keep copies
of the Book of Odes or of the Book of Historical
Documents or of the Books of the Hundred Schools
be required to go with them to the officers in charge
of the several districts and burn them. Also that all
who dare to speak together about these two books
be put to death and their bodies exposed in the market-place,
and that those who praise the past so as to
blame the present shall die along with their relatives.

“I propose also that officers who shall know of
the violation of these rules and not inform against the
offenders shall be held equally guilty, and that whoever
shall not have burned their books within thirty
days after the issuing of the ordinance shall be
branded and sent to labor on the building of the
Wall. The only books which should be spared are
those on medicine, divination, and husbandry. Whoever
wants to learn the laws can go to the magistrates
and learn of them.”

The emperor’s decision in this wise counsel was “Approved”!
Here were Radicals indeed—their only regret
that a past which mutely reproached them could not be
burned with the books. But they went as far as they
could. Next year on the discovery that over four hundred
and sixty scholars had hidden their books they were
all buried alive in pits, and all who were suspected were
degraded and banished. In vain did the emperor’s eldest
son Fu Su remonstrate. He was himself banished to the
care of the general who was superintending the building
of the Great Wall, and the emperor might at last hope
that the destruction of the banned classics was complete.

The whole story is a mighty tribute to the influence

for good of the ancient sovereigns and of Confucius and
of the classics, as viewed from the angle of a fool and a
tyrant. He and they could not exist together. Three
years later he died, and twenty-two years later his dynasty
was extinct, the emperors of the Han dynasty doing all
in their power to retrieve part of the miserable calamity
he had brought upon Chinese literature.

There is an account of the efforts in the Han dynasty
(201 b.c.-a.d. 24). Thus it is written:

“After the death of Confucius there was an end of his
glorious words, and when his seventy disciples passed
away violence began to be done to their meaning. Amid
the disorder of the warring states a sad confusion marked
the words of various scholars. Then came the calamity
inflicted under the Ts’in dynasty, when the literary monuments
were destroyed by fire to keep the people in ignorance.
But later arose the Han dynasty, which set itself
to remedy the evil. Great efforts were made to collect
slips and tablets [on bamboo, for there was no paper],
and the way was thrown wide open for the bringing in
of books. In the time of the Emperor Hiau Wu [189 b.c.], portions of the Books being wanting and tablets
lost so that the Rites and Music were suffering great injury,
he was moved to sorrow and said, ‘I grieve for

He and succeeding emperors and scholars earnestly
labored to retrieve the injury done to knowledge and
wisdom. Much was regained, but terribly mutilated and
in disorder. It was also found that during the war of
the states the feudal princes had destroyed the records
of the golden age of government, the very existence of
which condemned their own ill-doings. Of the priceless
Analects—the conversations of Confucius and his disciples—appeared
first two copies, one from the state of
Lu, the native land of the master, and one from the adjoining
state of C’hi. These were confusing inasmuch as
they differed considerably.

It was not until 150 b.c.—when one of the emperor’s
sons, appointed King of Lu, in enlarging his palace demolished
the house of the K’ung family where Confucius
himself had lived—that copies of the Book of Historical
Documents, the “Spring and Autumn” and the Analects
were found. They had been hidden there in the wall at
the time of the Burning of the Books, and were all written
in the ancient and then disused “tadpole characters.”

This copy of the Analects agreed with one of the
others, save in one important matter, and so what may be
called the canonical copy can be relied upon. A poetic
story is told to the effect that the king could not after all
destroy the sacred house in which the wisest of the sons
of earth had lived, for as he reverently ascended the steps
leading to the ancestral hall the air was thrilled with the
joyful sound of singing stones and of lutes—the music
beloved of old by the master.

But it may easily be realized through what dangers
the great books of China have come. It was to insure
their safety in a more permanent form that in a.d. 175 the
classics were cut upon slabs of imperishable stone after
the text determined by the scholars. Later, between the
years a.d. 240 and 248 this was done again, and the slabs
preserved together.

The philosophy of Confucius had two aims—the production
of individual character, generous and noble in
itself, and its effect upon society and especially upon the
science of government.

The chief importance of the development of individual
character lay in its influence upon the world at
large, not in its result of happiness on earth and a blessed
eternity for the virtuous man himself. With any future
which lay beyond death the teachings of Confucius were
not concerned. Several times his disciples pressed him
upon a point on which they were naturally anxious, especially
as all round them were sacrifices and offerings to
the spirits of departed ancestors. They would gladly

have learned what he believed of the abode of these
spirits. But it was not a subject on which he is known
to have expressed any opinion. On the contrary, it is
recorded that there were four things of which he would
never willingly speak: extraordinary things, feats of
strength, rebellious disorder, and spirits. Like the Buddha
he held to “the noble silences of the wise.”

And he held to this stedfastly. A disciple once asked
him for light on the question of the service of the spirits
of dead ancestors. He answered:

“While you are not able to serve men alive, how can
you serve their spirits?”

“I venture to ask about death,” persisted the questioner.

“While you do not know life, how can you know about
death?” was the answer.

But the disciples, perhaps unpossessed of the philosophic
calm of the master, could not leave it there. They
knew well that in and from the times of those sovereigns
most reverenced by Confucius for intellect as well as
every virtue, solemn offerings had been made and prayers
offered to the spirits of the noble dead. They wanted
to know what was in the mind of their great instructor
on these dark questions, and Tsŭ Kung asked whether
the dead knew or did not know of the offerings made to
them. Confucius answered:

“If I say that the dead know, I fear that filial sons
and grandsons would all but ruin themselves in such
observances, and if I say otherwise, I fear that the unfilial
would leave their parents unburied. You need not
care to know. The point is not urgent, and later you
yourself will know.”

Like the Buddha, Confucius was aware that for general
humanity the Infinite is too transcendent. His mission
was to lead men by the path of duty and discipline
to the point where a diviner apprehension awaited them.
He who faithfully follows “the Way of man” will in

due time find that it merges in the Way of Heaven. The
reserve of Confucius is not hard to understand. Yet later
in the Record of Rites he said:

“All living must die and return to the ground. But
the spirit escapes and shines on high in glory. The vapors
and odors that produce a feeling of sadness are those of
the subtle animal essence.”

But here also he declined to be explicit, and China
both anteceded and followed this position. They allowed
by word and gesture the existence of the spirits of their
ancestors in a happy place. This is certified again and
again by late and early prayers. The ideal man of Confucius,
the famous Duke of Chao, “carried up the title
of king to his grandfather and great grandfather and sacrificed
to all the former dukes of the line with the observances
due to the Son of Heaven” (the emperor), their
wives also being honored, and each pair of tablets placed
side by side. And here are fully explicit prayers used by
the emperor during the Ming dynasty.

I think of you, my sovereign ancestors, whose glorious souls are in heaven.

As from an overflowing fountain run the happy streams,

Such is the connection between you and your descendants.

I, a distant descendant, having received this appointment,

Look back and offer this bright sacrifice to you,

The honored one from age to age for hundred and thousands and myriads of years.


Now brightly made manifest,

Now augustly hidden,

The movements of the spirits leave no footprints;

In their imperial chariots they wander serene wherever they pass.

Their souls are in heaven:

Their tablets are set up in the hall.

Sons and grandsons remember them with filial love unwearying.

Confucius in one great passage of the Doctrine of the
Mean had struck a higher note, where it was not easy
for the general Chinese mind—nor for any racial mind
save that of the Indo-Aryan—to follow him, either then
or now.

“How generously does the Divine display His good.
We look for Him but do not see Him; we listen to Him
but do not hear; yet He enters into all and without Him
there is nothing. Like overflowing water He seems to be
over the heads and on the right and left of His worshipers.”

The practical Chinese mind paused below this vision
and sought no ultimate issues until Buddhism entered
China in the year a.d. 65. Great and noble is that mind.
It produced an uplifted and ordered civilization with
forms of beauty which India never equalled except in the
spiritual realm. It preserved that civilization intact,
almost uncolored by invaders who thought they had mastered
China when the spirit of China had wholly mastered
them. Esthetics were a part of its policy. None
who do not know China can realize how beauty in all
the arts was a part of her daily bread. But when it came
to the relation of man to the Divine, India soared on
eagle’s wings to the empyrean, and to the feet of India
China was compelled to come suing for that bread without
which the spirit of man cannot live—that light which
kindled the flame of Greece, Persia, Japan, Ceylon, Siam,
Burma, and Java and others, and may yet strike fire from
the West.

Chapter XXIII


WHAT then is the summing up of the unique personality
and position of Confucius as leader,
shaper, and—it may almost be said—deity of the great
Chinese people? One may lay aside the somewhat ineffectual
missionary position of comparing his labors with
those of the Founder of the Christian faith and finding
in differences a reason for condemnation. That point of
view is not likely to commend itself in the future, and
he will be judged on his own merits and results.

His death was darkened with a sense of failure—a
common enough doom of great men; and when it took
place his followers, however sensible of his magnitude,
could hardly have foreseen how his figure would dominate
every other in China. He had hoped for the reformation
and purging of the feudal princedoms under the
emperor, and this appeared to be the great means of
making actual his dream of ideal government. But it
was not to be. The feudal system passed away in blood
and revolution after his death; and no one could then
have predicted how the future of China would develop.

But the words of Confucius, his example and teachings,
his sublime faith in the lightward striving heart
of man, had kindled a beacon-fire which drew all noble
souls as surely as flame draws the moth. They could
not escape the fascination of that high evangel even if
they would. In himself they beheld the ideal man, the
princely man, the man of perfect virtue, whose portrait

he had drawn so often and so lovingly as the hope of
China. A hope not heavenly and out of reach, but practical
and to be visualized on earth. It brought to birth
the ideal commonwealth, presided over by a ruler whose
personal attainment and example should be his sword
and shield; one who should make throned virtue so beautiful
and desirable as to win the love and fealty of all
who saw, not only for himself but for the Divine which
dwelt in him.

They believed with the master that in the Golden
Age of China such men had lived and reigned. Confucius
had carried on the continuity of these supermen.
Was it too much to hope that his precepts and the examples
given by him in the classics might yet bear fruit
in a people who accepted these truths and lived by them?
No, it was not too much. The hopes of the master, whose
teaching was based on altruism and cooperation, were to
be largely realized by the union of the warring states,
in the harmony of an empire, noble in peace, diffusing
beauty in all her arts, and setting an example of just
dealing and filial piety throughout Asia.

Undoubtedly there was failure also—here and there
abundant failure of which the teaching of Confucius
cannot wholly be acquitted. Though he himself perceived
great spiritual truths he had not the will—perhaps
not even the power—to clothe them in words easily to be
understood by the people. He left the highest spiritual
attainment of man a mystery to be solved, as no doubt
it will be in each individual case by stedfast advance
in the road of right thinking and right doing—a road
he constructed as a skilful engineer lays his roads and
rails over primeval swamps beneath. Still the kindling
force of mystic emotion was wanting; and though the
light shone brilliantly it shone somewhat coldly.

Yet China had never more cause than now to return
to the teachings of her uncrowned king and to pray that
his hopes for her may be realized in a mighty future.

That there is greater teaching is possible, but if greater
exists, let her live up to the full measure of the Confucian
ideal, since there is no height for which it cannot prepare
her. The western nations may learn much also
from this calm and practical ideal of the noble life, with
its concentration on statesmanship and public as well as
private good—the ideal of a character in which all the
graces of heart and intellect meet.

Is there a better ideal known for young men who
must take their place in the family and in the world?
For my part I would have the Analects made a study
for every young man who goes through a university; and
if it be true that the greatest thoughts of the greatest men
of every nation are the world’s common riches, copies
of that book should be within reach of every man and
woman to whom individual and national progress in the
highest ethics are dear.

Chapter XXIV


WE turn now to the teaching of the great rival of
Confucius—Lao Tsŭ (pronounce “Loudza”); he
who is said to have met and discussed the higher wisdom
with the master on his memorable visit to the royal city
of Lo. His doctrine could not hope to rival that of
Confucius in the sense of popularity. The Confucian
ideal was certain to conquer by the dynamic of sheer
obvious visible beauty, as undeniable as that of Greek
sculpture. No one with eyes and reason could deny
its charm or it may be said its life-and-death value to
China. Its consecration of the national heroes must alone
have won it devotion.

But there are different forms of greatness, different
points of perception; and while Confucius built for the
average man of high attainment, the cloudy foundations
of Lao Tsŭ were laid for the habitation of that man who
must dwell in spiritual places, where the mists drift beneath
his feet and the lights are the sun and moon and
hierarchy of the rolling planets.

Confucius stated his precepts so that all could understand
if they would. Clear and plain as a guide-book
are his directions for the fundamentals of his system. Lao
Tsŭ, wrestling like Jacob with the Divine, cannot always
find words to express his full meaning, for the reason that
they are called upon to convey the Infinite, which transcends
all human languages. Yet for those who can feel

and can attain realization—even as glimpses of light in
a troubled sky—the doctrines of Confucius will have a
tendency to seem somewhat trite and obvious beside this
voice of unearthly beauty, with its promise of a serenity
the world neither gives nor can destroy.

For with Lao Tsŭ we enter the realm of the Indian
realization of Union with the Divine, the Buddhist Nirvana,
the Christian Peace of God. He might have
achieved clearer expression of the mighty thoughts over-charging
him had he paid that mythical visit to India
with which some legends credit him. But though he
probably did not, his brief book of some eighty chapters,
each consisting of but a few words, sets China among the
nations whom the mystic light has dazzled and gladdened.

Of his life little is known. In thinking of him he sits
aloof like one of those Immortals (as China calls them)
who have attained wisdom among the precipices and pinnacled
rocks, where towering pines rival the peaks and
downward-thundering rivers shout for joy upon their
way to the profounder harmonies of the ocean. So vague,
so spiritual is his figure, that some have even attempted
to deny his existence. As an Immortal may be seen in
those supreme pictures known to the happy student of
great Chinese art, here sits Lao Tsŭ, lost in contemplation—his
breath exhaling in divine shapes among the kindred
mysteries of nature glimpsed in drifting sunshine,
drowned in sweeping mists—alone, contented, absorbed
in the ecstasy of supernal wisdom.

But that wisdom is not for all the world. You must
have eaten the bread of the mystics and drunk their wine
before you can behold those midnight skies where Lao
Tsŭ revolves, a moon about the sun, reflecting light to be
beheld by earthly eyes only in clear dream and solemn

Every circumstance connected with Lao Tsŭ has the
mystic aura. He is described as the son of a virgin
mother, conceived under the influence of a falling star.

The name by which he is known to us signifies the
“Ancient Child,” but may also be read as the “Venerable
Philosopher.” His surname Li represents the plum, and
he is said to have been born under a plum tree—the symbol
of immortality.

From the account of the places connected with him,
given by the historian Ssŭ-ma Ch’ien, Carus translates:
“He was born in the hamlet of Good Man’s Bend, in
Grinding County, in the Thistle District, in the State of

However much of this is legendary, it has value as
giving an estimate of his figure and teachings. In a.d. 666
he was canonized by the then emperor, with a rank
among divine beings as Great Supreme, the Emperor
God of the Dark First Cause. Later he received the title
of the Great Exalted One—the Ancient Master. He
must have been a man of great learning and intellect, for
he received a state appointment while still comparatively
young, and was imperial historiographer and as librarian
was keeper of the royal archives in the city of Lo at the
time when Confucius paid his well-known visit there.

It is possible that a man holding such a position and
having access to such records may have seen documents
relating to the beliefs of the earlier philosophers of India—which
were by his time being developed by Pythagoras
in Europe—for the likeness between his points of view
and those of the great Indo-Aryans is startling. Some,
unable to account for these coincidences, declared that in
a late period of his life he left China and traveled in
India—a thing often done later by Chinese scholars in
search of the truths of Buddhism. In any case his famous
book the “Tao Teh King” (“The Moral Code” is one
rendering of the title) was written before he could have
made such a voyage, so that unless documents had reached
him he must have journeyed the mystic road alone and
formulated his own conclusions.

Ssŭ-ma Ch’ien, the famous Chinese historian, furnishes

the account of the celebrated meeting with Confucius
which I have given in previous chapters, and adds
to it as follows:

“Lao Tsŭ cultivated the following of the Way and
of Virtue, the chief aim of his studies being to keep himself
concealed and remain unknown. He continued to
dwell at the capital city Lo, but after a long time, seeing
the decay of the dynasty, he departed, going by the gate
leading out of the state on the northwest. Yin Hsi,
keeper of the gate, said to him:

“‘Sir, you are about to withdraw yourself and far
out of sight. I pray you first to compose a book for me.’

“On this request Lao Tsŭ wrote a book in two parts,
setting forth his views on the Way and Virtue in five
thousand characters.”

It is told that he and the friendly officer departed in
a little cart drawn by one black ox, and so vanished into
the dim horizon of myth. Nothing but the book remained.

“He was a man of princely virtue,” continues Ssŭ-ma
Ch’ien, “who sought solitude.”

Great is the contrast between his life and that of
Confucius. This strange and fascinating book is our only
real hold upon Lao Tsŭ. We are in full possession of the
life of Confucius so far as all its leading events go, and
the Analects place him before us as a living man. He
remained stedfastly at the post where he conceived duty
had set him. That attitude could never have been possible
for Lao Tsŭ. He could contemplate nothing but
the vision, and finally it absorbed him. It was reserved
for his great disciple Chuang Tsŭ to make it as practical
as such teaching can be made. I will return to him later.

The wisdom of Lao Tsŭ is extremely condensed in
style, full of hint and suggestion. The Jesuit fathers in
China, quick to observe its mysticism, ransacked it for
passages which might be interpreted as referring to their
own interpretation of the Christian dogma, and naturally

found a few—which scholarship has entirely disproved.
There are versions in English, French, and German;
and as the West learns to know the treasures of the East
many more will be made.

