The Forest Philosophy of India

A TRANSLATION of Deussen’s Philosophy of the Upanishads1 will be welcomed by all who have been familiar with this learned work in the original, and who hold it important that more accurate notions of the Orient be disseminated. As an analytic, and to a certain degree constructive, critic of Hindu philosophy, Professor Deussen is easily foremost among Western scholars. He has perceived more clearly than any one else the central position of that philosophy in the long struggle of the human spirit to come to its own; he has traced the development of ideas, from the early guesses of Vedic days down to the stupendous system of Çankara, in a masterly manner. It would be presumptuous in me to assume a knowledge of Indian thought, or of metaphysics generally, comparable to his; and it would be disingenuous to deny that what knowledge I possess is in part derived from the very book I am about to criticise. Nevertheless it seems worth while to look at his vast collection of material in a somewhat different light, at least to shift the emphasis in summing up our final impression of that Forest Philosophy, which, from the age of Alexander to the present, has been the periodic wonder of the world. When he comes to deal with the elaborate superstructure which Bâdarâyana and later (circa 750 A. D.) Çankara, the Doctor Angelicus of India, raised on the foundation of the Veda, I, for one, can only stand and admire. But it is just a question whether the ability, or, better, the predilection, which fitted him to write the System des Vedânta, did not in a measure unfit him to interpret the more naïve and unsystematic stammerings of the Upanishads. It may be a question whether the effect of his work on those earlier treatises is not — despite his own protests to the contrary — to convert into metaphysical dialectics what was at bottom a religious and thoroughly human experience.

The point is fundamental, and calls for insistence. There is a proposition in the Ethics of Spinoza (I, xi) to this effect: “God, or substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence, necessarily exists.” Which is as much as to say: The definition which I give of God includes existence, therefore it is absurd for me to deny that He exists. So, briefly, runs the famous ontological argument which in one form or another has wrought a kind of metaphysical insanity. A hundred times it has been exorcised, and a hundred times it has risen like an ill-laid ghost to trouble the brains of men. The great service of Kant professedly was to lay this phantom once for all, and to show that what exists in the reason does not necessarily exist in fact; but his heart failed him. As Heine says, no sooner did he destroy the old phantom of Deism with his critique of pure reason, than with the practical reason as with a magic wand he brought the corpse to life again. One thing is sure: before we can understand, though but dimly, the language of India’s sacred books, we must utterly abandon the lying dragoman of German metaphysics. Deussen himself is still bound in these shackles, and, with all his con tortions, cannot escape that first fatal step: “I think, therefore I am.” The very name, forest philosophers, shows how far they were from the lecture-room. There is in the earlier, and more genuine, Upanishads no articulated body of metaphysics, but rather the almost childlike gropings of the practical mystic to express in language the meaning of his inner life. Much of the older theology, much of the grotesque symbolism, remains, with not a little that is the mere hocus-pocus of magical words. And then, suddenly, out of this verbiage, there strikes up a phrase, a passage, that comes from the seldomspeaking recesses of the heart and carries the unmistakable accent of an ancient and profound national experience.

To grasp the force of these books we must go back to the time of the Vedas and store our memory with those earliest hymns of the Aryan race. There we shall find expressed the confused mythology of a people to whom the spectacle of nature was a divine wonder. More specially their hymns were shot through with the glories and terrors of the sky, — the splendor of the dawn spreading out her white garments over the darkness, the night dressing herself in beauty and gazing upon the earth with innumerable eyes, the clouds rolling out of the cavern of the horizon and huddling away into some far-off retreat, the fearful tumult of the Oriental tempest with its thunderbolts crashing through the curtain of gloom, the wind riding its loud-creaking chariot, and over all the motionless, divine, immeasurable circle of the highest heaven,—

There in his garment all of gold,
With jewels decked, sits Varuna,
And round about him sit his spies.