It is written in a kind of meter and with a rugged
grandeur difficult to express in English. It is the outline
of a high system of transcendental philosophy, perfectly
new so far as China is concerned. This system
is known in China as Tao—the Way, a word which
some translate Reason (in the highest spiritual sense)
and some the Word—in nearly the same sense as that
in which it appears in the first chapter of the Gospel of
St. John. “The Way” or “The Law” is perhaps the most
satisfactory of these renderings. It begins thus:

The Way which can be expressed in words is not
the eternal Way; the name which can be uttered is
not the eternal name.

Conceived of as Nameless it is the cause of
Heaven and Earth—conceived of as having a name
it is the mother of all things. Only the man eternally
free from passion can contemplate its spiritual
essence. He who is clogged by desires can see no
more than its outer form. These two things, the
spiritual and material, though we call them by different
names, are one and the same in their origin.
This sameness is a mystery, the mystery of the mysteries.
It is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful.

Here we have in plain terms the statement made by
the Advaita philosophy of India—the doctrine of Unity
of all in the Universe, which leaves no room for any
dualism. To those familiar with this Indian gate of
knowledge the difficulties of Lao Tsŭ vanish away.

He proceeds:

All in the world know the existence of beauty.

The obverse of beauty is ugliness.

All men know the existence of love.

The obverse of love is hatred.

Here we have the Indian statement that the Divine
sits above good and evil, and from that height regards
them as indistinguishable or combined opposites. Where
love exists there must be its shadow—hate; and beauty
cannot be perceived as beauty without its foil of ugliness.
So it is that existence and non-existence are interdependent
one upon the other.

“Length and shortness fashion out, each one, the figure
of the other.”

The universe is thus in truth a system of combined
opposites. We may say that good and evil cannot exist
without each other. In real truth these things are not
opposites, but are only perceived as such by finite knowledge.

This is why the wise man teaches not by words
but actions. Things grow, and no claim is made for
their ownership. They go through their processes
and expect no reward for the result. The work is
accomplished but there is no finality in it as an

Thus the Way is exemplified in all natural processes
and neither is greater nor less than another.

This may convey the thought expressed by Walt

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars . . .

And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of Heaven . . .

And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.

He and the wise man of China would have understood
one another at this point.

It may be easily understood how opposed were these
views to those of Confucius, who set such store on right-speaking
and the importance of active and incessant labor
in all the spheres of man’s endeavor. A still deeper
cleavage follows in the next chapter, where Lao Tsŭ
presents his singular doctrines on government.

The way to keep the people from rivalry is to refrain
from exalting brilliant men above them. Not
to show them what will exalt their desires is the way
to keep their minds from disorder.

Therefore the wise man in governing empties
their minds but fills their stomachs, weakens their
wills but strengthens their bones.

His endeavor is to keep them unsophisticated and
without desire, and where there are those who have
knowledge to keep them from presuming to act upon
it. Where there is this abstinence from action good
order is universal.

This declaration has been a great difficulty to many
commentators, but I think it need not be. Lao Tsŭ shares
the Indian belief in reincarnation, and realizes that the
great majority of people are in an early stage of intellectual
and spiritual evolution; they are unfitted for
the right use of that very two-edged weapon Knowledge.
They cannot understand any but the simplest first steps
of the Way. The best the wise man can hope is that
they will follow the simplest virtues. He will secure for
them the good things that it is in their scope to understand
and will withhold the so-called benefits that their
ignorance would misuse to their own detriment. Therefore
he will attend to their bodily needs. He will live
simply himself that they may not covet what they have
not got, and he will withhold the knowledge of the
schools that they may not provoke calamities to themselves
by acting ignorantly upon it. With Pope he considers,
“A little learning is a dangerous thing.” This
system leaves room for the rugged and simple virtues,
which grow in the earlier stages of civilization and
seldom later.

If wise men, in secret conclave, undeterred by public
and democratic expectation, were to express their opinions
candidly to each other, with which would they
agree: the confidence of Confucius in the force of example
on the masses and the high goodness of their natures

or Lao Tsŭ’s blunt recognition of what he considers
scientific and evolutionary fact?

His next chapter has grandeur:

How unfathomable is the Way—like unto the
emptiness of a vessel, yet, as it were, the honored
Ancestor of all. Using it we find it inexhaustible.
Deep and unfathomable. How pure and still is the
Way! I do not know who generated it. It may appear
to have preceded God.

This is very interesting. Here we have the pure
Incomprehensible Essence, the First Cause of India, from
which all deities later take birth, the Absolute, the Supreme

Lao Tsŭ continues:

Heaven and Earth do not act from the impulse
of any wish to be benevolent; they deal with all
things as the dogs of grass are dealt with.

This is again the Indian teaching. The Supreme Law
sits above any benevolence or partiality. The dogs of
grass were made of straw in ancient Chinese sacrifices,
and when the sacrifice was over were discarded and uncared
for. So with the Law. Man himself is a part of it.
He rues it if he contravenes its processes, but in obeying
and going with them all is harmony and the great peace.
I think the meaning of Lao Tsŭ would be far more easily
understood if the word “Law” were used in preference
either to “the Way” or “Reason”—or the Chinese “Tao”
which some translators prefer.

Heaven is long enduring and earth continues.
This is because they do not live of or for themselves.
Therefore they endure. He who is wise puts his
own person last, yet it is found in the foremost place;
He treats his person as if it were foreign to him and
yet that person is preserved.

Here we have the note of the Christian mystic, “He
that loseth his life shall find it,” and a thousandfold with
it. The man who meditates upon the Supreme Law, what
has he to do with the individual self?

Lao Tsŭ proceeds:

The highest excellence is like water. Its excellence
is seen in its benefiting all and occupying without
dissent the low place which none chooses. Hence
it resembles the Way. And when the virtuous man
does not wrangle over this none can find fault with

Here again we have a root-thought of Christianity
and India: “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
Then comes a saying of pure Indian yoga.

When the mind and spirit are at one they can be
held in unity. When a man concentrates upon the
vital breath and brings it to perfect pliancy he can
become as a little child. When he has purified the
most mysterious channels of his perception he may
become flawless. In loving the people and ruling the
state, can he not go on without purpose of action?
In opening and closing the nostrils, can he not do so
like the brooding of a mother bird? While his intelligence
penetrates in every direction he need not
therefore display knowledge.

The Law gives birth and sustains all. Yet it
does not claim them as its own. It works in all yet
does not boast. It presides over all yet does not force
them. This is called “The Mysterious Quality of
the Way.”

This chapter has the interest of setting forth a prominent
detail of the Yoga system in India—the learning and
practice of deep breathing as a means of concentration
before the great vision. It seems at times almost impossible
to suppose that Lao Tsŭ had not been in direct touch

with Indian mystic teaching, and yet on the other hand
no place can be found for any visit to India, and no records
survive of any meetings with any Indian sage who
could have instructed him. The alternative is that perception
of such quality as his must have seen the “Way”
by direct intuition.

We look at it [The Law—the Way] and it is invisible.
Its name is “The Equable.” We listen and
cannot hear it. It is the Soundless. We grasp and
cannot hold it. It is the Subtle. With these three
qualities we cannot analyze it. Hence they are
blended and are the One. Ceaseless in action it yet
cannot be named, and again it returns to non-existence.
This matter is called the form of the Formless
and the semblance of the Invisible. This [matter]
is called the fleeting and indeterminable. Meet
it, its face cannot be seen. Follow it, its end cannot
be seen.

Here we have spirit and matter. Cause and phenomenon.
This is the statement of the mystics—of whom
Lao Tsŭ is a master—throughout the world. As said by
a modern poet—Francis Thompson:

O world invisible, we view thee,

O world intangible, we touch thee,

O world unknowable, we know thee,

Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Lao Tsŭ proceeds:

The skilful masters [of the Law] in olden days
with a subtle and exquisite penetration comprehended
its mysteries, and their profundity eluded
men’s knowledge. I shall endeavor to describe of
what sort they seemed to be. . . . They look reluctant
like men who wade a winter stream. Cautious
like those who dread an attack from any quarter.
Circumspect as guests before the host. They efface

themselves like melting ice; are unpretentious as unfashioned
wood. Those who keep the Way desire
not to be full [of themselves]. It is because they are
empty of themselves that they can afford to seem
worn and not new and complete.

Again, in modern words:

If I could empty all myself of self,

Like to a shell dishabited,

Then might’st Thou enter in

And fill it with thyself instead.

We cannot if we are brimmed with intense individuality
make room for that which is One in all and All in
one. But in emptiness it is possible. Lao Tsŭ describes
the method:

The state of emptiness should be brought to perfection
and that of ultimate Quiet guarded. All
things go through their processes of activity and return
to the Root. This is what we call the State of
Quiet, and this stillness is the reporting that they have
fulfilled their eternal end. To know the infinite is
to be perceptive, to ignore it leads to wild movements
and evil issues. To know the Law is to be
great of soul, and to be great of soul leads to sympathy
with all things. From this sympathy comes
the ruling soul, from rulership comes spirituality.
In spirituality the Way [the Law] is possessed. He
who possesses it endures long and is not liable to

Here we have the picture of the ideal man as seen
in the teachings of Confucius but lifted to a far higher
plane. The Confucian ideal is always the man who walks
on his way, shone upon by the approbation alike of the
world and of the Divine. He had not conceived the man
drunk with God, alone with God, careless of the world’s
opinion, a part of all that he surveys, a realization

of unity which needs not to reason about good and evil
but leaps with passionate intuition to the very heart of

Now comes a crucial point of Lao Tsŭ’s teaching, the
famous doctrine of outward inactivity and passivity—to
be further and most interestingly developed by his great
disciple Chuang Tsŭ with a sense of humor and shrewd
observation, which I will deal with in due course. It
must be remembered that Lao Tsŭ thinks in paradox,
and paradox until it is grasped is apt to bewilder the
unwary. Here he writes:

If we could renounce our sageness and discard
our wisdom it would be better for the people a hundredfold.
Could we renounce our benevolence and
discard our righteousness, they would again become
filial and kindly. Could we renounce our artful
contrivances and discard our scheming for gain,
there would be no thieves and robbers.

He who stands on tiptoe does not stand firm; he
who stretches his legs does not walk easily. So he
who displays himself does not shine, and self-asserters
lack distinction. The boaster does not find
his merit acknowledged and the vain man will not
find his superiority allowed. Such things in comparison
with the Law are like excreta or a tumour
on the body. Therefore he who has the Law has no
place for them.

This is an exhortation to return to the simplicity of
the Law and to be without seeming or striving.

Except ye become as little children ye cannot enter
the Kingdom of Heaven—of the Peace. Fuss, righteousness
and dogma have no place in the passionless and
immutable Law—which is everywhere and all in all.

There must be no fixed purpose. There must be
abandonment to the Law with a wise passivity. The
wise man must, as it were, lean over the pool of eternity,
viewing himself as in the First Cause, in rapt and endless

contemplation; and then only will virtue go out of him
in radiance and world-wide benevolence, and accomplish
in this seeming inactivity all that the fussy dogmas, ceremonies,
and precepts of the world can accomplish—and
infinitely more. Humility, the obliteration of the imagined
ego, profound simplicity—these are the landmarks
of the Way.

Gravity is the root of lightness. Quiescence is
the Master of motion. . . .

That is why a wise prince marching all day does
not go far from his base. Though magnificent sights
lie before him, he remains still with a free mind.
How should the lord of a myriad chariots carry himself
lightly before the kingdom? If his conduct is
light he is severed from his root. Hasty in action,
he will fail as a ruler.

This of course applies to the inner princedom, the
Kingdom of Heaven where every man may be “a prince
with God.” Much of the difficulty in comprehending
Lao Tsŭ lies in persistence in translating his teachings
into the outward sphere of action. He lives in the World
of Ideas. True they mold the outer worlds, in truth
they are the outer world, but only the man of deepest
perception can understand this. Therefore for ordinary
readers Lao Tsŭ must be taken as an Indian yogin speaking
from the point of view of the man to whom the
drama and mirror of phenomenal life are meaningless.
The want of understanding this has led his disciple
Chuang Tsŭ into great extravagances as to the conduct
of the outer life.

He proceeds:

If anyone should wish to rule and effect by action
I see that he cannot succeed. The kingdom is a
spiritual thing. It cannot be gained by action. He
who would so win it destroys it. He who would
hold it in his grasp loses it.

In the words of our own Scriptures the Kingdom of
Heaven cannot be taken by violence. The heavenly
towers cannot be stormed, for the kingdom is within the
deep realizations and secrecies of the spirit. It follows
that, in the eyes of the man who has attained, war is a
terrible and loathsome sin against the Law—the Way.

Among the tools arms are unblest. He who
would assist a lord of men in harmony with the Law
will not assert his mastery by force of arms. Such
a course only invites reprisal. Where armies are
quartered briers and thorns take root. The followers
of great armies are evil years. A wise commander
strikes a decisive blow and halts. He strikes
as a necessity not from the desire of mastery.

In the feasts of peace the left hand is the place of
honor; in mourning, the right. The place of the
general commanding in war is on the right as in the
ceremonies of mourning. He who has killed many
men should weep with bitter tears. Therefore he
who has conquered in battle should stand in the place
of mourning.

The world will today acknowledge the sharp truth of
these sayings. In France all may see the fact well illustrated
that briers and thorns take root where great armies
are quartered. Lao Tsŭ perceives the better way and
declares it in the chapter which follows:

To him who holds fast the Law the whole world
repairs. Men flock to him and receive no hurt, but
rest, peace, and the ultimate calm. When music
and dainties are set forth, they win the passing guest
for a time. But though the senses cannot perceive
the Law and it transcends the ears and eyes, by using
it is known to be inexhaustible.

This of course proclaims the transcendence of the
Law, the deceit of the senses. The great Way puts forth
no lures for them, but its feet are set on Eternity and infinite

is its habitation. In the next chapter Lao Tsŭ proclaims
the scientific and spiritual law of alternation:

If you would breathe deeply the lungs must first
be emptied. Desiring strength you must first
weaken. If you will overthrow you must first exalt.
If you would take, you must first give. This is called
“Hiding the light.” This is how the soft vanquishes
the hard and the weak the strong.

Truly in this ancient book dating from the seventh
century b.c. are deep knowledge and wisdom worthy of
the profoundest study in the modern world. When India
and China unite their voices on things spiritual, man
does well to listen.

The next chapter has a majestic simplicity. It must
be always remembered that the Way, the Law, means the
first Cause, the Self as it is called in India, in distinction
to the false, ignorant, crouching self—the ape-self,
which abides in the uninstructed man.

The ancient things that hold the Unity are
Heaven, which by it is bright and pure, and Earth,
which thus is firm and sure. Spirits who are devoid
of bodily form. Valleys full in their emptiness. All
creatures which through it do live. Princes and
kings, who are its models diffused to all. If Heaven
were not pure it would rend asunder. If Earth were
not thus established it would disintegrate. The life
of spirits would fail. Drought would parch the valleys.
Creatures would miserably perish. Princes
and kings would decay.

For the Way is the Universal, and in its circumference
all things live and move and have their being.
But harmony with it must be no effort. The moment it
is an effort it becomes self-conscious and flawed with the
ape-like individuality of the ignorant man. Lao Tsŭ,
like the Christ, leans on the instinctive, the intuitive—choosing

for illustration, as Christ and others have done,
the utter simplicity and instinctive humility of the little
child. Therefore in a very famous sentence he declares:

“He who knows the Way cares not to speak of it.
He who is ever ready to discuss it does not know it.”

And indeed in no human language can it be told. His
analogy of the little child follows:

He who has his foundation in the Law is like a
little child. Poisonous insects pass him by. Fierce
beasts spare him. Birds of prey do not strike him.
His bones are weak and his sinews, yet he can grasp.
He is ignorant of sex yet full of virility—showing
the completion of his physical essence. All day long
he cries or sobs without hoarseness, showing his
harmony of construction. To him in whom is this
harmony, the secret of the Eternal is known, Wisdom
is throned upon it.

This needs no comment. It is the vision of all the
faiths. Here follows Lao Tsŭ’s views on statecraft in
relation to the Eternal. The secret may be summed up
in one of his unforgettable sentences: “Govern a kingdom
as you would cook a small fish.” That is do not overdo
it. Mark what follows:

A state may be ruled by correction. Weapons of
war may be used with cunning dexterity, but a kingdom
is truly conquered only by freedom from action
and purpose. How do I know this? By these facts.
In a kingdom the multiplication of prohibitive
enactments increases the poverty of the people. The
more implements the people possess to add to their
profits the greater disorder is there in state and
clan. The more arts of cunning dexterity possessed
by men, the more do startling events appear. The
more active is legislation, the more do thieves and
robbers increase. Therefore a wise man has said:
“If I act from the inner life the people will be transformed

of themselves. I shall desire quiet, and the
people will become righteous. I shall not labor
and fidget, and the people will grow into riches. I
shall manifest no ambition, and the people will regain
the primitive simplicity.”

Here we perceive points of agreement with Confucius
upon the force of example and its radiating power. We
perceive that the way of commercial prosperity is not
the road to peace nor to true attainment. Indeed it may
be that the round of civilization, as we understand the
word in the West, is fated to increase in complexity and
crime until it shatters itself against the Nature of Things,
and recommences at the primitive simplicities. There
are blind alleys upon which the gates of evolution are

The rivers and seas are lords of a hundred valleys.
This is because their strength is in lowliness;
they are kings of them all. So it is that the perfect
ruler, wishing to be above men, must in his speech
be humble. Wishing to lead them, he follows. Thus,
though he is above them, men do not feel him to be
an injury. And therefore the world delights to
exalt him and tires not in serving him. And since he
will not strive none strives with him.

“Gentleness is victorious,” says Lao Tsŭ in another
place. He would carry this principle far indeed; hear
him on capital punishment:

The people do not fear death. Of what use is it
to frighten them with death? If they always feared
it, and men could always seize those who did wrong
and slay them, who would dare to offend? But there
is always One who presides over the infliction of
death. He who would inflict death in the room of
Him who so presides may be described as hewing
wood in the place of a master-carpenter. Seldom is

it that he who undertakes this in the place of a greater
carpenter fails to cut his own hands.

Here in ending my account of this great and ancient
book—a quiet voice reaching us across more than two
thousand five hundred years I quote the words of a great
Chinese emperor, founder of the Ming dynasty in the
year a.d. 1368. They relate to Lao Tsŭ.

At the beginning of my reign I had not yet
learned the principles of the ancient wise rulers.
One day, reading through many books, I came across
the Canon of Wisdom and Virtue. I found the style
simple and the thoughts deep. At length I found
this text: “If the people do not fear death, how then
can you frighten them by death?” At that time the
empire had only begun to be united; the people were
obstinate and the magistrates corrupt. Almost every
morning ten men were executed in public: by the
same evening a hundred had committed the same
crimes. Did not this justify the thought of Lao Tsŭ?
From that time I ceased to inflict capital punishment.
I imprisoned the guilty and imposed fines.
In less than a year my heart was comforted. I recognized
then that in this book is the perfect source
of all things. It is the sublime Master of Kings and
the inestimable Treasure of the people.

These are true words. I much regret that it is impossible
to give more of this great book of Chinese mysticism,
so pregnant with suggestion for all time. I turn
now from this to the great disciple of Lao Tsŭ—a man
wise and humorous, but standing on a lower pinnacle than
the perfect selflessness of the master.

Chapter XXV


IN dealing with Chuang Tsŭ, the most famous disciple
of Lao Tsŭ, we are confronted as in the case of his
master with a difficulty in the title of his book. The Chinese
use not letters but idiograms, and the complicated
composite characters frequently convey different ideas
to different minds, just as when a picture is gazed upon,
the same thing may happen, and the impressions received
differ. For this celebrated and extraordinary book Dr.
Legge suggests the title of “Rambling at Ease”—of
course, in the intellectual and spiritual realms. Let us
take it at that. Its fascination partly consists in the ease
and humor with which the author moves among vast
subjects. I know no book more companionable, more
calculated to induce calm or cynical reflection on life as
it is. The little stories and parables are delightful. The
style is said to be the perfection of literary Chinese, and
the man is a master of paradox.

Chuang Tsŭ, born and living in the third and fourth
centuries before Christ, is a man (as were Confucius and
Lao Tsŭ) of the feudal age of China, when the wrangling
tumultuous states were under the nominal sovereignty of
the royal but weak dynasty of Chao. The historian Ssŭma
Ch’ien, whom I have already quoted, gives an account
of Chuang Tsŭ (pronounce Chwongdza), who was
born in the province of An-hui. He says:

“Chuang Tsŭ held a petty official post in Men. His
erudition was most varied, but his chief doctrines are
based upon the teachings of Lao Tsŭ.”

Yet none the less he developed views of his own, and
his fine poetic imagination, combined with the mystic
sense and the unusual blend of cynicism, makes him a
most interesting writer, abounding in excellent stories and
illustrations of his point. He was perfectly disinterested
and entirely loyal to the faith that was in him. The
ruling prince of the Ch’u state, hearing of his great wisdom,
sent officers to him with noble gifts and an invitation
to become prime minister; such an opportunity as
it is impossible to imagine Confucius refusing. Mark
the difference of the Lao-tsian influence! He was fishing
in the P’u River when the two high officials arrived,
doubtless with all the pomp and circumstance which Confucius
would have approved.

Chuang Tsŭ went on fishing without turning his head,
and said:

“I have heard that in Ch’u there is a sacred tortoise
which has been dead now some three thousand years
and that the prince keeps this tortoise carefully enclosed
in a chest on the altar of his ancestral temple. Now would
that tortoise rather be dead and have its remains venerated,
or be alive and wagging its tail in the mud?”

“It would rather be alive,” replied the two officials,
“and wagging its tail in the mud.”

“Begone!” cried Chuang Tsŭ. “I too will wag my
tail in the mud!”

On another occasion the prime minister of the Liang
state, hearing Chuang Tsŭ was in Liang and terribly
afraid lest he himself might be dispossessed from office,
searched with warrants all over the state to find the intruder.
Chuang Tsŭ walked in to see him and observed:

“An owl which had got the rotten carcass of a rat
looked up as the phoenix flew by and screeched to warn
it off. Are you not screeching at me over your kingdom
of Liang?”

It will be seen that such a man would go his own way
and enjoy his own freedom of comment everywhere; and

this he did fully and freely even to the extent of caricaturing
the sacred, the venerated Confucius by making him
a figure in many imaginary scenes and placing opinions in
his mouth that he never could have held. This was a
peculiar delight of Chuang Tsŭ, and it is interesting to
find Confucius in all sorts of plights of argument and
paradox, either confounded, or extricating himself by
the pronouncements of a school in many respects so opposed
to his own. In the long run all good men tend to
the same goal, but the roads are often very different, and
to find the exalted Confucius traveling in that of Lao
Tsŭ, or rather that of the cool cynicism of Chuang Tsŭ,
is extremely amusing. Here is an example, and it is
pleasant to reflect alike on the feelings of Confucius if
he could have read it, knowing that some people would
take it as historic, and on the sly humor of Chuang Tsŭ
in penning it.

Tsŭ Sang Hu died, and Confucius sent Tsŭ Kung,
a chief disciple, to take part in the mourning. Two
friends sat by the corpse, and one had composed a
song which the other accompanied on a lute.

“Ah, will you come back to us, Sang Hu?

You have already returned to your God,

While we still remain here as men, alas!”

Tsŭ Kung hurried in and said: “How can you
sing beside a corpse? Is this decorum?”

The two looked at each other and laughed.
“What should this man know of propriety?” [Meaning
the inward and spiritual propriety of the soul.]

Tsŭ Kung hurried back to Confucius, greatly
shocked. “Who can these men be who sit by a corpse
and sing unmoved? What are they?”

“These men,” said Confucius, “travel beyond the
rule of life. I travel within it. So our paths do not
meet, and I erred in sending you to mourn. They
consider themselves as one with God, knowing no

distinction between human and divine. Though admitting
different elements, they take their stand on
the unity of all. They ignore their passions. They
deny their senses. Looking backwards and forwards
through eternity, they admit neither beginning nor
end. How should such men care what people think
of them?”

“But if such is the case,” said Tsŭ Kung, “why
should we stick to the rule?”

“Heaven has condemned me to this. Nevertheless
you and I may perhaps escape from it.”

“And how?”

“Fishes,” said Confucius, “are born in the water.
Man is born in the Law. If fishes find ponds they
thrive. If a man lives in the Law he may live his
life in peace [apart from the world]. Hence the
saying: ‘All that a fish wants is water. All that a
man wants is Tao—the Way.’”

As if this were not impertinence enough he introduces
Confucius constantly as a kind of lay figure on which to
hang his own and the opinions of Lao Tsŭ. Yet Chuang
Tsŭ could never think of Confucianism as a merely practical
system. He knew that Confucius went further and
deeper than that, but that rightly or wrongly he studied
expedience and gave to the average man what he believed
he could take. This being so, Chuang Tsŭ felt that the
deep concern of Confucius for tradition, ceremony, and
the search for prosperity even though it might be of a
high order had been an influence in swelling the tide of
materialism which he saw rising round him and threatening
to submerge all spirituality. Mencius, the great
follower of the Confucian ethic of whom I shall presently
give a sketch, had contributed to strengthen the
hold of a spirit that saw its goal in this world’s gain and
all such things as men consider “proper” “desirable”
and “becoming.” To Lao Tsŭ such words had no meaning,
nor had they for Chuang Tsŭ, who fiercely rejected
their implications. Skeptical of all else, he was a true

believer in Lao Tsŭ’s teaching that the world was well
lost if a man should gain his own soul; and he believed
the way to that end was through simplicity and deep contemplation.
These things once achieved and become habitual,
intuitive power would not only be inherent in a
man but radiate from him and subjugate others.

Therefore Chuang Tsŭ was the true metaphysician—and
China has not produced his like in that sphere. For
him righteousness was no dogma. It was spontaneity
grown instinctive by long use, and, to use his own phrase,
man “becomes embraced in the obliterating unity of
good.” His famous illustration of the cook of the Duke
of Chao points this well.

Prince Hui’s cook was cutting up a bullock.
Every blow of his hand, every heave of his shoulders,
every tread of his foot, every thrust of his knee,
every whshh of rent flesh, were in regular cadence.
Movements and sounds proceeded as in the Dance of
the Mulberry Forest and were simultaneous as the
blended notes of the Ching Shou. The Prince said:

“Admirable that your skill should have become
so perfect!”

The cook laid down his knife and replied:

“What your servant loves is the method of the
Tao [the Law]. When I first began to cut up an ox I
saw nothing but the whole carcass. After three years
I ceased to see it as a whole. Now I deal with it intellectually
and never use my eyes. I discard the use
of my senses, I work by eternal principles. Observing
the natural lines, my knife slips through the
great crevices and slides through the great cavities,
taking advantage of natural openings. So my art
avoids membranous ligatures and much more the
large bones.”

The duke reflected on this and the cook went on:

“Now a good cook changes his knife every year
in cutting and an ordinary cook every month. My
knife has been in use for nineteen years. It has cut

up several thousand bullocks and yet is as sharp as
if new from the whetstone. There are the interstices
of the joints, and the knife edge has no appreciable
thickness. When that which is so thin enters
the interstice, it remains only to move it easily along.
By a very slight movement the part is easily separated
and drops like a clod on the ground. Then
standing up I look all round in a leisurely way, with
satisfaction, wipe the knife clean and put it in its

Prince Wan-Hui said:

“Excellent! I have heard the words of this cook
and learned from them the rule of our life.”

And how? He had learned that spontaneity may become
instinctive, a true second nature, and that a man has
but to will, and practice what he wills, to make it his own
and one with him and he with it.

The cook of Prince Wan Hui understood the doctrine
of relativity and turned away from skill and knowledge
as acquired through the fallible and superficial senses to
the inward sight which cannot err. Spontaneity is the
essence of true righteousness.

In Chuang Tsŭ we get the high doctrine of the reconciliation
or rather the identity of opposites.

He knew that from the highest view all is One. To
quote Heraclitus, the great Greek: “God is day-night,
winter-summer, war-peace, repletion-want.” And in a
practical and magnificently written chapter Chuang Tsŭ
deals with that astonishing conclusion—the identity of

“There is nothing which is not objective; there is
nothing which is not subjective. But it is impossible to
start from the objective. Only from subjective knowledge
is it possible to proceed to objective knowledge.
The true sage rejects all distinctions of this and of that.
He takes his refuge in God and places himself in subjective
relation with all things.”

Undoubtedly this is the road which science must tread
if it would not forever involve itself in the contradictions
we see today.

“And,” he goes on, “as the subjective is also objective
and the contraries under each are indistinguishably
blended, does it not become impossible for us to say
whether subjective and objective really exist at all? They
have not found their point of correspondence, which is
the very pivot of the Law [the Way]. When that point
is found, it is the center where all the Infinities, affirming
and denying, converge into an infinite One. Therefore,
there is nothing like the true light [of the spirit].”

This is indeed a clear statement of a difficult subject.
One may smile when one hears the Chinese spoken of as
a race who need our civilization, in reflecting that such
writing was possible there in the fourth century b.c.
Chuang Tsŭ continues:

“Therefore it is that—viewed by the light of the Law—a
beam and a pillar [the horizontal and perpendicular],
ugliness and beauty, nobility and wickedness, may
all be reduced to the same category.”

For our knowledge of these things is relative only,
and we can never see them as they really are until we
have attained the height of cosmic perception.

“Separation leads to completion, from construction
ensues destruction. Yet all things in spite of their construction
and destruction may again be perceived in their
identity. Only the wise understand this, and they can
place themselves in subjective relation with the ordinary
way of looking at things. Wherefore, the truly wise man
while regarding contraries as identical adapts himself
to the laws of Heaven and follows two courses at once.”

That is to say, knowing the truth that nothing is as
the senses reports it to be, he yet acts outwardly according
to the relative knowledge of those with whom he has to
deal. Chuang Tsŭ illustrates this by the delightful fable
of the monkeys and their keeper which I have quoted

elsewhere. He ordered the monkeys three measures of
chestnuts in the morning and four at night. The monkeys
were indignant. He changed the arrangement to four
measures in the morning and three at night which delighted
the monkeys who could not perceive it was the
same thing under another name. The keeper smiled as
the man smiles who knows that the Divine Law is One
and sees all in unity yet obeys the popular view, for this
is the law of Heaven as manifested in the phenomenal

He has a delightful dialogue between a disciple and
a tutor of the ancient days. The disciple asks:

“Do you know for certain all things are subjectively
the same?”

“How can I know?” answers the master, speaking
from the objective point of view. “But I will try to tell
you. How can I know that what I call ignorance is not
knowledge? A man sleeps in a damp place. He gets
sciatica and dies. A man lives in a tree, and his nerves
are all a-quiver. But how about a monkey? Can anyone
say absolutely which is the right place? Men eat flesh;
deer, grass; centipedes, little snakes; owls and crows,
mice. Can any of these pronounce on which is the finally
right taste to possess? Mao Ch’ang and Li Chi were
divine beauties in the eyes of men, but at the very sight
of them fish would dive and birds soar and deer scurry
away. Which had the correct standard of beauty? In
my opinion it is the same thing with the standard of
the first principles of human virtue. They are so obscured
and mixed that how can I discriminate?”

“But then,” persists the bewildered disciple, “if you,
sir, do not know what is good or bad is the Perfect Man
equally ignorant?”

And now comes the outburst from the man who has
perceived the ultimate Truth.

“The Perfect Man is a spiritual being. Were the
ocean scorched up he would feel no heat. Were the

Milky Way frozen, no cold. Hurrying thunderbolts
might split the mountains and winds storm the ocean, and
he would not tremble. Being what he is, he rides the
clouds and passes beyond the external and the sun and
moon. Since death and life have no dominion over him,
how much less can thoughts of advantage or injury?”

But Chuang Tsŭ is equally delightful in his practical
and somewhat sardonic mood, and in his consummate
impertinence to Confucius. Chuang Tsŭ takes part in
this imaginary discussion which is supposed to be between
himself and a scholar of the ancient days. Note
that anachronisms matter nothing to him when he has a
point to make. The scholar begins with Confucius as a
lay figure ventriloquized by Lao Tsŭ.

I heard Confucius say: “The really wise man
pays no heed to mundane affairs. He neither seeks
gain nor avoids injury. He adheres without questioning
to the Law. Without speaking he can speak.
He can speak and say nothing, and so he finds his
happiness outside the mundane dust and dirt. But
these,” added Confucius, “are wild words.” Now I
think them a fine setting forth of the mysterious
Way. What, sir, is your opinion?

“Where the Yellow Emperor doubted how
should Confucius know?” [The Yellow Emperor
is a legendary sage.] But you go much too fast.
You have your egg and see the chicken. You see the
bow, and immediately expect the roast pigeon. I
shall say a few words at random. Listen at random.

“The wise man keeps his mouth shut and blends
everything into the All, rejecting the confusion of
the manifold. The manifold pursues its course before

“How do I know that the love of life is not a delusion
and that the man who dreads to die is not like
a child who has lost the way home? The lady Li
Chi was a daughter of the border warden of Ai.
When the Prince of Ch’in first got possession of her,

she wept until the bosom of her dress was drenched
with tears. But when she came to his palace, shared
with him his luxurious bed, and ate his grain and
grass-fed meat, she regretted that she had wept.
How do I know that the dead do not repent of their
former craving for life? There is the Great Awakening,
after which we shall know this life was a

“Confucius was bigoted! He and you are both
dreams, and I who say you are dreams—what am I
but a dream? This is a paradox. After ten thousand
ages a sage may arise to explain it. Since, then, you
and I and man cannot decide, must we not depend
upon Another? But such dependence is not in truth
dependence. We are embraced in the obliterating
unity of the Divine. Take no heed of Time nor right
nor wrong, but passing into the Infinite there take up
your position.

“Once upon a time, I Chuang Tsŭ dreamed I was
a butterfly hovering here and there, to all intents and
purposes a butterfly. I did not know that it was
Chuang Tsŭ. Suddenly I woke and was myself
again the veritable Chuang Tsŭ. Now I do not
know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a
butterfly, or now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.
Between a man and a butterfly there must necessarily
be a barrier. This is a case of what is called the
Transformation of things.”

The point is that ordinary life and perception may
mislead us into any false and dreamlike conception of
the universe, which it is impossible to prove either right
or wrong. The truth is both and neither.

We are next indulged with a conversation between
Confucius and Ai, the ruling prince of the Lu state, in
which Confucius as usual is made to say exactly the opposite
of certain utterances of his in the Analects; and a
better exposition of the tenets of Lao Tsŭ can scarcely be
imagined than the rule for governing a state. Yet one

is conscious that in the depths of his own heart, with the
weltering ruin of the warring states about him, there may
have been moments when Confucius himself realized that
the best-laid schemes of human provision have an ugly
way of letting their projectors down at unexpected moments,
and that far above all sits an immutable Law
“which shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we may.”
He may have had the intuitions Chuang Tsŭ puts into
his mouth, though in practice he would have thought it
madness to preach them.

According to Chuang Tsŭ, Duke Ai of the Lu state
says to Confucius:

“In the Wei state is a leper named Ai T’ai T’o. His
father-in-law, who lived with him, thought so much of
him that he could not do without him. His wife when
she saw him said to her parents, ‘I had ten times rather
be his concubine than any other man’s wife.’ He never
preaches at people, but always feels what they feel. He
has no power by which he can protect people’s bodies
and no revenues by which to satisfy men’s cravings. He
is ugly enough to scare the whole world. He sympathizes,
but does not argue. His knowledge is limited to
his neighborhood. Yet men and women are of one mind
about him in his presence. Seeing he must differ from
other men, I called for him and saw him. Certainly he
was ugly to a degree. But we had not been many months
together when I was drawn to him, and before he had
been with me a year I had full confidence in him and
as the state lacked a prime minister I offered him the government.
He responded sorrowfully, hesitating as if he
would have declined it. I was ashamed of myself but
finally gave it to him. In a little while, however, he left
me and went away. I grieved for him as for one dear
to me and as though there were none left with whom I
could rejoice. Now what do you make of a man like

How, he means, could a man triumph over such natural

handicaps? Confucius as usual is made to solve the
problem exactly as he never would have done. He

“Once when I was sent on a mission to the Ch’i state
I saw a litter of young pigs trying to nourish themselves
from their dead mother. After a little they looked at her
with quick glances and all left her and ran away. For
she looked at them no more and seemed to be no longer
akin to themselves. What they had loved was their
mother—not her body but that which made it live. This
man was believed by men though he says nothing. He
caused a man to offer him the government of his state,
and the only fear was lest he should refuse. He must
have been a man whose spiritual powers were perfect
though his realization of them was not manifested in his

Ai asks: “What do you mean by perfect powers?”