To the devout Hindu all this was a celestial drama of the gods. The dawn is a bride decked in her glistening marriage robes; wild horsemen ride through the sky; in the shadow of the storm Indra and the demon forever renew their tremendous duel. In the midst of these powers man felt his own supreme littleness. I do not know what the universal origin of sacrifice may be, whether from a desire to propitiate the gods, or to strike a bargain with them, or from some other primeval instinct; but in India in these days it should seem in its purest form to have been an effort of the human being to escape the fragility and isolation of his lot and to connect his life with the overwhelming activities of nature. Only so, indeed, can the symbolism of the ritual be understood. Every step in the sacrifice — the form of the altar, the kindling of the fire, the preparation of the victim, the hymns, the least attitude of the priest —was supposed to be the counterpart of the drama of nature and the gods. More particularly this is made evident by the double office of Agni (ignis, fire). It will have been observed that in all the phenomena of the sky the imagination of the Hindu was most impressed by the element of light and fire, whether in the alternations of night and day or in the flaming arrows of the tempest. Agni is the sun, the immortal energy of the gods, the giver of life and abundance, the terrible destroyer; he dwells aloft in the heavens, and is concealed in the vital sap of earthly plants. Here lay the hold of the priest. In the altar flame he not only reproduced the life of the gods, but by the force of analogy controlled the celestial phenomena. “Agni is light, light is Agni; ” and again, “The sun is light, light is the sun,” chanted the priest at the evening and morning service of the fire; and one of the sacrificial books says more especially, “When the priest in the morning before the rising of the sun makes his offering, he brings the sun to birth, and the sun, filling out his orb of light, rises in radiance. Of a truth he would not rise, should the priest fail to make this offering in the sacrificial fire.”2

We see in this strange symbolism of the sacrifice how gradually the worship and marvel of the world are subdued to the heart of man; it is a slow process of absorption, one might say, corresponding to the growth of introspection and selfknowledge. In this way only can we understand the hold of that prayer which for thousands of years has been in the mouth of every pious Hindu: " Tat Savitur varenyam,— May we by meditation win that desired glory of the Sun, of the divine one who shall inspire our prayers! ” At first, no doubt, this was nothing more than the customary plea for worldly honor and success, but with time its meaning, or intention, changed, and it came to express the hunger of the soul to feel within itself the fullness of the miracle of being. Agni, the material fire, becomes identified with brahma, the swelling and aspiration of the heart in prayer; and by a natural transition we pass to tapas, the heat and glow of devotion by asceticism.

We have thus the three periods of Hindu religion, represented by the early worship of wonder and fear, the symbolic assumption of divine powers in the ritual, and the relinquishing of the symbol for the self-sufficient life of the spirit. Our concern is more specially with this later step.

As the theory and practice of sacrifice became more complex, the tyranny of the Brahmins, or priests who alone could perform the rites, extended itself more and more over all the activities of man; and there sprang up about the ritual a peculiar priestly literature, the Brâhmanas. The world has seen nothing else quite comparable to the awful intricacies of that religion. It permeated life to the minutest recesses; it developed into a monstrous, inconceivable oppression, and yet it had also its beneficent side. It contained the basis of a vast discipline; teaching men to regard their selfish desires and interests as trivial in comparison with those religious acts which pointed, however crudely and viciously, to divine laws. Out of that priestly despotism the race might have come with blunted moral sense, spiritually debased and engrossed in superstition; and such an influence many people would regard as at work in India to-day, forgetting that political and racial subversions hardly permit us to reckon on a continuity of religious forces. Certainly, for a time, and on the more elastic spirits, this discipline induced a powerful reaction, which, as happens when the discipline is genuine, retained what was valuable in the older forms while induing them with new significance.

There had already sprung up under Brahminical rule the regular division of a man’s life into three stages, as student, householder, anchorite. From his twelfth to his twenty-fourth year (or for a more indefinite period) the young Brahmin was to dwell in the house of a teacher, serving him in menial offices and storing up in memory the vast body of sacred literature. After this his second duty was to marry and create a family of his own, and thus to carry on the inheritance of religion for himself and for others. But with the consciousness in the Hindu mind of a deep-seated discord between the demands of daily life and the growth in spiritual power, these duties of the householder and representative priest inevitably grew irksome in the end and called for a time of reparation. Hence, when a man’s sons were grown and ready to assume the traditional routine, when he beheld his sons’ sons about him, he was free to shake off the burden and retire for repose and inner recreation to the sacred places of the wilderness. Later, under the impulse of a doubtful asceticism, a fourth stage separated itself from this period of retreat. When the consummation was foreseen the hermit was to take up his staff and wander straight forward, begging his way, until death brought him release. This fourth regimen never obtained general acceptance; and, indeed, it is not to be supposed that so rigid an apportionment of life as was implied by the three stages became ever a universal practice. It was an ideal always, but an ideal, as both history and literature attest, that was realized by innumerable men and women.