Confucius is made to answer:

“Death and life, failure and success, poverty and
wealth, hunger and thirst, and many other things—these
are the operation of our appointed lot. Day and night,
they succeed one another and no man can trace their
source. But they cannot be allowed to disturb harmony
and they must not enter the spiritual kingdom. To cause
this harmony to radiate without interruption day and
night, so that it is always the happy springtime in a man’s
relations with the world, is to be ready for all seasons;
and this is characteristic of the man who possesses these
perfect powers.”

“But,” persists the duke, “what do you mean by his
not manifesting his powers in his person?”

Confucius answers:

“There is nothing so level as a pool of still water.
All in its circuit is in peace, and nothing without can
agitate it. Righteous efficiency is the perfect cultivation
of equilibrium, and even though it does not appear in
the outward form its fascination cannot be resisted.”

Chuang Tsŭ cannot sufficiently insist on this doctrine
of being and not acting. In other words there is a mighty
universal rhythm with which, if man can once become
conscious of it, he is in full accord. Its unspeakable
power possesses him—he reacts to all its processes. What
need he do—what think for himself, with That pouring
through him? This occurs in the Christian Scriptures
also. “Take no thought for the morrow.” The disciples
are instructed that it “shall be given” them when they
need to speak. Why should they prepare? They too
have become channels of the Universal. Chuang Tsŭ
has a magnificent illustration of this:

A disciple said to Lu Chu: “Master I have got
hold of the Way. I can heat the tripod under my
furnace in winter. I can make ice in summer.”

Lu Chu said:

“That is only using the negative and positive
principles in nature. That is not what I call the
Way [Tao]. I shall demonstrate it to you.”

He tuned two lutes and placed one in the hall
and one in the adjoining room. And when he strung
the kung note on one, the kung note on the other responded.
When he struck the chio note on one, the
chio note on the other sounded, because they were
tuned to the same pitch. But if he changed the interval
of one string, all the strings jangled. The
sound was there. The influence of the key-note was

More perfect analogy there could not be. What is
vital will always tune such a man and those who know
him. What he is, so often overpowers what he says or
does—however plausibly he speaks or acts—that his outward
personality is stricken dumb by the reality within
him, either bad or good as we describe it.

“We must have transcendent men and we shall then
have transcendent wisdom,” is ever the cry of Chuang

Tsŭ. And he describes the transcendent man (who differs
very much from the “princely man” of Confucius) in
terms that accord with the Vedantist conception of the
Indian yogin:

“What is a transcendent man? These men of old
acted without calculation. They laid no plans. So, failing,
they had no cause for regret, and succeeding, no cause
for congratulation. Thus they could scale heights without
fear; enter water without becoming wet; fire without
burning. So far by their wisdom had they advanced on
the Way. Their breathing came deep and silently. The
breathing of the transcendent man comes even from his
uttermost deeps; the ordinary herd breathe only from
their throats.”

Chuang Tsŭ describes the process by which one sage
instructs a man in the Way of Peace:

“I imparted as though withholding, and in three days
for him this sublunary state ceased to exist. I withheld
again, and in seven days the external world had ceased to
be for him, and after nine days he became unconscious
of his own existence and finally entered the state where
there is no distinction between life and death, where
dying does not destroy life and the prolongation of existence
is not living. And in that state he is even in accord
with his environment [i.e., the requirements of daily
life]. The Law is tranquillity amidst disturbance, and
disturbances lead to its perfection.” This is the Nirvana
of the Buddha and the Upanishads.

As Chuang Tsŭ says later:

“Man has ever given way to God. Why then should
I be afraid?”

In other words: “Let God have His way with us.”

He has curious and interesting passages on the bodily
safety of the man who is a part of the Law [the Way].

“A drunken man if he falls out of a cart, though he
may suffer, does not die. His bones are the same as other
people’s, but he meets his accident differently. His spirit

is in a condition of security. He is not conscious of riding
in the cart or of falling out of it. Ideas of life and death
fear, etc., cannot penetrate his mind, and so he does not
suffer from contact with objective existences. And if
such security can be got from wine how much more from
Law? It is there the wise man has his refuge and is safe
from harm.”

He points this with one of his graphic stories.

Two men are at archery together. The one a skilled
archer sets a cup of water on his elbow and steadily lets
fly arrow after arrow, standing like a statue. Wonderful!
But the other cries: “Why, this is shooting under
ordinary conditions. Come; stand on the edge of a precipice
a thousand feet deep and see how you can shoot.”

He leads the way, himself standing on the edge of the
terrific precipice, his back to it, until one-fifth of his feet
overhang the precipice, and beckons the archer to come
on and shoot thus. The archer, with the sweat pouring
off him, falls prostrate.

“The perfect man,” says the other serenely, “soars up
to the blue sky, dives down to the regions of death, or
flies to any extreme point of the compass without change
of countenance. But you are terrified and your eyes
dazed. Your way of looking at things is defective.”

There follows later a striking passage bearing on the
“identity of opposites.” It relates to a famous bandit of
whom I shall speak further on.

An apprentice of Robber Chi asked him: “Can the
Law be found in thieving?” [meaning of course the
transcendent Law of Lao Tsŭ and Chuang Tsŭ,
which they taught swayed all things.]

Robber Chi replied:

“Pray tell me of anything in which there is not
the Law! There is the wisdom by which booty is
located. The courage of going in first, the heroism
of coming out last. The insight of calculating the
chances of success. And justice in dividing the

spoils. There never was a great robber who was not
possessed of these five.”

Yes, the Law is in thieving, in all. Even thieving
needs its virtues. And Chuang Tsŭ clinches it thus:
“The doctrine of the Wise is equally indispensable to the
good man and the robber.” Why? Because it is the Way
of Power, and can be used impartially. “But good men,”
he adds, “are few, and bad men plentiful, so that the good
done by the wise to the world is little, and the evil the
other do is great.”

Like Landor, who also excelled in imaginary conversations,
Chuang Tsŭ provides us with one between the
two protagonists Lao Tsŭ and Confucius, which deserves
to head another chapter.

Chapter XXVI


SAYS Chuang Tsŭ:

Confucius went to the West to deposit his writings
in the library of the Imperial House of Chao,
and Tsŭ Lu counseled him, saying:

“I have heard that the officer in charge was one
named Lao Tsŭ, who has resigned his office and lives
privately. As you, master, wish to deposit your
works, why not go and gain his help?”

Confucius said, “Good,” and went to see Lao Tsŭ,
who refused his assistance, whereupon the other began
to give a summary of “Spring and Autumn”
with the view of convincing Lao Tsŭ. But Lao Tsŭ

“This is all nonsense. What are your fundamentals?”

“Charity,” replied Confucius, “and duty to one’s

Said Lao Tsŭ: “And do you think charity and
righteousness constitute man’s original nature?”

“I do. Without charity the princely man could
not be what he is. Without righteousness he would
be of no effect. These two belong to the original
nature of the superior man.”

Lao Tsŭ continued:

“Tell me what you mean by charity and righteousness?”

Confucius answered:

“To be in one’s inmost heart in sympathy with all
things, to love all men without selfishness—this is

the characteristic of charity and duty to one’s

Lao Tsŭ exclaimed:

“What stuff! Does not universal love contradict
itself? Is not your elimination of self a positive
manifestation of self?”

[Meaning that if everyone loves everyone there
is nothing to set forth love as love—no background
against which it can be perceived. In the same way
absolute unselfishness awakens absolute selfishness as
a necessary result of its practice. It must be owned
that Confucius is in a difficulty here! He does not
answer, and Lao Tsŭ goes on triumphant:]

“Sir, if you would cause the empire to be rightly
nourished, think of heaven and earth, which go their
way undeflected! Think of birds and of beasts, who
collect in their dens, and of trees and shrubs, which
grow upright without deviation. Be like these.
Follow the Law and you will reach your end. Why
must you make such a pother about charity and duty
to one’s neighbor as though beating a drum for the
hue and cry after a fugitive? Alas, master, you have
brought much confusion into the mind of men!”

Some dispute that this conversation is from the hand
of Chuang Tsŭ, possibly because they are surprised to
find him allowing Confucius his own opinions, if even
for the purpose of putting them to flight; and yet it may
very well be a part of the actual discourse which took
place at the meeting in Lo.

The story of Confucius and Robber Chi that I give
now is certainly spurious in that it was not written by
Chuang Tsŭ; but it is so well written, so entirely in the
manner of his philosophic stories, and it so perfectly illustrates
a favorite point of his that it was long supposed
to be his; and I think this a highly appropriate place for
such an ancient and valuable effort in the art of transcendental
philosophy. I give it condensed as follows:

Robber Chi had nine thousand followers. He ravaged
the empire, plundering nobles and people. He
lifted cattle. He stole women. Family ties were nothing
to his greed. He had no respect for parents or brothers
and neglected ancestor worship. Where he passed the
greater states flew to arms, the smaller to refuge.

Said Confucius to the elder brother of Robber Chi:

“An elder brother should admonish his junior. If
it is not so, there is an end to the value of these relationships.
Now you, sir, are one of the scholars of the age,
and your brother is Robber Chi. I blush for you. Let
me go and exhort him on your behalf.”

“As to what you say, sir,” replied the brother, “if the
junior won’t listen to his elder brother, what becomes of
your argument? Besides Chi’s passions are like a whirlwind.
He can argue until wrong becomes right. He is
free with abuse. Keep away from him! I strongly advise

Confucius paid no attention but with Yen Hui [his
favorite disciple] for charioteer and Tsŭ Kung [a famous
follower] on his left, went to Robber Chi. The robber
was engaged in devouring a dish of minced human liver;
Confucius alighted and addressed the doorkeeper.

“I am Confucius of Lu state. The high character of
your captain has reached me.”

He then twice respectfully saluted the doorkeeper,
who went in to announce him. When Robber Chi heard
the name he was furious. His eyes glared like stars. His
hair raised his cap.

“What? that crafty scoundrel—Confucius of Lu?
Go, tell him he is a mere word-spinner! That he talks
nonsense about the ancients. That he wears an extravagant
cap with a thong from a dead ox. That his lips patter,
and his tongue wags, and he throws dust in the eyes
of rulers and prevents scholars from reverting to the
original Way. That he makes a great stir about filial
piety, glad enough himself to secure some fat fief or post.

Tell him if he does not take himself off, his liver shall be
in my morning stew!”

Still Confucius repeated his wish, burning to evangelize
the offender.

“I am anxious to set eyes upon your captain’s shoe-strings.”
(A polite form of address.)

He was admitted and hurried in, avoiding the place
of honor and making two obeisances.

Robber Chi, flaming with fury, straddled out his two
legs, laying his hand on his sword, and roaring like a
tigress with young, said:

“Come here! If what you say suits me you shall live.
Otherwise you shall die.”

“I have heard,” said Confucius, “that there are three
sorts of virtue. To be tall and beautiful and thus the idol
of all. To be possessed of all-embracing wisdom. To be
possessed of valor. A man with any one of those may
rule, but you, captain, unite all three. You are stately in
stature. Your expression is radiant. Your lips are vermilion,
your teeth like a row of shells. Your voice is
sonorous as a beautiful bell. Yet you are known as
Robber Chi! Captain, I blush for you! If you listen
to me I will go south, north, east, and west for you. I
will have a great wall built for you many li in length, enclosing
a state which you shall rule. You shall disband
your men, gather your kin about you and join in the worship
of your ancestors. Such is the behavior of the true
sage, and such is what the world needs.”

“You come here with offers!” cried Chi in a rage
royal. “Those who are squared by offers and corrected
by preaching are the stupid, vulgar masses. The height
and beauty you praise, my parents gave me; and do you
suppose I am not well aware of them? All you promise
about this fine state is simply squaring me, as though I
were one of the common herd. And of course it would
not last.

“Even with the empire and the heroes of old their posterity

reigns no longer. In the olden days men lay down
without caring where they were, and got up without
worry as to where they would go. A man knew his
mother but not his father. He lived among the animals,
tilling the ground for good. He wove cloth to cover
himself. He had no thought of injury to others. These
were the results of an age of virtue. Since then we have
had nothing but disturbers of the peace.

“And now you come along, preaching the old dogmas
and palming off sophistries to teach posterity; you wear
patched clothes and talk big and act falsely, while all the
time you yourself are aiming at wealth and power! You
are the biggest thief I know; and if men call me Robber
Chi they should certainly call you Robber Chiu [the
personal name of Confucius].

“As to the sermon you propose for me—if it is on
spiritual subjects they are beyond me, and if on human
affairs, I know it already. Now I’ll tell you a few things!

“The lust of the eye is for beauty, the lust of the ear
for music, the lust of the palate for flavor, the lust of ambition
for power. Man’s greatest age is a hundred years.
A medium age is eighty. The lowest estimate is sixty.
Subtract the hours of sickness, death, mourning, and
trouble, and there remain no more than four or five days
a month in which a man can laugh. Heaven and earth
are eternal; man must die. Seen against the Eternal, the
mortal is a mere flash, like the passage of a white horse
seen through a crack. And those who cannot gratify their
ambition and live through their span in doing so, are men
who have not attained the Law.

“All four teachings are nothing to me. Go home!
Say no more. Your doctrine is full of falsity. It can
never preserve the original purity of man.”

Confucius made two obeisances and hurried off. As
he rode in his chariot he sometimes dropped the reins.
His eyes were so dazed he could see nothing. His face
was the color of slaked lime. With downcast head he

grasped the bar of his chariot. Arrived outside the eastern
gate of Lu, he met the brother of Robber Chi, who

“I have not seen you for some days. From the look
of your chariot I guess you have been traveling. Can
you have been to see Chi?”

Confucius looked up to heaven and sighed. “I have!”

“And did he not rebuff you as I said he would?”

“He did!” said Confucius. “I am a man who has
cauterized himself without being ill. I hurried away to
stroke the tiger’s head and cut his whiskers and I nearly
fell into his jaws.”

Here again we have the doctrine of inaction, and the
assertion that even in an evil life consistently and gallantly
carried out its strength is based on the maxims of
the Law and can be no other. And yet there are moments
when the suspicion haunts me that the whole is an
early Chinese parody on the teachings of both Confucius
and Lao Tsŭ, and that if Chuang Tsŭ did not write it he
would at least have read it with a smile in those deep
eyes of his and with laughter on those very ironic lips.
He has certainly no use for those who set out to “uplift”

But his triumph in beauty of language and in philosophy
is in a chapter known as “Autumn Floods,” considered
by those in China who are best qualified to judge
as one of the loveliest things they own in philosophic literature.
As usual I must condense; but since I hope to
send many to the company of Chuang Tsŭ, who is my
own constant companion, this will matter the less.

It was the time of autumn floods. Every stream
poured into the river, which swelled in its turbid
course. The banks grew so far apart that it was impossible
to tell a cow from a house.

The spirit of the river shouted for joy that all the

beauty of the earth was gathered to himself. Down
with the stream he journeyed east until he reached
the ocean. There, looking eastward and seeing no
limit to its waves, his face fell. And as he gazed over
the expanse he said to the spirit of ocean:

“A common proverb says that he who hears half
the truth thinks no one equal to himself. And so it
is with me. When formerly I heard people decrying
the learning of Confucius or the heroism of Po, I
did not believe, but now that I see your vastness—Ah,
if I had not reached your dwelling I should forever
have been a laughing stock to those who know

To this the ocean spirit replied:

“You cannot talk of the ocean to a frog in a well—the
creature of narrow bounds. Nor of ice to
summer flies—the ephemera of a day. You cannot
speak of the Law to a pedant. His limits are narrow.
But now that you have emerged—that you have seen
the great ocean, you know your narrowness, and I
may speak of great principles.

“Nothing beneath heaven is greater than ocean.
All water flows into it, yet it does not overflow. It
is drained, yet does not empty. It knows no floods or
droughts and thus is greater than mere rivers and
brooks—though I, its spirit, dare not boast, for I get
my shape from the universe, my vital power from the
negative and positive principles governing all. In
the universe I am as a little stone or a bush on a vast
mountain. And of all who inhabit the earth man is
but one. Is not he compared with all creation as the
tip of a hair on a horse’s skin?”

“Well, then,” replied the spirit of the river, “and
am I to consider the universe as great and the tip of
a hair as small?”

“By no means. Dimensions are limitless. Time
has no bounds. Conditions vary. Terms are not
final. How then can one say that a tip of hair is the
last word on littleness or the universe the last word
on vastness?”

Relativity again—the Buddhist philosophy in another
form of relative truth which humanity can grasp (again
relatively), with absolute truth forever beyond its reach.
The whole chapter is a magnificent exposition of this and
the other doctrines of the Way written with exquisite
discrimination from the literary point of view. Those
who can should read it in the translation of Dr. Herbert
Giles. That of Dr. Legge is more difficult to follow, except
for those used to Chinese modes of expression. But
it should be read.

Chuang Tsŭ is not only one of the great thinkers but
one of the great writers of the world, and he carries
conviction to those who read him that the Chinese can
make their philosophies more interesting than any other
people. The difficulty is that behind his ironic mask it
is difficult to know whether there are smiles or tears—unless,
indeed, one is of the same way of thinking. How
is his anecdote of his wife’s death and the effect on himself
to be taken? Was it pure invention? was it based on belief?
was it merely another flout and jeer at the Confucian
attitude to death? Did it ever happen? Here it is—told,
as it were, in the third person:

When Chuang Tsŭ’s wife died a friend went to
condole. He found the widower squatting on the
ground, singing, with his legs spread out at a right
angle and beating on a basin between them.

“When a wife has lived with her husband,” cried
the friend, “and your eldest son is grown up and she
dies, not to shed a tear is surely enough! But when
you go on drumming on this basin and singing, it is
surely a most excessive and singular demonstration!”

Chuang Tsŭ answered:

“It really is not. When first she died I could not
help being troubled by the event. But then I remembered
she had already existed before birth. She
had neither form nor substance then. Substance was

added to spirit and substance took on form, and she
was born. And now change comes yet again, and she
is dead. The relation between all this is like the procession
of the four seasons. There now she lies with
her face turned upward, sleeping in the Great Chamber
[of Eternity]. And while this is so, if I were to
fall to weeping and sobbing I should think I was ignorant
of the law of nature. I therefore restrain

So the book goes on to its wise close, giving many of
the teachings of India seen through a brilliant Chinese
mentality, which falling short of the soaring spirituality
of India yet saw the universe luminous with a many-colored
humor not easily to be found in the great Indian
writings. Side by side with the ironic story of the pigs
is set the lovely story of the old fisherman, rejected by
some but accepted by Dr. Legge as true Chuang Tsŭ,
Here are the pigs. Note the subtle irony. What is there
to choose between the pigs and the officer of sacrifices,
when all is said and done?

The officer of prayer in his dark and square-cut
robes approached the pig-pen and thus addressed the

“How can you object to die? I shall feed you on
grain for three months. Then for ten days I shall
fast, and keep vigil for three days, after which I shall
strew white grass mats and place your members upon
a carved sacrificial dish. Will not this please you?”

Then, speaking from the pigs’ point of view, he

“Really it is better to be fed with bran and chaff
and live on in our pen.”

So, considering for himself also, he very much
preferred to enjoy while he lived his carriage and
cap of office, and after death to go to the grave in
state with an ornamented carriage and canopy. But
in what was he different from the pigs?

I can give only enough of the old fisherman to kindle
the desire for more. It begins with a picture beautiful
as any in the range of Chinese art, and that is saying

Confucius and his disciples have been journeying in
the Black Forest. They are a little weary and stop to
rest a while in the heat of the day by the Apricot Altar.
The disciples get out their books. Time is precious, and
life is short, and a wise man trained in the Confucian
ethic will be up and doing every moment. His intellect
shall not rest even if his body must. He is all for incessant
improvement. Confucius elevates his soul with
playing on his lute and singing to its accompaniment. He
reflects with pleasure that this music of the ancients is
a truly uplifting delight and that only the wise of heart
can love it as it should be loved. Such is the scene.

Half-way through the song an old fisherman
stepped out of a boat and advanced toward them.
His beard and eyebrows were snow-white. His hair
hung loose, and his great sleeves flapped. He came
up the bank and stood with his left hand on his knee
and the right to his ear listening. When the song
ceased he beckoned to Tsŭ Kung and Tsŭ Lu, both
of whom went to him. Then pointing with his finger
he said:

“What is that man?”

Tsŭ Lu answered, “Why, that is the wise man of

“Of what clan?”

“Of the K’ung family.”

“And what is his business?”

“He devotes himself to loyalty and sincerity. He
conducts his life with charity and righteousness. He
cultivates the ornaments of ceremonies and music.
He pays special attention to the social relationships.
Loyal to his ruler he seeks the transformation of the
masses, his object being to benefit the empire.”

“Is he a territorial lord?” asked the stranger, “or
a minister?”

“Neither,” said Tsŭ Kung.

The old man laughed and turned away. “Yes—charity
is charity, yet I fear he will not escape the
wear and tear of mind and body which imperil the
true nature. Alas, how far has he wandered from
the Way!”

Naturally Confucius must speak with him when he
hears this. He is persuaded the old man is a sage, and
he follows and finds him as he is drawing his boat in with
a staff. He prostrates himself twice before the ancient
wisdom and begs instruction. He is met with the doctrine
of the immutable peace of the Way as compared
with his own fussy little activities. And when he laments
the sorrows of his life. . . .

“Dear me!” says the old man in a vexed tone. “How
slow of perception you are! You are like the man who
was so afraid of his own shadow that he was always
running away from it. He pelted along without resting,
and his strength broke and he died. It never occurred to
him that by going into the shade he could easily get rid
of the shadow.”

And from this the teacher leads on to the great teaching
of the Peace. “Leave externals. What are ceremonies?
The invention of man. Real mourning weeps
in silence.” The true essentials are there always. The
Kingdom of Heaven is within. You have but to recognize
it and look upon the beginnings of peace.

So it is expounded, and Confucius prostrates himself
twice, then rising entreats to follow the mysterious
stranger as his servant.

“I have heard,” says the old man, “that if a man is a
fit companion one may travel with him into the very
heart of the Way. But if not—— Excuse me—I must
leave you!”

He gets into his boat, pushes it off and is lost among

the tall reeds. Confucius, himself an old man, returns
sorrowfully to his disciples, to be reproached for such
amazing submission. He replies with solemnity:

“The Law is the source of all creation. Men have it
and live. They lose it and die. The old fisherman had
the Law. Dared I presume not to show him reverence?”

And they stand thinking, pondering, while the boat
drifts slowly away far and far among the reeds, which
sway in unison with the Law.

We shall end, where in reality a story begins, with
the death of Chuang Tsŭ. It has his old irony mingled
with the grandeur that never forsook his thoughts. His
disciples, determined to give him a grand burial, seemed
to have essayed to gladden him with the prospect. He

“I shall have heaven and earth for my coffin and shell,
the sun and moon for my two jade jewels, the great and
ancient constellations for my pearls, and all creation to
lead me to the grave. Are not the provisions for my
burial made?”

But the disciples were not satisfied. “We fear lest the
crows and kites should devour the body of our master.”

To which Chuang Tsŭ rejoined: “Above ground the
crows and kites will devour me. Below, the moles,
crickets, and ants. To take from those and give to these
is scarcely impartial.”

Thus like the old fisherman he fades into the mists of
time, remote, yet the most modern-minded of men, the
highest follower of Lao Tsŭ, the great master of the
Law. One should not conclude with death but with the
living and immortal words he wrote:

“O my Exemplar, Thou who destroyest all things
and dost not account it cruelty; Thou who benefitest all
time and dost not count it charity; Thou who art older
than antiquity and dost not count it age; Thou who supportest
the universe and dost not account it skill; this
is the Bliss of God.”

For such a man the word “death” has no meaning.
Would he not have smiled with even finer irony had he
known the relative fates of his teaching and that of Confucius,
at whom he often mocked so subtly but always
with a humor precluding unkindness? There is an irony
of destiny even more subtle than that of Chuang Tsŭ.

The Confucian teaching made its appeal to the
average man. It set before him a standard that he could
console himself by attempting to follow even if he were
not likely to master its full perfection of ceremony and
emotion. He could feel that it was emphatically the
right thing—good form—a thing all decent men must
commend and to decry which partook of the nature of
sin; and also that if rightly followed it would lead, as a
famous don once said of the study of Greek, to positions
of emolument in this world and the next. The higher
flights of spirituality in it were likely to escape him,
because it was so heavily robed and shod with the ceremonial
garments of this world.

It spread over China—a great light but also a great
gospel of respectability. It was perceived by teachers
and literary men to be a bulwark of law and order, by
emperors to be a guarantee of empire. And so the ethic
of Confucius was absorbed into China, and he became
her life-blood and her soul. As for the teachings of Lao
Tsŭ and Chuang Tsŭ—they were for the few, the seers,
the dreamers of dreams. Of these there is a world-wide
company throughout the ages, but not many at any given
time. Those who love the Way love it with a passion
that outflares all else, but they will be mostly silent—not
even expansive to each other. The cup of their lips will
be the chalice of the grapes of God; and that cup stands
in the sanctuary and is the Grail whether in China or the
West. In this manner and in such hands the flame of
the Way was and is kept alive in China. But it had
another great development.

The aim of the teaching of Lao Tsŭ and his great

disciple was to fuse the spiritual and what we call the
material; and this being also one of the aims of Art the
influence of Taoism on art in China was enormous. It
appeared as a revelation to Chinese artists. Reinforced
later by the cognate teachings of Buddhism, it created
the mighty schools of landscape and portraiture in which
China sits supreme. It thus perpetuated the perfect
spiritual rhythm which all who experience it will perceive
in the Way—reacting to it as the seaweed reacts to
the motion of the vast swell that lifts it. That is life;
that is vital rhythm. That is the gift of the great Taoist
school of thought in China. Volumes might and should
be written on this magnificent subject, which I can only
touch in passing. Spiritually Lao Tsŭ and Chuang Tsŭ
molded the greatest in China and through China, in
Japan. They had drunk the milk of Paradise, and it
became the food of nations.

Yet there was another side to the teaching of the
Way, one fatally certain to popularize itself in the hands
of the baser sort. Chuang Tsŭ had dwelt on the powers
open to the attainment of the man who became a conscious
part in the rhythm of the universal. He spoke as
the Buddha, the Christ, and other mighty teachers have
spoken—with a profound sense of the selfless truths he
uttered, but not perhaps so necessary a sense as theirs of
the danger of such a teaching in the hands of the uninstructed.
The Christ was no lover of “miracles”; the
Buddha foresaw and dreaded their results. Chuang Tsŭ
issues no caution that I can remember.

The inevitable happened. Notions of magic multiplied
like blotched fungus in the fair soil of Taoist teachings.
The charlatan, the sly priest, the fanatic, the lunatic—all
the brood we know very well in the West staked
out their claims on that ground, and according to their
powers cheated emperors and people, until today that
degraded Taoism is an officially endowed superstition in
China. The best perverted is certainly the worst. It

cannot be said there is no good even in that. Such salt
could not wholly lose its savor, nor such high spirituality
wholly decay.

But once as I sat in a Taoist temple watching the
priests, gloriously habited in crimson with golden
dragons and symbols embroidered on cope and robe,
gliding to and fro, performing their fantastic charms,
evocations and exorcisms, “with woven paces and with
waving hands,” the fumes of incense and the dim gliding
possessed my brain; and for a moment I saw through
them the little boat of the old fisherman drifting away
into the reeds, and beheld his face radiant with understanding
of the simplicity and unity of the whole universe
and the Beyond, as he rowed to its rhythm, God-possessed,
himself a spirit of nature.

What these yellow-capped Taoists believe and teach
now can have no place here. It is far indeed from philosophy.
And yet it must be said there have gone with it
through the centuries poetry and romance that have done
much for Chinese literature. It has made a fairyland
of myth and legend—full of loveliness, sometimes perverse,
sometimes grim, always immaterial. Thus it still
holds aside the curtain of the world invisible, and the
Three Precious Ones—the three giant images in the
Taoist temples—have a glimmer of the beautiful and
even the spiritual to minds unfitted for more.

The work of Lao Tsŭ and Chuang Tsŭ was not
wasted. The seed is living, and the fruit will take its
place in the great treasury of thought that Asia is now
opening to Europe.

Chapter XXVII


IT is impossible to leave Chinese philosophy without
reviewing the work of the great disciple of Confucius
who is known in Europe as Mencius. Just as it would
have been impossible to do justice to Lao Tsŭ without a
full account of Chuang Tsŭ, so when Confucius is discussed
Mencius cannot be ignored.

“Mencius” is the Latinized form of Meng Tsŭ—“the
philosopher Meng.” He sprang from one of the great
and turbulent noble houses of the state of Lu, whose
rebellious spirit troubled Confucius and so often caused
his exile. He also was born in Shan-tung, in 371 b.c.,
one hundred and eight years after the death of Confucius,
and he lived to be eighty-four years old. Dr. Legge
points out that his life synchronized with the last half of
Plato’s and that Aristotle, Zeno, Epictetus, Demosthenes,
and other great Greeks were his contemporaries. It is
singular that spiritual and intellectual light appears to
come to the world in rhythmic waves, like the rising and
ebbing of tides, differentiated into the various colors of
the white light that is alike Art and Truth. Thus Confucius
was contemporary with the Buddha and Lao Tsŭ.
The explanation of this fact would be interesting.

Mencius had a remarkable mother, and since this is
recorded in Chinese chronicles she must have been
remarkable indeed. She is still honored in China as the
example of what a mother should be. Her name was
Chang-shi. The stories tell us that his father died when

Mencius was three years old and that his mother was left
in narrow circumstances—the right training for a thinker
if rightly turned to account.

Their first house had a burial place in full view, and
the child, imitative as a monkey, amused himself with
acting all he saw—the ceremonial, the formal grief, and
so forth. To this his mother strongly objected.

“This is no place for my son!” she said, and changed
her house to one in the market-place. But with no
improvement. The chaffering and trading caught the
boy’s fancy, the untruthful boasting of the wares by the
seller and equally untruthful depreciation by the customer.
Those who know the Orient can very well figure
the scene. Again the boy’s fancy was caught, and he
imagined it the purpose of life.

“And this will not do,” said his mother, and patiently
moved again—this time to a house close by a school.
Here the little Mencius observed the gravity of carriage
and formal ceremonial ritual which the scholars were
taught according to the Confucian ideal.

“This will do,” said his watchful mother. “This is
the proper place for my son.”

And there they settled.

It is to be imagined from the following story that they
could not afford meat for their food. Not far from their
house was a butcher, and Mencius asked his mother for
what reason they killed the pigs. She answered:

“To feed you.” But on reflection she did not find this
a perfectly truthful answer. She thought: “While my
boy was yet unborn I would not sit down if the mat were
not placed square. I would eat no meat which was not
properly cut. I taught him before birth. And now that
his intelligence unfolds I deceive him. This would be
to teach him the spirit of deceit.”

Therefore she went out and bought a piece of meat
to make good her words, and that day the little Mencius

In China this belief in influencing the unborn child
was highly commended. There is a book by Chu Hi
which begins with the education of the unborn child by
the mother. If a mother’s thoughts are fixed and directed
to the one goal it is difficult to believe the child will not
be influenced during that time of union. I have known
a few—a very few—Western mothers who held this
creed, not only from the physical but from the intellectual
and psychic point of view, and who were
rewarded. It may be said this was heredity—that the
woman who could argue thus must have a character
likely to be transmitted. Possibly, but who can gage the
dynamic of conscious will? We understand its marvels
very little as yet.

In his schooldays Mencius’ wise mother was somewhat
disappointed with his progress. He came in one
day as she was spinning, and when she asked how far he
had gone he answered carelessly that he was doing well
enough. Instantly she took a knife and cut her thread.
This startled him, and he asked timidly what she meant.

“What I mean is that what I have just done you are
doing, cutting the thread which makes the web of life,
destroying all hope of utility and beauty. That is what
neglecting education means. No less.”

It went home. He realized her meaning, and she had
no need to complain again of his carelessness.

We see the same wide point of view later on in this
remarkable Chinese woman, and this time in a path
where many women fail. Mencius married, and apparently,
as seems to be the way of philosophers, his wife
did not wholly please him. Perhaps the philosophic
ideal of perfection is higher than the average man’s. At
all events he came in one day unexpectedly and found
his wife in her own room sitting on the floor, and resenting
this informality and carelessness in a woman who
should be acquainted with the Rites, went straight to his
mother and told her that he meant to put his wife away

as one who did not value the rules of propriety. No
doubt he expected full sympathy from a mother who not
only loved her son but was herself an example of all a
Chinese lady should be. But he was disappointed. She
was one who could look from the particular to the general.
She answered:

“It is you who have no sense of the fitting and not
your wife. What do ‘The Rules of Propriety’ say?
‘When you are about to enter a hall raise your voice.
When you enter a room keep your eyes low.’ And the
reason of this is that people may not be caught at a disadvantage.
Now, you walked into the private room
without raising your voice, and so caused your wife to
be caught. The fault is yours, not hers.”

And Mencius saw the truth of this, and his anger was
at an end.

One day she noticed the grief of her son’s expression
as he stood leaning against a pillar, and asked him the
reason of it. He answered, as I think, in a way likely
to wound a mother who had been all to him:

“I have heard that the princely man should hold the
place that suits him, taking no reward which is not justly
his and being not covetous of praise and riches. Well,
what I teach is not practiced in Ch’i, and I long to leave
it; but I think of your old age and I hesitate.”

There is a touch of love, a little hurt in her dignified

“It is not a woman’s part to determine anything of
herself, for she is subject to the rule of the Three Obediences.
When young she must obey her parents. Married,
her husband. As a widow, her son. You are a
man in full maturity. I am old. Act as your conviction
of righteousness directs and I shall act according to the
rule that is mine. Why should you be anxious about

It is clear that Mencius had thus the best education
at home in fitness for his great career. As for his outer

education he himself says he studied with the disciples
of Confucius, and the Chinese historian whom I have
mentioned before (Ssŭ-ma Ch’ien), says he worked with
the disciples of that famous philosopher who was the
grandson of Confucius. This being so it is no wonder
that he held and carried on the Confucian tradition in
perfection, nor can it surprise any to miss in him the
infinite speculations and beliefs of Lao Tsŭ and Chuang

But the Confucian teaching needed much renewal,
and Mencius came at the moment when he could do vital
work in practical reconstruction of a very high ideal.
For China had gone through nightmares of civil war and
dissension since the death of Confucius. The feudal
system had sunk into chaos, from which it scarcely
seemed society could be reconstructed. The imperial
dynasty of Chao had weakened so that it was helpless,
while the larger states devoured the smaller. Two ruling
princes would unite to ruin a third, then dissolve the
bond in quarrels between themselves. Bands of robbers
roamed the country. Adventurous men sold their swords
to whoever would pay most. What room was there for
philosophy or for any consideration of the bases of life?
It was hard enough to live at all. Wild doctrines gained
ground and the Confucian ideal was half forgotten.
Mencius comments upon all this, and his voice is almost
the voice of despair.

“Wise kings arise no longer, and the ruling princes
give rein to their lusts. Scholars indulge in foolish discussions.
Yang’s principle is, ‘Every man for himself.’
Mih’s principle is to love all equally, which certainly
does not acknowledge the special love due to a father.”