The heart of the matter for us lies in the third period of forest life, which was in part a fulfillment of the priestly discipline, and very early in part also a means of escape from the intolerable religious routine. Nor must we suppose that for most of these eremites existence was excessively harsh or even lonely. A hut thrown up on the banks of some stream or lake, often on the picturesque slope of hill or mountain, gave all the shelter that was needed in that warm climate, and food was abundant and free. Often they dwelt in companies, under the guidance of some authoritative saint; and if we were to look for a comparison in the Western world we should go, not, perhaps, to the stern anchorites of the Thebais, but to the group of holy men who gathered about Port-Royal des Champs in the time of its purest and most untroubled enthusiasm. Only, there is a touch of Oriental richness in these Indian scenes not to be found in the neighborhood of Paris and Versailles. The drama and epic of India are filled with really charming pictures of the life of commingled society and solitude, such as is shown in this speech of an aged sanctified woman to the wife of Râma: —

But now the sun has sunk from sight,
And left the world to holy Night.
Hark! how the leafy thickets sound
With gathering birds that twitter round :
They sought their food by day, and all
Flock homeward when the shadows fall.
See, hither comes the hermit band,
Each with his pitcher in his hand:
Fresh from the bath, their locks are wet,
Their coats of bark are dripping yet.
Here saints their fires of worship tend,
And curling wreaths of smoke ascend:
Borne on the flames they mount above,
Dark as the brown wings of the dove.
The distant trees, though well-nigh bare,
Gloom thickened by the evening air,
And in the faint uncertain light
Shut the horizon from our sight.
The beasts that prowl in darkness rove
On every side about the grove,
And the tame deer, at ease reclined,
Their shelter near the altars find.
The night o’er all the sky is spread,
With lunar stars engarlanded,
And risen in his robes of light
The moon is beautifully bright.
Now to thy lord I bid thee go :
Thy pleasant tale has charmed me so :
One thing alone I needs must pray,
Before me first thyself array :
Here in thy heavenly raiment shine,
And glad, dear love, these eyes of mine.3

It was in fact no unusual thing for a man to take his wife, or even his children, with him into the forest; and in general one gets the impression that life among these colonies was more wholesome than in our own monasteries of the Middle Ages. Learned women, whether as inquirers or as disputants, played a sufficient part in that great religious drama; and one of these is celebrated in what is, perhaps, the oldest of the Upanishads.

“Yâjnavalkya had two wives, Maitreyi and Kâtyâyanî. Of these Maitreyî was interested in religious talk, but Kâtyâyanî possessed only woman’s knowledge. Now Yâjnavalkya was preparing to enter another stage of life, in the forest.

“ ‘Maitreyi,’ said he, ‘I am going away from this my house. Come then, let me make a settlement between Kâtyâyanî and thee.’

“Then said Maitreyî, ‘My Lord, were this whole earth mine with all its wealth, tell me, should I, or should I not, be made immortal thereby?’— ‘Not so,’ replied Yâjnavalkya; ‘like tbe life of the rich would thy life be. There is no hope of immortality through wealth.’

“And Maitreyî said, ‘What should I do with that which cannot make me immortal ? What my Lord surely knoweth, that tell thou me.’

“And Yâjnavalkya replied, ‘Thou wast indeed dear to me, but now even dearer. Therefore, if it please thee, Lady, I will explain this matter, and do thou mark well what I say.'

“And he said, ‘Verily, not for the love of husband is the husband dear; but for love of the Self the husband is dear. Verily, not for the love of wife is the wife dear; but for love of the Self the wife is dear. Verily, not for the love of sons are sons dear; but for love of the Self sons are dear. Verily, not for the love of wealth is wealth dear; but for love of the Self wealth is dear. . . . Verily, not for the love of gods are the gods dear; but for love of the Self the gods are dear.’” . . .

The doctrine is not easy, and it is not surprising that Maitreyî cries out, “Sir, thou hast utterly bewildered me, and I know not what to make of this Self.” Yâjnavalkya, we are told, went away into the forest. He was the oracle of many restless souls who were then wandering about in search of the secret knowledge. Of Maitreyî no more is said, but one imagines her going into the woods with her husband and talking with him interminably on these high themes. And one gets here a glimpse of the kind of questions that had come to disturb the religious peace of India. Especially when released from the heavy routine of observances, in the forest where the worshiper was permitted to substitute a mental devotion for all, or at least for the more burdensome part, of the ceremonial, he began to consider more closely the meaning of the elaborate servitude he had undergone, to ask himself what correspondence could be found between the outer and the inner reality, and the value of what he had outgrown. In this fermentation of thought it is natural that the Kshatriyas, or ruling caste, who had always been outside the secret of the ceremonial, should appear on the whole to have been the leaders of the friendly revolt, whereas the priestly caste of Brahmins, whose influence and very existence depended on the physical sacrifice, should have been the learners and followers. And the manner in which the new faith spread is sufficiently clear. Here and there to some lonely thinker the swathing bands of prescription fell away and exposed to his view the innermost core of his spiritual experience. He would give a name to this reality, a kind of catchword which passed from mouth to mouth, and inquirers, hearing the word and half understanding its meaning, would travel to the sage with their questions. It is evident that those who had attained enl ightenment expounded their vision only under precautions. If the questioner showed that something in his own life corresponded to the progress of the sage, if it appeared that the exposition of the secret word would be a reality to him, — neither a vain syllogism of the reason nor a pretext for contempt of duty, then in some metaphor or some quaint dialectic the teacher would lead him to trace back the steps of his own experience until he reached the innermost source of truth. Thus the doctrine was a rahasyam, a secret, an upanishad (for this is the real meaning of the word), which gradually spread itself among these forest-dwellers. After a while it was written down in books, not without large admixture of outworn mythologies and popular superstitions, and in this form was at last taken up by the more orthodox Brahmins into their ritualistic writings. As a secret doctrine these treatises were called Upanishads; as a portion of the literature designed for the forest life they were Aranyakas (aranya = forest); as forming the conclusion of the sacred canon they were the Vedânta, the VedaEnd (Veda = specifically the early collections of sacrificial hymns, generically the whole religious canon; anta = end).