He felt that vague principles of universal benevolence
(the Mihist teaching) are often a very easy way of
compromising with non-fulfilment of the special and
primal obligations of duty to parents and to the ruler.
And as to the principle of “Every man for himself,”

Mencius points to the result in burning words. In those
of another wise man he describes the rulers:

“‘In their kitchens there is fat meat. In their stables
are fat horses, but the people are famine-pinched, and in
the wilds lie the starved bodies of the dead.’ If [says
Mencius] the principles of Yang and Mih are not
checked, and the Confucian principles set forth, these
perverse teachings will delude the people and block the
path of benevolence and righteousness. Beasts will
devour men and men will devour one another.”

Accordingly, to reform vice was the task Mencius
set himself, and following to a certain extent the example
of Confucius, he resolved to influence the ruling princes
where and when he could. It is a difficult task to touch
pitch and keep clean hands, as Chuang Tsŭ had pointed
out again and again. Mencius could not stand the ordeal
wholly unspotted. There were occasions when he laid
himself open to the charge of inconsistency and even of
flattery, for though on the whole his character stands
out in bright light against a stormy background, there
were littlenesses also which made him human. As they
illustrate the life of ancient China, they are sometimes
amusing and worth recording. Here is one that might
have happened yesterday, and I give it because his entry
into the state of Ch’i, invited by the ruling prince, is

“The Illustrious,” as this prince is called, had sent to
make private inquiry as to what manner of man the new
philosopher might be. This was followed by an invitation,
but the outlook was so hopeless that Mencius, though
he remained and took office, kept his hands free by declining
any salary. This movement was evidently viewed
with alarm, for the prime minister sent him a handsome
gift to ingratiate himself. Mencius accepted the gift but
made no visit of gratitude according to usage. “There
was a gift,” he said, “but no corresponding respect.”
Why should he step out of his way to acknowledge it?

But the Illustrious received him honorably and held
many long conferences with him on the means of good
government. And here one may doubt the wisdom of one
of his methods in dealing with these people of importance.
It would have been scarcely possible to Confucius and
absolutely impossible to Lao Tsŭ and Chuang Tsŭ. The
prince in stating his difficulties said frankly:

“I have a lust for beauty and surely that stands in the
way of my attaining to the royal government you advocate?”

Mencius replied with philosophic calm:

“Not in the least. Gratify yourself, only do not let
your doing so interfere with the people’s similar pleasures.”

Even the most devout of his disciples were a little
startled by this. Naturally his aim was to bring the
prince to recognize the claim of the people, when it might
be hoped his own reformation would follow. But the
sequence is rather more than doubtful. Perhaps it was
the natural consequence of this system of compromise
that suspicion characterized the relations of the Illustrious
and the philosopher. There does not appear to
have been real confidence and respect. Here is an amusing
instance of the wariness of two formalists, each trying
to get the better of the other:

Once Mencius was dressing in the robes suitable for
a visit to court when the prince sent word that he had
intended to receive him but had taken cold. Would
Mencius come to the audience next day?

Instantly Mencius suspects that cold. It is a carefully
laid plan of the prince’s to evade the courtesy of receiving
him, and philosophers have their dignity to keep up and
must not be slighted. He sends back word that he is unwell
and cannot have that pleasure; then carefully and
ostentatiously goes out next morning to pay a visit of
condolence, supposing the prince will send to ask after
his health and receive the wholesome snub of hearing he

has gone out visiting. But mark how all this carefully-built
house of cards tumbles at a breath!

The prince sent indeed, but a blundering, good-natured
cousin, willing to smooth the matter for the ear of
royalty, said eagerly to the envoy:

“He was better and so he hurried off to court. I doubt
whether he has got there by now.” And runners were
sent rushing after the peevish philosopher to urge him to
go to court at once. But still his wounded dignity stood
in the way, and still this important matter agitated the
court circles. The indignant Mencius avoided both
home and court at last, and betook himself to sleep at the
house of a great official, who dashed into the fray by
accusing Mencius of calculated disrespect to the prince.
He angrily rejoined:

“Not so. It is I and I only who bring high and royal
subjects to his notice.”

“That isn’t what I mean at all,” said the other. “The
rule is that when the prince’s order calls the carriage must
not wait. You were going to court, but would not when
you heard the royal message. This does not seem in
accordance with the Rites, I think.”

Mencius replied on general principles that a ruler
who did not honor the virtuous was really not worth
having anything to do with—illustrating his position by
examples from history which drowned all remonstrances,
and so remained victorious.

The storm in a teacup ended but had left its mark, and
before long he prepared to depart from the state. Then
the prince made another proposal, conscious that an insult
to such a sage would not reflect any honor upon himself.
Would he stay if he were given a house large
enough for himself and his disciples and an allowance of
ten thousand measures of grain to support them? A very
handsome allowance indeed, but an insult in the philosopher’s
opinion. They had not understood him. They
believed wealth could buy wisdom—a thing impossible in

its very nature. Mencius rose in true and worthy anger.
Could they suppose he would sell himself, he who had
already refused a salary worth a hundred thousand measures
of grain? Not he!

So he left Ch’i, but slowly, sadly, as Confucius had
once left Lu, hoping against hope to be recalled upon
honorable terms. Some of his disciples thought even
this hope unworthy of his dignity, but he replied:

“You do not understand. The Illustrious is a man
with good in him. If he were to use me it would be for
the happiness of more than the state of Ch’i—even for the
empire. I am hoping he may change. Daily I hope this.
I will not be little-minded. Little-minded people get
angry and go off in a huff. So will not I!”

But he was not recalled, and he settled for a while in
Ho-nan. There a distinction awaited him—a visit from
the heir apparent of T’eng, who had made a long journey
for the purpose. They talked at length and earnestly on
the antique wisdom and the teachings of Confucius, and
still the prince admired, and still he doubted whether
such exalted views were applicable to daily experience.
But he went away almost persuaded to be a philosopher,
and later invited Mencius to T’eng and lavished large
gifts on him (as did other princes), and yet could not at
all use him. The net result appears to have been a magnificent
display of mourning ceremonial when his father
died, in which the profound knowledge of Mencius as
to ceremonial was strictly followed. This obtained great
reputation for the prince, but can hardly have bettered
the condition of his people.

Thus the saddened philosopher wandered through
more than one principality, scattering seeds by the way-side,
which fell upon barren ground. There was little
public opinion to support him, and it was easier for the
princes to follow the line of least resistance and lose
themselves in sensual pleasures and in war, when it became
inevitable, than to climb the heights which few

understood. He met with censure here and there, sometimes
because his spirit of compromise offended consciences
formed in the Confucian school, sometimes unjustly
because his disinterestedness was real and profound.

Then his mother died. She had followed him to the
state of Ch’i, and he took her coffin with such magnificent
ceremony to Lu to bury it near his father that even his
disciples remonstrated at the cost. But he was not likely
to lose such an opportunity for displaying both knowledge
and affection, and his reply was:

“The noble-minded man will never be niggardly to
his parents. And since I have the means and the will,
why should I not do all I can to express my feelings?”

One is conscious of an opinion that Chang-shi’s own
calm good sense might have rejected such extravagance.
But it is not for the West to judge China in such matters.
The springs of “filial piety” differ there and here.

A triumph was to come however which gladdened
him, so that for joy he could not sleep. A disciple of his,
Yo Ching, was given the administration of the government
of the state of Lu, the state famous as the birthplace
of Confucius; and Mencius rejoiced in the hope of seeing
his ideals translated into action. He followed Yo Ching
to Lu, impatient, eager, and transfigured with joy. The
ruling prince was stepping into his carriage to welcome
the coming philosopher, and all the horizon was roseate,
when a worthless favorite dissuaded him. “Do not go
to him, my prince.” And the prince, no doubt glad to
get out of it, ordered his carriage away, and the visit was
never paid.

After his long wanderings and fleeting hopes Mencius
took this as a definite ruling from Heaven that the time
was not come when his work should be established.

“Heaven does not yet wish that the empire should
rejoice in tranquillity and good government,” he said,
and knew as he said it that life does not stand still and
that he was growing old. He had given his best to effort,

and effort had failed. Heaven knew best. He would
submit and would toil no more with the ungrateful
princes. “Ephraim is joined to idols. Let him alone!”
as said a prophet of Israel. And then and there suddenly
and pathetically Mencius disappears. No more is known
of him among the great courts and officials. He had
tried the world, and it had tricked him; and this though
he had given of the best that was in him, and the flaws in
the jewel of his purpose were small indeed in comparison
with its radiance. He might at least console himself with
the reflection that Confucius, whom he almost worshiped,
had fared little better at the hands of men.

Therefore he withdrew, probably, it is thought, to
calm reflection and teaching among his disciples. The
last years of such a man could hardly fail to be serene and
to influence others profoundly; but there all knowledge
of him ends.

China has marked her gratitude to a great son. The
man fifty-sixth in descent from Mencius was made a
member of the great Han Lin College and of the board
in charge of the five great classics. This honor was made
hereditary in his family, and after his death he was
created Duke of Tsao. His tablet stands in the Temple
near that of Confucius. But far more than this are the
honors received from those who knew and could appreciate
the value of his influence in the empire.

“It is owing to his words,” says one, “that learners
now know how to revere Confucius, to honor benevolence
and righteousness, to esteem the sovereign and despise
the mere pretender.”

“The merit of Mencius in regard to the teaching of
the great sages is more than can be told,” another says.

And to his undying glory it is Mencius who enunciated
the great principle:

“The people are the most important element in a
country. The ruler is the lightest.”

That may seem a truism. It was very far from being

a truism in China in his day. He went further, and
with amazing courage.

The Prince of Ch’i once asked him, “May a minister
put his sovereign to death?” instancing the case of the
great Prince Wu who slaughtered his sovereign, the last
of the House of Chao, a most unworthy ruler, an abandoned
tyrant, the very essence of wickedness.

Mencius replied:

“He who outrages benevolence is called a robber. He
who outrages righteousness is called a ruffian. In the
case you mention I have heard of the cutting off of a
robber and a ruffian—the fellow Chao; but I never have
heard that Prince Wu put a true sovereign to death.”

Such was the ruling of Cromwell and his associates
when confronted, with only incapacity in Charles I. Such
also was the ruling of the terrorists in the French Revolution
in dealing with Louis XVI. Such again was the
decision of the Bolshevists in dealing with the tsar. It is
not difficult to realize what Mencius would have decreed
in such cases, but in all three the result has been to exalt
the man from sovereignty to martyrdom. It is evident
there are arguments on both sides.

Yet his conclusion was: “Heaven sees according as
the people see. Heaven hears as the people hear.”

This is the teaching of democracy. Lao Tsŭ and
Chuang Tsŭ would have questioned it sharply, but theirs
was a high and spiritual gospel, above the reach of any
but highly evolved spirits.

Chapter XXVIII


SUCH was the life of Mencius. His philosophy, while
founded upon the rock of Confucius, was nevertheless
so far original that it built its own castle, especially
in relation to good government and to certain aspects of
individual character. One of these was the tender and
paternal love a ruler should bear to all his people, and
this was developed by Mencius with illustrations that
would not have occurred to Confucius. Here is an example
from one of those celebrated conversations, which
might indeed be called “Lessons for Princes.” This especial
one was with the ruling Prince of Ch’i, who had

“Is such a one as poor I competent to love and guard
the people?”

“Undoubtedly, yes.”

“And how do you know this, sir?”

“Because I have heard the following story. Your
Majesty was sitting in the hall when people led past a
bull. Your Majesty saw it and asked where the bull was
going, and being answered that they were going to consecrate
a bell with its blood said: ‘Let it go free. I cannot
bear its frightened face as if it were an innocent person
going to the place of death.’ They asked whether
the consecration of the bell should be omitted. Your
Majesty said: ‘How can it be omitted? Take a sheep.’ I
do not know if this really happened?”

“It happened,” said the prince.

Mencius replied:

“The heart seen in this is sufficient to carry you to
royal heights. The people supposed that your Majesty
grudged the animal. I—your servant—know surely that
it was your Majesty’s pain at the sight of the creature’s

“You are right. How should I grudge a bull? Indeed
it was because I could not bear its terror.”

Then said Mencius:

“Let not your Majesty deem it strange that the people
grudged it. When you changed a large animal for a
small one, how should they guess the reason? If you felt
pained, what was there to choose between a bull and a
sheep? It was an artifice of benevolence. You saw the
bull and had not seen the sheep. So is the man of high
virtue touched with the suffering of animals. Having
seen them living, he cannot bear to see them die; having
heard their dying cries, he cannot bear to eat their flesh.”

The prince was pleased and said:

“The Ode says:

‘What is in other men’s mind

I can guess by reflecting.’

And so it is with you, my master. When I turned my
mind inward I could not analyze it. But as you spoke
now the movement of compassion stirred in my heart.
But what has my heart in it equal to the royal heights?”

Said Mencius:

“Here is kindness extended to animals, yet no benefit
to the people! How is this? The mercy is not used for
them. Your Majesty’s falling short of the royal heights
is because you will not climb, not because you cannot.”

The prince asked how these things should be done.

Mencius answered with an echo of his idol Confucius.

“Treat with reverence the aged in your own family,
so that those in the families of others should receive reverence.
Treat with kindness the young in your own
family. Do this and thus, and the kingdom may be encircled
in your palm. It is said in the Book of Odes:

‘His example swayed his wife,

It spread abroad to his brethren,

And was a guide to all Clans and States.’

Thus it tells us how the good King Wu simply realized
his kindly heart and used it for the service of all. Now
if your Majesty will institute a government whose action
shall all be benevolent, there is not an official but will
wish to stand in your court, not a farmer but will long
to plow your fields, not a merchant, traveling or stationary,
but will wish to store his goods in your Majesty’s
market-places. And all under heaven who suffer from
their rulers will wish to lay their wrongs at your feet.”

The prince said: “I am not quick in intelligence. I
cannot advance to this. But, my master, assist my intentions.
Teach me clearly. I should like to try.”

Said Mencius: “The livelihood of the people is now
so regulated that they have not the wherewithal to serve
their parents nor to support their wives and children.
Their only hope is to escape from death, and they fear
they cannot do even this. What leisure have they for
manners or virtue? Turn back then to the practical steps.

“Let mulberry trees be planted about the homesteads
with their five acres, and people of fifty years can be
clothed in silk. In keeping domestic birds and animals,
let not their proper times of breeding be neglected, and
old people can taste flesh. Let not there be taken away
the time necessary for cultivation of the field allotment,
and a family of eight mouths will not suffer from hunger.
Let careful education be given in the various schools, and
let repeated emphasis be laid upon the filial and fraternal
duties, and we shall no longer see gray-haired men upon
the roads bent under the burdens on their backs and
heads. It is impossible that the ruler of a state where
the aged could wear silk and taste flesh, and the black-haired
people did not suffer from hunger and cold,
should not have attained to the royal heights.”

Note the tact and grace with which the prince is led

on to realize the virtue in himself if he will but use it.
Here Mencius fills the office of a true courtier, for he
lacks neither rightful courage nor courtesy. I give another
example of real philosophy.

“Will you allow your servant to speak to your Majesty
about music? Your Majesty is having music here.
The people hear the sound of your bells and drums, the
sweetness of your reeds and flutes; and they all with
aching heads frown and say: ‘That’s how our prince loves
music! But why does he reduce us to this extremity of
misery? Father and sons cannot see one another; older
and younger brothers, wives and children, are scattered

“Again your Majesty hunts here. The people hear
the noise of your carriages and horses and see the beauty
of your plumes and pennons, and they all with aching
brows say: ‘That’s how our prince loves hunting, but we
are miserable!’

“And this is because you do not care for the people’s
happiness as well as your own. Your Majesty has music
here. Now if the people hearing the music could say
with joyful looks, ‘That sounds as if our prince were rejoicing
in health. What splendid music! What splendid
hunting!’ it would be because you considered their pleasure
as well as your own. So if your Majesty will make
happiness a thing common to the people as to yourself,
royal heights await you.”

Thus Mencius draws a lesson from the prince’s passion
for music, as he drew it later from his passion for
valor, and in this is seen the true democracy of the Chinese
spirit. There have always been fearless men to tell
the sovereigns home truths, even when their own lives
were at stake and not infrequently paid the forfeit. Even
the terrible old dowager empress of the Boxer riots had
high-minded courtiers who, following the great examples
of Confucius and Mencius, placed before her the ancient
way, those laws of which Sophocles wrote:

“The power of Heaven is mighty in them and
groweth not old.”

The great learning of Mencius, described as “infinite,”
gave him an advantage before which the prince
trembled, knowing that all China venerates the sage,
even if his birth be the lowliest of the lowly. Therefore,
with very few exceptions Mencius spoke his mind fearlessly,
and was at his best and highest in so doing. He
delighted after the manner of Confucius in the Odes,
and enriched his discourses with frequent quotations
from them, regarding music and poetry as integral parts
of the government of a cultured state. But all was used
to drive home the lesson of caring for the good of the
people, and in so doing he often gives a most interesting
picture of ancient China. For instance, the prince said,
as another had said:

“I have a weakness. I am unluckily devoted to

Said Mencius: “Long ago King T’ai was devoted to
beauty and loved his wife. It is said in the Book of

‘The ancient Duke T’an Fu

Came in the morning galloping his horses

Along the bank of the Western River,

And there he and the Lady Kiang

Came together and looked out a site on which to settle.’

At that time in the seclusion of the house were no discontented
women and abroad no unmarried men. If
your Majesty is fond of beauty let the people be able to
gratify the same love, and what shall stand between you
and the royal heights?”

But here again the disciples were inclined to look a
little askance at this compromise. He could, however,
rebuke like a Jewish prophet when there was need, or
rather—what is better—compel a tyrant to rebuke himself
after this fashion:

“Suppose one of your Majesty’s servants trusted his
wife and children to the care of a friend and went a long
journey in Tsu, and on returning found the friend had
caused them to suffer from cold and hunger—what should
he do?”