In all this it cannot be too often repeated that a definite moral and spiritual experience is the true basis and reality, that the rationalizing theories come afterwards, that in a certain sense rationalism is a contradiction of what it undertakes to expound, and flourishes only when the reality has begun to fade away. In our own civilization we know that deism, or rationalism, was fundamentally a denial of the religion it sought to bolster up; and so in India the later syllogistic aphorisms of Bâdarâvana, through which Professor Deussen has approached the Upanishads, indicate the beginning of an inner petrifaction. Perhaps the surest way to avoid this fallacy of the reason would be to eschew the metaphysical path altogether. Instead of starting with a comparison of the transcendental unreality underlying the thought of Kant and Plato and the Vedânta, after the manner of our learned guide, one might look first for the truth of the Upanishads in the vivid consciousness of a dualism in human nature, and one might add — with some temerity, no doubt — that the degree of clearness with which this dualism has been perceived marks the depth of any religion or philosophy. Religion, one would say, was just the acceptance of this cleavage in our nature as a fact, despite the caviling of the intellect, together with a belief that the gulf may be bridged over by some effort of the will, by self-surrender to a power in one sense or another not ourselves. Philosophy is an attempt to explain away this dualism rationally, and literature, in its higher vocation at least, often asserts the same prerogative by virtue of the imagination. But in one way or another, by the fervor of acceptance, by the very vehemence of denial, by the earnestness of the endeavor to escape it, this dualism lies at the bottom of our inner life, and the spiritual history of the human race might be defined as the long writhing and posturing of the soul (I mean something more than the mere intellect, — the whole essential man, indeed) to conceal, or deny, or ridicule, or overcome, this cleft in its nature.

In pure religion this struggle arises most commonly from a conviction of sin. Man feels his own responsibility for the chasm in his nature, and this responsibility he symbolizes in a thousand ways, — in the fable of the fall, in the doctrine of universal depravity, in the terror of fetichism, in propitiatory rites, in the whole structure of mythology, we may say. The story of Gethsemane clothes it in its most beautiful and most tragic garb. It matters little whether we adopt the mythological explanation and say that Jesus actually bore through his divine humiliation the sins of the world, or whether, more rationalistically, we say that he was weighed down with sympathy for the universal curse of evil; those prayers beneath the olive trees in the silence and loneliness of night, that agony and bloody sweat, are witnesses to the consciousness in one great soul of the division in man and of the need to attain to atonement by sacrificing one half of our nature. That acceptance of pain was the tapas, or asceticism, of the Indian sages, the inner heat or fire, as the word signifies, which was to burn away the body of despair. It is not fashionable in these days to preach the gospel of suffering, we choose rather the anaesthesia of brotherly love; but still at the bottom of Christianity, rising to the surface with every serious stirring of the religious sense, is this consciousness of sin, and that resurgent cry of the Christ, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death;” with its echo in the mouth of his greatest disciple, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

The inevitable tendency of religion has been to project this dualism of consciousness into the supersensible realm and to create a mythology, the near example for us being the divine drama of the Incarnation or, more picturesquely, the conception of heaven and hell. To those whose inner consciousness has been dulled by the routine of the world some such appeal to the imagination is no doubt indispensable, and it would be well if theology could pause here and not proceed to apologetic theorizing. Practically all the ruinous battles of the Church have been fought over the attempt, inevitably futile in the end, to define this mythology in terms of the reason. Arianism tried to explain away the seeming — rather, the real — unreason of the dual nature of Christ; Augustine’s attack on Pelagianism was for the sake of maintaining the sharp division between Grace and man’s fallen will; Luther’s justification by faith argued a complete breach between the natural and the redeemed man; the war of Jansenism and Jesuitism, the last stand of pure Christianity, was but a repetition of the dispute between Augustine and Pelagius. Unfortunately, the reason, when once awakened to its powers, finds itself in jeopardy from its own theological creation, and, like another Cronos, devours its offspring. Heaven and hell are swept away; the religious sense, which has become atrophied through dependence on this myth, seems to fail altogether, and we have the state which, with various eddies of revolt, has prevailed since the deistic movement of the eighteenth century, — a blustering denial of man’s uneasiness and an organized effort to drown that feeling in social sympathy.

Of the endeavor of philosophy to reconcile this dualism little need be said, because in its purest metaphysical form it contains an element palpably self-destructive. Whereas religion veils the reality of human experience in an eternal allegory, metaphysics would explain this experience away. Religion would escape the dilemma of dualism by sacrificing one of its terms; metaphysics denies the existence of a second term. Hence the endless logomachy of the two schools of philosophy, Protean in their change of forms, but always radically opposed to each other as reason champions one or the other side. For whether the resultant theory is that of Parmenides or of Heraclitus, whether it be realism or nominalism, the pantheism of Spinoza or the deism of Locke, some bubble of neoHegelianism or babble of pragmatism,— the process is always the same: it is the reason denying one term of our dual nature and magnifying the other into an hypothesis of universal being. And the answer is always and to either school the same: the facts of experience do not coincide with the demand of reason for unity.

When we turn from religion and philosophy to literature this dualism becomes in the nature of the case more obscure; yet to one who looks closely it will still be found to underlie just those passages of the poets which appeal most insistently to the deeper strata of our sensibilities. It may even be used — though with extreme caution — as a test to discriminate the higher from the lower realm of artistic intuition. Certainly, if one will examine the celestial machinery of two such epics as Paradise Lost and the Æneid, this difference will fairly strike the eyes. Read Milton’s dialogue in heaven which follows the magnificent apostrophe to light: —

To whom the great Creator thus replied :
O Son, in whom my soul hath chief delight,
Son of my bosom, Son who art alone
My word, my wisdom, and effectual might,
All hast thou spoken as my thoughts are, all
As my eternal purpose hath decreed.

Is it not sufficiently evident throughout these passages that the poet’s rationalism has prevented him from distinguishing between the mystery of divinity and the mere planning and providing faculties of man? His deity is thus neither completely anthropomorphic nor mystically superhuman, and there is something repellent and illogical in the whole substratum of the poem. Turn then to the lines in the beginning of the Æneid from which Milton borrowed his scene:—

Olli subridens hominum sator atque deorum
Voltu, quo cæum tempestatesque serenat,
Oscula libavit natæ, dehinc talia fatur :
Parce metu, Cytherea, manent inmota tuorum
Fata tibi: cernes urbem et promissa Lavini
Mœnia, sublimemque feres ad sidera cæli
Magnauimum Tnean; neque me sententia vertit.
Hie tibi — fahor enirn, quando hsec te cura remordet,
Longius et volvens fatorum arcana movebo. . . .
[The father of men and gods, smiling upon
his daughter with that countenance beneath
which sky and weather grow serene, kissed her
lightly and thus spoke : Fear not, Cytlierea;
unmoved remain the fates of those thou lovest.
. . . For, since I behold thy anxiety, I will
speak at length and unroll before thee the
secret things of the fates.]

At first it might appear that Virgil, as he is here even more frankly anthropomorphic than Milton, so moves on a lower plane. But look closer, and the inference is turned quite the other way about. Because Virgil recognizes the great cleft between the divine and the human,— or, if you will, the divine and the natural in the human, —he sees the futility of trying to personify God by segregating from man’s nature one such faculty as the reason; he knows that the movers of the world, the rerum causa;, can be interpreted to the imagination only through symbols completely human and finite, and his gods are but men with all their passions on a larger scale. Far beyond the gods and their meddling lie, dimly adumbrated, the inmota fata, the secret things of destiny. And this deeper intuition affects not only the celestial machinery of the Æneid, but its whole texture and language. With all the exaltation of Milton’s style it must be admitted that his work contains nothing corresponding to the Latin poet’s sudden glimpses into the abyss in such lines as the Venit summa dies, or the repeated Requies ea certa laborum. With all the luminous beauty spread over Milton’s Paradise, there is nothing which quite takes the place of Virgil’s Tacitœ per amica silentia lunœ, wherein the stillness of that desired rest, the stillness of the unmoved fates, seems almost to be made visible in the nocturnal heavens.