The prince said, “He should cast him off.”

“And suppose the chief criminal judge could not
regulate the officers of justice under him, what then?”

“He should be dismissed,” said the prince.

Then said Mencius: “And suppose that within the
four borders of your kingdom there is no good government,
what then?”

The prince looked to the right and left, and spoke of
other matters.

Thus we see in Mencius a touch of the heroic, which
was perhaps a little lacking in Confucius. Confucius
hesitated, for instance, to declare boldly what the doom
of a worthless sovereign should be. He dwelt on the
virtues of Yao and Shun, and permitted those who heard
to draw the inference. Mencius had no such scruples.
He was an Elijah denouncing doom to Ahab, and whatever
the risks might be he took them. He stated clearly
what the means of removal should be. The Prince of
T’sui questioned him on that point:

“I beg to ask about the chief ministers, who are noble
and relatives to the ruler? What should they do in such
a case?”

Mencius replied: “If the ruler has great faults they
should remonstrate with him; and if he do not listen to
them when they have done so repeatedly they should appoint
another in his place.”

The prince on this looked moved and changed countenance.
Mencius noticed it; he said:

“Let not your Majesty think what I say strange. You
asked me, and what could I do but reply truthfully?”

But because in him as in all deep thinkers there must
needs be a strain of the mystic he envisaged another solution—the

belief that in the last resort Heaven would
provide the right man to fill the place of a degraded
ruler. He might be of humble birth. He must not raise
the flag of rebellion but of righteousness; and Mencius
with his belief in the innate goodness of human nature
was assured that men would flock to him. Therefore,
since in his time the Imperial House of Chao had so debased
itself, his effort was to stir one if not more of the
feudal princes to noble revolt against a weak licentious
tyranny, exactly as the kings Wen and Wu, the heroes of
Confucius, had done in the great old days. He could not
succeed but the effort remains memorable.

So he preached nobility of life, and love of the people,
believing that greater results would follow from this than
the rulers could gain by oppression, and that following
this rule one of them would develop power and strength
to trample down the Chao dynasty.

“If among the present rulers throughout the kingdom
there was one who loved benevolence, all the other rulers
would aid him by driving their people to him. Even if
he did not wish to exercise the royal sway, he could not
avoid it,” he said.

But first the people must have comfort. They must
be raised above the rank of beasts to that of the natural
hopes of humanity. And then they must be educated.
Without the latter, the former must be a danger. In the
view of Mencius the goal of education is only to illustrate
the human relationships. “Book-learning” was the
last thing he sought. He was certain that those who
needed and were capable of that would naturally gravitate
toward it. For the mass of the people, the interlocking
of human social relationships was all that was needed.
That was the true education, to lead men from a selfish
individuality to consideration of the good of others as
part of their own. He knew that when life is brutal in
its surroundings there is no room for these possibilities;
and therefore material necessities came first with him.
Chuang Tsŭ would have said:

“Yes, but man can relinquish these voluntarily and
gladly when he has reached a higher stage of spiritual

This Mencius did not affirm, but it is almost implicit
in his teaching.

He was extremely modern in appreciation of the fact
that everywhere must be a division of labor, each man
doing that for which he is best fitted—the gospel of

“The business of the handicrafts, man can by no means
carry along with that of husbandry. Great men have
their proper business, little men, theirs. Hence the saying:
‘Some labor with their hands, some with their
strength. Those who labor with their minds govern
others. Those who are governed by others support them;
those who govern others are supported by them.’ This
is a universal principle.”

Mencius, like Lao Tsŭ and Confucius, insisted upon
the Golden Rule; and surely it may be taken as a strong
testimony of its universal truth in human nature that
teachers so far apart in time, place, and race as Confucius,
the Buddha, the Christ, and others, should all
have borne witness to its vital necessity to any true life
of the spirit. Benevolence to others is the key-note of all
the teaching of Mencius.

His doctrine of what he calls “the passion-nature” is
interesting also. Man has the driving force of his passion-nature,
but the will—the active force of the will-to-goodness—is
to guide and direct it. He does not desiderate
the suppression of the passion-nature as do some of
the philosophies of India. He considers it a useful horse
for the chariot of the soul if it is drilled, disciplined, and
tamed by the Heaven-directed will. There is a difference
here which, though it may appear small at first, may be
what has rendered India weak and passive even in her
own great teachings, and China virile, haughty, dignified,
in holding and proclaiming her own views in the face of
the world.

On great example he dwelt as Confucius had done and
as all the faiths must needs do:

“The sages, perfectly exhibiting human relations,”
were the model. Let men form themselves on that. Just
as no skill of hand could form circles and squares without
compass and square, so without great examples virtue
could not survive. And again, in a strangely beautiful
sentence, anticipating the teaching of Christ and the mystics,
and joining hands (though that he could not know)
with his great countryman Chuang Tsŭ, Mencius says:

“The great man is he who never loses the heart of a

That sentence will bear much pondering. With it we
may leave one of the greatest of the philosophers of China—a
man not perfect, but wise with a great wisdom; a
seer with percipience which was to enkindle vision in his
own people, in days when many supposed it dead and
burned with the ashes of Confucius.

Chapter XXIX


A FEW words on the position of Buddhist philosophy
in China and Japan must end our survey.

In the philosophies of Lao Tsŭ, Confucius, Chuang
Tsŭ, and Mencius, no one charted road was indicated
that could lead a man beyond earthly hopes to the hope
man will never relinquish. Confucius had marked a
path that promised the best type of prosperity in this
world, but he, like Virgil with Dante, was obliged to lay
down his guideship at the portals of heaven. There he
did not attempt to enter.

It was the same with Mencius. Both conceived they
had done all that was possible in setting men on the road
which must lead at last to Knowledge of the Truth. They
did not realize with Lao Tsŭ and Chuang Tsŭ the sudden
flash that strikes some men awake in an instant to all
the issues of life and death; and indeed it was true that
such teachings were fitted only for men so highly evolved
that they needed no guidance, and that for others of the
lower type they must be dangerous. So it proved. The
rebound of mysticism is magic, and in baser hands the
teachings of Lao Tsŭ and Chuang Tsŭ degenerated into
superstition. They too had indicated no certain road.
The truth was vague as a mountain in mists.

China accordingly needed a middle way her own
teachers had not given, a faith which should incorporate
the spiritual with the material, the world as they saw it

with the world as it might be believed to be. She desired
spiritual sanction for the moral teachings her sages had
given her, and most of all she craved for spiritual romance.
That, to the world at large, is the essence of the
great faiths. Their philosophies lie beyond the reach of
the masses. Their romance invites all to the spiritual
adventure. There lie the flowery ways, the cloud-capped
towers not built by mortal hands; there, beyond the utmost
starry peaks, lies the City of God.

Religion and philosophy can never be dissevered.
Religion is alike the philosophy of the highest and the
romance of the lowest, according to their different stages.
It is the comment of Everyman on life, and inevitably
much more than that to great minds. For this reason
Buddhism was welcomed in China.

It is said to have come first in the dream of an emperor.
He beheld in sleep the golden image of a Man,
and on inquiring learned that such a religion as it symbolized
existed. But apart from all this, Buddhism was
certain sooner or later to pass along the trade-routes,
which have been the conduits of so much beside trade.
It was sure of a reception in independent democratic
China that would contrast with the slowly chilling Indian
belief—damped and wounded as it was at every point
by what may be called the strong trade-unionism of
Brahmin interests, which knew so well how to exploit its
affinity with them.

When it arrived it was under the two forms already
described in the section on Buddhism—the Hinayana
(Lesser Vehicle) and the Mahayana (Greater Vehicle).
The first was the stern, august philosophic system set forth
in the Buddha’s great teachings, impervious to scientific
attack, drawing to itself the highest spiritual forms of
mentality that could be founded on the doctrines of the
Upanishads divested of their earlier and more childish

The second was the decorated palace which the minds

of schoolmen and theologians had built on the rock of the
Buddha. They had perceived in some of his sayings
possibilities of development along lines more suited to
the mentality of the masses. It was not difficult to transfigure
an indescribable and inexplicable peace into a
heaven blazing with gold and jewels, where birds of
miracle sang the praises of the Law, in trees flowering
in unearthly beauty, and where redeemed souls, their sins
forgiven, might sit immortal in the purity of unfolded
lotus-blossoms, to laud the divine Buddhas who had rescued
them from all evil. We know that process in the
West also.

It was a philosophy still—in the sense that the Nicene
and Athanasian creeds are philosophies—but one which
fused hopes human and divine. In place of a remote and
questionable heaven and wilderness of dubious spirits,
China was to be given, for those who could take it, a
philosophy of the soul more reasoned than any her own
philosophers had offered, and, for those who could not,
a God loving and compassionate—who having lived on
earth could hear, help, and forgive sin, and at the end of
the disappointments of life receive those who believed in
Him into the Boat of Souls, which would transfer them
to the Western Paradise, there to dwell in immortal peace.
And China was to give both of these new aspects to
Korea and Japan, where each would be accepted according
to the capacity of the recipients.

It would have been easy to prophesy which would
eventually possess and leaven China—the more so as the
teaching of paradise and propitiation blended well with
Confucianism, filling the dry cracks and crevices with
living water, in which the lotus of purity could blossom.
The greater Buddhist saints would act as mediators and
guides, and the teachings of Lao Tsŭ and Chuang Tsŭ
could also be revised and pressed into the service of the
new hope, with a meaning they had lacked for many.

Was it wonderful that such Chinese pilgrims as Fa

Hien and Hiuen T’sang, preceded and followed by many
other seekers less famous, should have set out along the
frightful wastes of the Gobi Desert and over the terrible
Himalayan snow-peaks to find their way to India, the
Land of the Holy Grail, and to return laden with glorious
manuscripts, statues of strange and shining beauty, and
other spiritual riches, to confirm China in the Buddhist
faith, which had opened a new heaven and a new earth?

For those who desire romance there are few such
noble romances as the journeys of Fa Hien, I-tsing,
Hiuen T’sang, and their like. All who care for the fairy-lands
of religion will read them with delight.

So when Buddhism came to China in power, it was in
the form of the popular Buddhism, and on that head I
need say little. Both in China and Japan, as in the wide
world, worship will be given to a God easily accessible,
swift to hear prayer, to reward virtue, and to pardon sin.
It brought exultation with it, a secular triumph of faith;
and because of this it brought also a great wave of art in

Buddhism, which taught with more than Wordsworthian
force an indwelling and divine presence in
plant and tree, bird and animal, as in man, unlocked the
doors dividing life into separate compartments. Making
all one it brought a passion of understanding, and desire
to represent that understanding in the highest forms of
art. So, in the sixth century a.d., partly under the influence
of the cognate teachings of Taoism as well as in
the new inrush of Buddhist thought, there were formulated
in China the six great canons of art to which it has
conformed ever since. These are in themselves a high
form of the philosophy of art to which life itself must
conform. Of these the first only is necessary here:
Rhythmic Vitality or Spiritual Vitality—or, as a gifted
Japanese has rendered it, “The Life Movement of the
Spirit through the Rhythm of things.” Without this no
great art is possible.

Rhythm is the vital point, and it had been so recognized
by Lao Tsŭ and Chuang Tsŭ centuries before. It
connotes acting in harmony with the swing of the universe—whether
spiritually, intellectually, or in the least
movement of the body—from the physical movements of
the dance of happy youth to the dance of the planets about
the sun and the systems about the Infinite. In each and
all, they beheld this rhythm and harmony in the highest
art—so that religion itself, working upon human stuff, is
the Great Artist, sculpturing it into what Confucius recognized
as the princely man and Lao Tsŭ as the perfection
he saw but could find no words to define.

In the actions and being of all great men, whether
rightly or wrongly directed according to our human notions,
this rhythm can be perceived. They march to an
unstruck music, terrible or beautiful as the case may be.
With the preparation which had already been theirs, the
Chinese realized when Buddhism came with its doctrine
of the Indwelling Spirit that here was the whole secret
of the philosophy of art. This Buddhism taught that “to
the eye of flesh plants and trees appear to be gross matter.
But to the eye of the Buddha they are composed of
minute spiritual particles,” and that “grass, trees, countries,
the earth itself, all these shall wholly enter into

Thus all was spirit, and the office of art was to make
that spirit, that wonderful efflux of life and vibration
visible to all! Art could never be an imitative thing; it
must be like religion itself the thought of man’s heart,
the work of his hand: the two were in the deepest sense
one. The point was not so to represent fruit that a man
would stretch out his hand to pluck it, but to suggest the
silent indwelling life that gives first the seed, the bud, the
blossom, and lastly the fruit, with all the unity of the
process with the life of man. Therefore, in the Chinese
philosophy of art there is something God-possessed—the
whirling on an orbit not to be calculated, but touching

the outer spaces of vision and immortality. There are
those who hold the belief that at a certain period of their
art these people stand unrivaled in portraiture and landscape.
The descriptions already given of their philosophies
may, if analyzed, yield the secret why with the
fusion of Buddhism to complete them this result followed;
but the fact remains that so it was.

They had learned the secret that art consists in the
approach from the subjective side of the artist to the
subjective side of whatever is painted, from a blade of
grass to the face of a man; and having mastered the essential
rhythm of life they themselves became masters.

But it was not by the road leading to singing paradises
that the deepest secrets of unity and realization, whether
in art or elsewhere, were to be approached in China and
Japan. There was an austerer way for those selected
minds who could scale the heights—the Way of Concentration,
contemplation, and realization. Yoga of the
sternest type—such as is called in India Jnana, in China
Ch’an, and in Japan Zen—was to make an indelible mark
upon the Far East. It cannot be called exclusively Buddhist,
for its foundations were laid earlier than the Vedanta;
but to China it came in a Buddhist guise about the
year 520 a.d., by the means of a most singular man, who
can have little understood what the influence of his teaching
would be in China and Japan.

His name in religion was Bodhidharma—or the Law
of Enlightenment—and what he taught was the Yoga of
the earlier Upanishads in its most ascetic and unconciliatory

One sees him, a man of huge stature and haughty
gesture, with the temperament of the militant monk
which is common to all the faiths. He was ushered into
the presence of the Chinese emperor, a devout and generous
Buddhist, who said with reverence:

“Many monasteries have I built, many scriptures have
I distributed. Many alms have I given, and I have upheld
the Faith. Have I acquired merit?”

“None whatever,” answered Bodhidharma.

“In what then does true merit consist?”

“In the obliteration of matter by absolute knowledge
and not by external acts.”

This is the great truth acquired in the flash of cosmic
consciousness, but very useless to present to a soul slowly
developing along the path of evolution, which must eventually
lead it to Absolute truth. The emperor ventured

“Which is the divine and primal aspect of reality?”

One may suspect him of trying to suggest that after
all he was not quite a beginner in these high subjects, and
Bodhidharma of determination to stamp out any nascent
sparks of imperial vanity.

“Reality has no aspect that is divine,” was his answer.

“What are you, who have come before my throne?”

“I do not know.”

Nor as a matter of fact does anyone else by experience,
excepting the enlightened few who have reached the goal
of samadhi or ecstatic contemplation. But Bodhidharma
was mistaken in thinking he had brought a new gospel to
China. He had brought systematized extension of the
teachings of Lao Tsŭ and Chuang Tsŭ; and for that reason
his mission was certain to have results beyond what
he could guess and quite independently of his own efforts.

His philosophy may be summed up as follows:

“There is no such person as the Buddha.” A rude
shock until it is realized that there is no true individuality
or personality in the Universe. There is only the One
of whom each and all are manifests or phenomena—if
even that statement does not go too far.

“The Absolute is immanent in every man’s heart, and
this Treasure of the heart is the only Buddha that exists.”
With this statement all who have truly understood the
Upanishads would agree.

“Prayer, scripture-reading, fasting, the observance of
monastic rules; all are useless.” This statement is more

open to question, and appears more like the petulance of
a man who having found one way denies the existence of
all others. There are different levels of road for souls
in every stage of evolution, and none is to be despised.

“Those who seek the Buddha do not find him.” This
may be qualified into the statement that those who seek
the Truth will find the Buddha and finding, comprehend,
not the Buddha, but the cause which underlay the phenomenon
of his life and teaching.

“One thing alone is necessary. To discover the unreality
of the world by contemplation of the Absolute,
which is at the root of each man’s nature.” This is of
course absolutely true.

Being asked to explain the word “Zen” he replied:
“This word ‘Zen’ cannot be understood even of the wise.
Zen means that a man should behold his fundamental nature.
I have come from India only to teach that Buddhism
is thought. As to so-called miracles—all such
practices are heretical. They belong to the world of
Being.” In other words to the world of Appearances.

Such was the philosophy of Bodhidharma. It was
driven home with austerities of thought, speech, and practice,
calculated to repel the many, yet it invited chosen
minds by giving the detailed instructions of India for
attainment in Yoga and the practice of contemplation by
concentration. Lacking Buddhistic tradition—though it
was rich in that of Vedanta—it fell back upon a legendary
and beautiful scripture in which the Buddha passes on in
utter silence the mystic meaning of the Nirvana to his
great disciple Mahakasyapa, who receives it in its fulness
with a smile and no word. So it should still need no
words. It should be vision only.

Zen became a power in China, and had its own patriarchate,
dividing into the northern and southern schools.
Its very austerities recommended it as a refreshing exercise
to the rich and great. There is a very beautiful mystic
poem relating to it, known as the Taming of the Bull,

which should be given here were there space. It has been
illustrated often both in Japan and China, and represents
in wonderful symbols the attainment of realization or the
highest consciousness by the soul of man, at first undisciplined,
afterwards trained into perfect subjugation and
finally into union.

The influence of Zen on art in both China and Japan
has been amazing for two reasons: first, the influence of
contemplation upon the little understood psychology of
the artist, and second, its reaction in the form of a better
understanding of how to manipulate (if such an expression
may be used) the strange weapon of creative power.
It is not too much to say that if artists (speaking of
course generally of art) studied the science of contemplation
as taught in Zen, unknown sources of power would
be opened and the world be the richer. That it often has
been done unconsciously and temperamentally there can
be no doubt, but seldom with knowledge.