Nor need we turn to these great creations of the imagination and reason to observe the law of dualism. We all of us have felt the painful paradox of mutability; all of us, looking at the world at large and at human activities, have wavered between the conception of endless ungoverned motion as the only reality and the thought of some invisible power sitting motionless at the centre; and then, turning within ourselves, have perceived that this antinomy is caused by, or corresponds to, a like division there. So we are forever driven on by restlessness; yet which of us, now and then, amid this daily storming of desires that run out after ephemeral things, has not said in thought, as Michael Angelo said in fact, “ Beat a l’alma, ove non corre tempo; happy the soul where time no longer courses”? And, piercing still further into consciousness, we resolve that contrast into a warfare between an impetuous personal self-will and that will to refrain which is the submission to a deeper self.

Here is no room for pantheism; and no word is apt to give a falser impression of the early Indian philosophy than the term “monism” which is so glibly applied to it. For what in the end is pantheism, or monism ? It is either a vague and lax state of reverie, or, if pronounced as a consistent theory of existence, a barren hybrid between religion and philosophy with no correspondence in emotional or rational truth. To say flatly that God is all, and that there is nothing but God, is simply a negation of all we know and feel; it is the prôton pseudos of metaphysical religion. Now, it cannot be said too often that the Upanishads are essentially the groping of many minds after the truth, and not a systematized philosophy. Consequently, as each aspect of the truth appears, it is magnified without reference to what has preceded or what may follow, and each text must be interpreted by the drift and consensus of the whole. From the nature of this search and from the goal in view, many passages might seem to express the crudest pantheism; but always, if we look more attentively, the way leads, not into that blind abyss, but quite otherwhere. Because the end to be attained is so high and great, it is said to contain within itself all lesser things: “He who has seen, heard, comprehended, and known the Self, by him is this whole world known.” And a stanza in the same Upanishad begins: —

This shall a man know in his mind,
That nothing here is manifold.

Pantheism and monism could not apparently be stated more explicitly; and yet in fact nothing is further from the writer’s thought. The conclusion of the stanza points to the correct interpretation: —

From death to death he ever goes,
Who sees the world as manifold.

The intention is not to deny the independence of phenomenal existence, but to withdraw the mind from dwelling therein; to contrast in the strongest terms the worldly and the spiritual life, the lower and the higher path: “Out of the unreal lead me to the real; Out of darkness lead me to light; Out of death lead me to deathlessness.”

But if the lesson of the Upanishads is incompatible with that false hybrid between religion and philosophy, it is still further removed from a mechanical balancing of soul and body, spirit and matter, such as was later taught by philosophy, the Sânkhya, or by Manichæism, which, in somewhat attenuated form, was infiltered into Christianity through Saint Augustine. Rather this effort to pass from the unreal to the real takes the form of a progressive contemplation of the world and of man himself from an ever higher point of view. The rumor was spread abroad that certain of these eremites of the forest had discovered the secret of the world and of man, and the names of Brahma and Atman ran from mouth to mouth. What is the meaning of these mystic formulae? Who has heard and can impart the truth ? The answer comes almost always in a dialogue which carries the mind of the inquirer upward step by step, ending often, like the dialectic of Plato, in a parable.

“ Gârgya, the son of Balâkâ, was a Brahmin, proud of his learning. Said he to Ajâtaçatru, the King of Kâçî, ‘Shall I tell you about Brahma?’ — ‘For such a lesson,’ replied Ajâtaçatru, ‘I would pay a thousand cows.’ . . .

“ Gârgya said, ‘ The person in the sun, him I adore as Brahma.’ Ajâtaçatru said, ‘Speak not to me of him! I adore him already as the supreme, the head of all beings, the king.’ — Verily, whoever adores him thus, becomes supreme, the head of all beings, the king.

“Gârgya said, ‘The person in the moon, him I adore as Brahma.’ Ajâtaçatru said, ‘Speak not to me of him! I adore him already as the great one clad in white raiment, as King Soma’ [the sacrificial juice, sacred to the moon]. — Verily, whoever adores him thus, Soma is poured out and poured forth for him day by day, and his food does not fail.

“ Gargya said, ‘ The person in the lightning, him I adore as Brahma.’ Ajâtaçatru said, ‘Speak not to me of him! I adore him already as the luminous.’ — Verily, whoever adores him thus, becomes luminous, and his children after him become luminous.”