China at all events received it as the language of art.
They realized that as a shadow is to the object which
casts it so is the object itself to its Eternal Idea as perceived
by a man possessing the higher consciousness. To
this Zen taught the way, and the more so, because in
teaching the doctrine of the Universal it corresponded
with the teaching of Unity with the Eternal, not only in
man but in stone and plant and bird and beast.

“Cleave the stone and there am I,” says Christ in
one of the lately recovered logia. And China echoed
the phrase as a new law. Yet in China its influence has
almost died. Would art revive there if the spirit of
Zen lived once more? Some allude to Zen, with a certain
want of comprehension, as a system of self-hypnosis.
That is an assumption that no mystic would for a moment
admit. Some find an analogy in Quakerism. That there
is a superficial likeness in the serenity and repose of Zen
cannot be denied; but on that ground Zen may be likened
to any belief which recognizes the indwelling Divine.

It is in truth that and much more and when the suggestion
is made that it may assuage the growing desire of
Europe for the spiritual wine which alone quenches the
thirst of the nations I am inclined to agree, though Zen
will always be for the highly evolved souls, and the more
simple forms of Vedantic and Buddhistic philosophy for
the many. Neither has anything to fear from science,
for neither is inseparable from historic dogma, and each
is based on personal experience. Meditate and do, and
you shall know. Knowledge and deed are then one.

Zen was transplanted to Japan with extraordinary effect.
There too it became a mighty influence for art and
still more, or perhaps concordantly, for the molding of
character. It cannot be doubted that it strengthened the
natural bent of the Japanese toward the sympathetic and
passionate contemplation of the beauty of nature, for to
Zen the vibration of nature is in accord with the inmost
rhythm and vibration of man. Lao Tsŭ and Chuang Tsŭ
had known this, but had not systematized the knowledge
or experience as did the yoga-discipline of Zen. They
knew that belief in the false individuality of man must
be expelled by contact with the influences of nature, and
that on entering this experience he would recover the
lost unity which makes him a participator in all the forces
of the universe.

This is a secret which the western world has forgotten
in its urbanization. It must relearn it at great cost—or
lose it at greater. Our poets and the greatest of our
artists have known this for themselves if not for others.
Hear Keats, almost in the words of Chuang Tsŭ:

“The only way to strengthen one’s intellect is to make
up one’s mind about nothing. . . . Be passive and receptive. . . .
The poetic nature has no self. It is everything
and nothing. . . . A poet has no identity . . . he
is continually in and filling some other body.”

I myself should say that the nature of those who know
is impersonal as a sunbeam. It flits here and there, resting

alike on the fetid swamp and the purity of the flashing
waterfall. It dreams in the green gloom of the forest, is
radiant on the sparkling snow-peaks—the inhabitant, the
spirit of the universe, everywhere glad and at home.

In Japan Zen became a great philosophy for men of
high intellect and percipience, blending naturally with
the knightly austerity of the Japanese character. There
are many sects or, as I prefer to call them, angles of
Buddhist thought in Japan; the ethical Tendai, the mystic
Shingon, Jodo, and the other paradisiacal angles so
attractive to the masses; but Zen is, and probably will
remain, an influence upon the educated and intellectual
classes. It has a noble hardness, which appeals to the
luminous mind. The sentimentality that tends to sweeten
the developments of Buddhism otherwise and to crown
them with compassionate saints as intercessors is absent
there, for what is called “the Buddha consciousness” of
Zen is the same as the perception of the Formless world
taught by early Buddhist saints. It corresponds with the
higher states of consciousness now felt after by modern
science. The teachers of Zen in Europe will probably
be enlightened Japanese and those few men and women
of the West who—very far removed from the charlatans
and frauds that come from the mysterious Orient—have
themselves experienced something of its effects on the intellect
and the spirit.

It is not necessary to speak much individually of the
philosophy of Japan. What is ancient in her thought besides
her own Shinto is derived from India, the great
original mother of Asiatic philosophy. Of her acceptation
of western philosophies little need here be said. On
Shinto some words are necessary.

There is a singularity in Shinto, the state religion of
Japan, which renders it alien to the western mind. Despite
certain aspects of beauty and a Spartan element,
which did much to foster the knightly code of the
samurai, it is difficult for a European to connect it with

any ideas of a philosophy to be ranked beside the Vedantist
or Buddhist, the Confucian, Taoist, or any western
system. And yet it is impossible to leave it wholly out
of account. It is based on myth and nature-worship; and
it has resulted in a belief in myriads of spirits, male and
female, who inhabit not only natural objects but many
others. The name “Shinto” is Chinese and signifies “The
Way of the Spirits.” Its Japanese equivalent is “Kami
no Michi
” and these Kami are the indwelling spirits.

So far one might take it as a parable of natural forces,
as indeed it probably partly is; but its origin is lost in
obscurity for the reason that until the fifth century of our
era the Japanese had no writing, and all was handed
down by tradition and memory. At that time Japan received
the Chinese learning through Korea, and a book
dating from 712 a.d. is the earliest written informant on
these beliefs. It is said to have been taken down from
the lips of an old man, a famous reciter of the myths and
traditions. This, the Kojiki, is a storehouse of them.
The Nihongi which purports to be a fuller account, dates
from 720 a.d. And the greatest authority on the deeply
interesting ritual of Shinto is the Yengishiki, which gives
minute directions for it—a ritual still faithfully carried
out, though it cannot be denied that Buddhist influence
has crept into Shinto thought. This was unavoidable,
and many Japanese do not regret it. More than one
highly educated Japanese has told me that he is Confucian,
Buddhist, and Shintoist, and that the ideals do
not clash.

The fact that the emperor’s family traces back to the
sun goddess—formerly known as Amaterasu-Omi-Kami,
“the great god who illumines heaven,” known chiefly now
by the Chinese form of Tenshodaijin—and that many of
the nobler families are said to spring from the lesser gods,
is sufficient to account for the retention of Shinto as a
state religion, even if its antiquity and its purely Japanese
origin did not insure its position for patriotic reasons.

The Shinto temples have also a peculiar beauty, which
exercises influence both on art and character. An exquisiteness
of extreme simplicity and delicacy of purity
and cleanliness cannot but have a reflex action upon the
souls of those who worship.

The gods have mystic souls or “jewels,” dwelling invisibly
in the temples, and through them earth may have
audience of Heaven. These are known as mitama, and
in each great shrine the mitama is represented by a material
object known as the shintai or spirit-body. Sometimes
it is a mirror or a sword, such as are used at the
“coronation,” more exactly, the investiture, of the emperor
at Kyoto. Sometimes it may be a round stone. But
be the shintai what it may, it is only an earthly symbol of
the mysterious mitama, and the two must not be confounded.

The chief points of the Shinto faith are patriotism and
loyalty. There is little individual prayer, and the emperor
and his delegates are spokesmen (as in China) for
national needs. There is much propitiation, much
deprecation of the anger of the easily offended deities.
The dance is a part of the ritual, especially the pantomimic
dance with masks and music. There is much pilgrimage
to famous shrines.

As an ethic or philosophy what shall be said of it?
There is an ethic but it is based not so much on the
spiritual results to the offender as on the offense, physical
or spiritual, of impurity in the sight of the gods. With
death the Shinto gods have no concern. It is impure and
therefore outside their province. As in the Greek play
of Hippolytus the divine Artemis cannot approach her
devoted worshiper in his unjustly caused death agonies,
but “hangs a span’s length from the ground pollute,” so
with the Shinto Kami. Shinto funerals in Japan date
only from 1868. They did not concern the Kami.

Here is a specimen of an old Shinto prayer, slightly

If the high gods will bestow the latter harvest in
rice-ears many a hand’s breadth long and abundant,
produced by the labor of men from whose arms the
sweat drops down and on whose opposing thighs the
mud has gathered, I will fulfil their praises by
humbly offering a thousand first-fruits of ears, setting
up the jars of sake and setting in rows the bellies
of the sake-jars.

And I will present them plain sweet herbs and
bitter herbs of plants growing in the great moors;
and of dwellers in the blue sea-plain I will give
edible seaweed from the offing and seaweed from the
shore. Also blight stuffs and shining stuffs and
coarse stuffs. And with these I will fulfil your

Japanese who should know claim that the influence
of Shinto upon the national character has been wholly
good and that the kannushi (the Shinto priest) has played
his part satisfactorily in national life. They are not,
however, priests in any sense of the word recognized in
the West. They are appointed by the civil authorities.
They have no care of the people and, clad in nothing
priestly or symbolic but in an ancient court-habit, they
have only ritual as their duties. In Japan, as in China,
deep and reverent honor is paid to the spirits of dead
ancestors and relatives. In Japan this has been found a
great and noble binding influence in family life and therefore
in the national life spiritual and material.

But on the whole the cold austerity of Shinto produced
an atmosphere in Japan that required the Buddhist fire
to warm it, the Confucian ethic to animate it and make it
emotional. To Buddhism it owes its magnificent Noh
plays and the higher forms of art, and uncountable debts
besides. Japan would not be Japan without it. She accepted
all with avid hands. What the future of Shinto
may be who dares to prophesy? There have been many
Japanese philosophers, men whose writings breathe serenity,

tranquil wisdom, and a joy in nature and beauty intellectual
and spiritual. These will repay western readers
fully for any search they make; such writers as Kaibara
Ekken in his “Way of Contentment” and many others.
But this book concerns itself with sources, and Japanese
philosophy is so largely derivative that it requires treatment
from quite another point of view than mine.

It should, I think, be accepted more as literature and
literature of a very high order. It is deeply indebted to
Shinto also, but Shinto so interwoven with Buddhism and
Confucianism that the effect upon the mind is that of a
cord of three strands, each strand a different color yet
blending into a whole that forms a new and beautiful revelation
of color in itself.

It would never be surprising if the acute Japanese
mind brooding on the philosophies of East and West
should evolve new and startling applications and combinations
of all three, for the understanding of the world
of causes and that of appearances. Among nations Japan
is the great transmuter, and it may be well indeed for the
West that their circle has been opened for an oriental sister
bringing aptitudes new to us to bear upon the problems
of life and death.

I conclude this survey of Asiatic thought and thinkers
with the words of a distinguished Asiatic, Ananda
Coomaraswamy, for they sum up all philosophic aspiration:

“The chosen people of the future can be no nation, no
race, but an aristocracy of the whole world in whom the
vigor of European action will be united to the serenity of
Asiatic thought.”

That is the only hope I know of for the future of East
and West.

Chapter XXX


THE main streams of thought flowed from the heights
as the rivers Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, and
Jumna rise in the great northern mountains and, flowing
through, irrigate and fertilize the harvests of widely differing
countries. Will it be so with the thoughts I have
outlined in this book or will they remain only the sustenance
of Asia?

That, I think, cannot be. Europe, in which I include
America, has gone her own way, protesting that the
religion she derived from the nearer East was good
enough for her, and that she needed no light from outer
Asia. She little knew what was hidden by the ramparts
of the Himalayas and the boundaries of the great
passes. But she can scarcely have been said to have
found her own soul in the teachings of the Semitic peoples.
Will she return to what was in its undeveloped
stage the teaching of men of the same blood and spirit
as her own?

I cannot think that Europe will ever profess one of
the great Asiatic faiths in the sense of calling itself Vedantic
or Buddhist. Perhaps even in Asia such labels
will tend to disappear, because as time goes on the mind
of man will become more and more eclectic, assimilating
the best from all. But since the great faiths are bridges,
not barriers, I believe they will encourage the passage of
the thought of mankind across all the frontiers of faith.

In all such matters India must lead the world, for she

made spiritual exploration her chief preoccupation and,
knowing where others guessed, charted the ways. Now
that the narrow theology of the Jews is passing away, and
a new aspect of Christianity developing in the West, I
believe it will tend more and more to identify itself with
the great Vedantic teachings, and the utilitarian philosophies
of Europe will plume themselves with the wings
of the Himalayan eagles.

Spinoza, Blake, Nietzsche, and many more envisaged
the possibility of a race of supermen who should guide
the earth when the will-o’-the-wisps of democracy have
led the destinies of mankind into quagmires from which
they will be long in escaping. India has shown the very
different road by which these supermen may assume their
birthright, and I believe the West will realize steadily
if slowly that for philosophy, science, and social evolution—all
that concerns the daily life of man—there is
only one unshakable basis, and that divine—as the East
has taught, but scarcely practiced in its fulness.

This is prophecy, and those entrenched in their own
beliefs will laugh at the possibility. Even they, however,
may see in the outlines I have traced something grand,
shadowy, and immutable, like the peaks of mountains seen
in mist where the gods dwell above the thunder.

I write in Ceylon with all the thought of Asia surging
round me, and meeting the science and commerce of
the West like contending breakers. If either conquers
it will be a calamity for the world, for it is the hope of
the future that East and West may meet and mingle in
the brotherhood of the spirit, beside which outer forms
are as nothing. Each has much to conquer before that
day dawns. That its rising sun may not long be below
the horizon is the aspiration of all who know and love


Books Recommended


Indian Philosophy, S. Radhakrishnan

The Hindu View of Life, S. Radhakrishnan

The Philosophy of the Upanishads, S. Radhakrishnan

Lectures on Comparative Religion, Arthur A. Macdonel

The Religions of India, F. A. Barth

Raja Yoga, Swami Vivekananda

Jnana Yoga, Swami Vivekananda

Bhakti Yoga, Swami Vivekananda

Karma Yoga, Swami Vivekananda

The Science of Social Organization, Bhagavan Das

The Dance of Siva, Ananda Coomaraswamy

Art and Swadeshi, Ananda Coomaraswamy

Shankarachariya, Kashinath Triambuk Telang

The Bhagavad Gîta, Trans. Lionel Barnett

Cosmic Consciousness or Mukti, M. C. Nanjunda Row

The Saint Durgacharan Nag, Sarat Chandra Chakravati

Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Saradananda

Ancient India, H. Oldenberg

Outlines of Indian Philosophy, Paul Deussen

Philosophy of the Upanishads, Paul Deussen

India: What can it teach us? F. Max Müller

Six Systems of Indian Philosophy, F. Max Müller

Sanskrit Literature, F. Max Müller

The Wisdom of the Aryas, Allan Bennett

Aryan Rule in India, Ernest Binfield Havell

The World as Power (series), Sir John Woodruffe (Arthur Avalon)

Vaishnavite Reformers of India, T. Rajagopala Chariar

Select Works of Sri Shanchariya, Trans. S. Venkataramanan


Buddha, H. Oldenberg

The Creed of Buddha, Edmund Holmes

Buddhism: Its History and Literature, Thomas W. Rhys Davids

Buddhism, Caroline A. Rhys Davids

Buddhist Psychology, Caroline A. Rhys Davids

Karma and Reincarnation, Paul Yevtic

The Awakening of Faith, Ashvagosha, Trans. T. Richards

The Diamond Sutra, Trans. William Gemmell

Buddhist Stories, Paul Dahlke

The Gospel of Buddha and Buddhism, Ananda Coomaraswamy

The Soul of a People, Harold Fielding-Hall

The Inner Light, Harold Fielding-Hall

Anapana Sati (Meditation on mindfulness in regard to breathing), Cassius Pereira

Buddhist Records of the Western World, Trans. Samuel Beal

The Splendour of Asia, L. Adams Beck

The Dhammapada or Way of Truth, Bhikkhu Silacara

The Revelation of a New Truth in Zen Buddhism, D. T. Suzuki

Zen Buddhism in Relation to Art, Arthur Waley

The Christian Doctrine of Rebirth, W. Y. Evans-Wentz

Buddhist and Christian Gospels (Parallels), A. J. Edmunds and Masaharu Anesaki

The Tibetan Book of the Dead, W. Y. Evans-Wentz

The Buddhism of Tibet, L. A. Waddell

Three Years in Tibet, Ekai Kawaguchi


Religions of Ancient China, Herbert Giles

The Confucian Analects, Herbert Giles

The Great Learning, Herbert Giles

The Doctrine of the Mean, Herbert Giles

Chuang Tsŭ, Herbert Giles

The Chinese Classics, J. Legge

Texts of Confucianism, Trans. J. Legge

The Life and Works of Mencius, J. Legge

A Philosophy of Confucius, C. Y. Hsu

The Luminous Religion, Mrs. C. E. Cooling

The Tao Teh King, Trans. I. Mears

The Sayings of Lao Tsŭ, Trans. Lionel Giles

The Book of Odes, Trans. Launcelot A. Cramner-Byng

Handbook of Chinese Buddhism, E. J. Eitel

Chinese Buddhism, Joseph Edkins

The Sacred Wu Tai Shan, Emil Fischer


A Study of Shinto, Genchi Kato

Shinto, W. G. Aston

The Religion of the Samurai, Nukariya Kaiten

Systems of Buddhistic Thought, S. Yamakami

The Flight of the Dragon, Laurence Binyon

The Way of Contentment, Kaibara Ekken. Trans. Ken. Hoshimo

Women and Wisdom of Japan, S. Takaishi

Spirit of Japanese Art, Yone Noguchi

Lotuses of the Mahavana, Kenneth Saunders

The No Plays of Japan, Trans. Arthur Waley


Diwan of Hafiz, Trans. H. W. Clarke

The Secret Rose-Garden, Sa’d Ud Din Mahmud Shabistari. Trans. F. Lederer

Teachings of the Persian Mystics (Jalalu’d-din Rumi), F. Hadland Davis

Jami, F. Hadland Davis

Sa’dis Scroll of Wisdom, Shaikh Sa’di

The Ruba’iyat of Hafiz, L. A. Cramner-Byng

The Message of Zoroaster, A. S. N. Wadia

The Idea of Personality in Sufiism, Reynold A. Nicholson

Transcriber’s Notes

Obvious typographical errors have been silently corrected.

Variant spellings have been left unchanged.

On page 16, “wanders” was changed to “wonders” on the basis of the rest of the paragraph.

[The end of The Story of Oriental Philosophy by Elizabeth Louisa Moresby (as L. Adams Beck)]