So the argument progresses, haltingly indeed, through the conception of Brahma, as ether, space, the reflection in a mirror, life, even death; until in the end all the arrows of the boastful Gârgya are shot and he is reduced to silence. “Then said Ajâtaçatru, ‘ Thus far only ? ’ — ‘Thus far only,’ he replied.— ‘This does not suffice to know it,’ said Ajaâaçatru.— ‘Nay, let me come to thee as learner,’ said Gârgya. — And Ajâtaçatru answered, ‘It is unnatural that a Brahmin should come to a Kshatriyan to learn about Brahma; yet will I teach thee.’ So saying, he took him by the hand and arose. And the two came to a man who was asleep.”

The process when applied to the inner nature of man is much the same, and the result not different. Yâjnavalkya we have seen preparing to go out into the woods, and discussing with his wife the incomparable value of self-knowledge above all worldly possessions. He is indeed one of the fabulous possessors of the secret, to whom many traveled for enlightenment, and from whom some departed as wise as they came. One too inquisitive woman, who pressed him with question after question, until only the revelation of Brahma remained, he silenced abruptly: “Do not ask too much, or your head will burst!” Another inquirer, Janaka, King of the Videhas, he would have put off, had he not been bound by a former promise. And so Janaka questions him about the secret: —

“Yâjnavalkya,” lie said, “what is the light of man? ’— “The sun, O King, " he replied; “ for by the light of the sun he sits and moves about, does his work and returns.”— “So it is, O Yâjnavalkya.V

“But when the sun has set, O Yâjnavalkya, what is then the light of man ? ”— “The moon is then his light; for by the light of the moon he sits and moves about, does his work and returns.”—“So it is, O Yâjnavalkya.”

“But, O Yâjnavalkya, when the sun has set, and the moon has set, what is the light of man ?” — “ Fire is then his light; for bv the light of fire he sits and goes about, does his work and returns.” — “So it is, O Yajnavalkya.”

“But, O Yajnavalkya, when the sun has set, and the moon has set, and the fire has gone out, what is then the light of man?” — “Speech is then his light; for by the light of speech he sits and moves about, does his work and returns. Therefore, O King, when one cannot see one’s own hand, yet when a voice is heard, one goes toward it.” — “ So it is, O Yâjnavalkya. ”

“But, O Yâjnavalkya, when the sun has set, and the moon has set, and the fire has gone out, and no speech is heard, what is then the light of man?” — “The Self [Atman] is then his light; for by the light of the Self he sits and moves about, does his work and returns.”

“What is this Self?”

One feels almost as if an apology were necessary for offering such naïve conversations as examples of a world-famed philosophy; and indeed, only after long reading of these sacred books, when the grotesque and infantile imagery has lost its strangeness to us, do we begin to feel the uplift in this endless seeking after the truth, the sense of expansion and freedom as the mind is carried again and again toward that goal of the infinite Brahma and the infinite Self. The excitement is never quite lost in this pursuit, the surprise never quite dulled when suddenly, in the end, comes the revelation that the infinite we grope after in the world without and within is one and the same, that Brahma and Atman are identical. “In the highest golden sheath there is the Brahma, without passions and without parts. That is pure, that is the light of lights, that is it which they know who know the Self. The sun does not shine there, nor the moon and the stars, nor these lightnings, nor yet this earthly fire.” It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of this discovery, made so many years ago in the forests of India, that the eternal and infinite expectation of the soul is not to be sought in submission to an incomprehensible and inhuman force impelling the world, nor yet in obedience to a personal God, but is already within us awaiting revelation, is in fact our very Self of Self. The thought, as it comes down to us from those ancient sages, may sound strange to our ears, yet at bottom it is only what in a small way we each of us feel and know as the refuge from the vexations of daily life. Nay, it increases with the magnitude of our actions. It is the calm of the victorious general as he directs the storm of battle: —

’T was then great Marlbro’s mighty soul was proved,
That, in the shock of changing hosts unmoved,
Amidst confusion, horror, and despair,
Examin’d all the dreadful scenes of war;
In peaceful thought the field of death survey’d.

It guides the patriot to self-surrender, and above all it is the rapture of the martyr who in death finds his higher life. The gist of the matter is in the words of Christ, or of the Gnostic who spoke for him to Christianity: “I and my father are one.”“And,” as Sir Thomas Browne wrote in his grandiloquent manner, “if any have been so happy as truly to understand Christian annihilation, ecstasies, exsolution, liquefaction, transformation, the kiss of the spouse, gustation of God, and ingression into the divine shadow, they have already had an handsome anticipation of heaven; the glory of the world is surely over, and the earth in ashes unto them.”

But, whereas in Christianity this present and entire identification of the human soul with God is sporadic and never quite free of theological coloring, in India it is constant and absolute. Tat tvam asi, that art thou, is the formula in which it is summed up and reiterated without end. — “That subtle spirit at the heart of all this world, that is the reality, that is the Self, that art thou.” And the imagination of these early philosophers exhausts itself in the effort to figure this mystic Brahma, or Atman, in terms of the understanding. We have seen how Ajâtaçatru, to explain the nature of Brahma, at last leads his interlocutor to a man who was asleep; and in the same way Yâjnavalkya, when pressed by Janaka to define the Self, can only point to the state of deep sleep in which the spirit of man transcends this world and all the forms of death. In another Upanishad Indra comes again and again to Prajâpati as a pupil to learn the nature of this Self which even to the gods is a mystery. At last the teacher says: —

“ ’When a man is in deep sleep and at perfect rest, so that he dreams not, that is the Self, the deathless, the fearless, that is Brahma.’ — Then Indra went away satisfied in his heart. But before he had got back to the gods, this difficulty occurred to him: ‘Alas, a man in that state has no knowledge of himself; he knows not that I am I, nor does he know anything that exists. He is gone to utter annihilation. I see no profit therein.’

“ So, with fuel in his hand [the regular fee to a teacher], he came once more as a pupil. And Prajâpati said to him, ‘O Indra, you went away satisfied in your heart; why now do you come back?’— ‘Sir’ he replied, ‘in that state a man has no knowledge of himself; he knows not that I am I, nor does he know anything that exists. He is gone to utter annihilation. I see no profit therein.'

“ ‘ So it is, Indra,’ said Prajâpati; ‘ now, I will explain the Self to you further, but only through this same state. Live with me other five years.’”

What puzzled Indra may well give a Western reader pause, and, in sooth, Prajâpati does not help matters in his further elucidation. We know the stages by which the mind is brought to the brink of this truth, but at the last there remains the great inevitable leap from reason to unreason. Spinoza, the typical philosopher, sought to bridge that chasm by conceiving from any finite effect an infinite series of finite causes back to the infinite cause. But that is merely to throw dust in the eyes; prolong the series as you will, at the last comes the unavoidable break. And the Hindus recognized fully this impossibility of defining the infinite in finite terms. “He, the Self,” cries Yajnavalkya at the close of one of his discussions with Janaka, “He, the Self, can only be expressed by no, no! He is incomprehensible, for he cannot be comprehended; undecaying, for he cannot decay; unattached, for he does not. attach himself; he is unfettered, untroubled, unhurt.” And then, passing from the insufficiency of metaphysical theory to the reality of religious experience, the teacher adds, “And thou, O Janaka, hast attained unto peace!” We are constantly in danger of being misled by the later use of the term jnâna (gnôsis, knowledge) to express this attainment of spiritual emancipation. “Knowledge” may be a propaedeutic thereto, but “knowledge” in any ordinary sense of the word the last stage certainly is not; for how, as the books themselves say, can the infinite Knower himself be known? The first step toward a proper understanding of the Hindu forest philosophy must be a tearing down of the whole scaffolding of modern intellectualism. Hume, though for an end of his own, struck at the heart of the matter when he wrote, “ What peculiar privilege has this little agitation of the brain, which we call thought, that we must thus make it the model of the universe ? ”

And none the less must we be on guard against the Gefükhphilosophie, the feeling-philosophy, which forms the Romantic complement to German metaphysics. Nothing could be farther from the virile faith of the ancient Hindus than that vague emotionalism, freed from all reason and morality, of Schleiermacher’s religion, which “as a holy music should accompany all the actions of a man.” How that heilige Musik sang in Schleiermacher’s own life may be gathered from his complaisance over the imbecile indecencies of his friend Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde. What it meant to Goethe may be read in that scene where Faust makes his confession of pantheism to Gretchen: “Fill thy heart with this mystery, however great it be; and when thou art wholly blessed in the feeling, call it then what thou wilt, name it Fortune, Heart, Love, God! I have no name therefor! Feeling is all (Gefühl ist Alles).” And that feeling ? But turn the page and Faust is discovered employing it for the seduction of a simple, trusting girl.4

No, the faith of the Vedânta is neither intellectualism nor emotionalism; it springs neither from the libido sciendi nor from the libido sentiendi. The temptation that came to the forest hermits, strange as it may sound, was rather the lust of power. It was a fixed belief among them that through severe and long-continued asceticism a man by acquiring mastery over himself might attain to supernatural ascendency over the world and the gods; and the stories of these willful saints form the dark side to Indian legendary life. Even Râvana, the personification of evil in the Epic Râmâyana,had raised himself to his terrible preeminence by austerities. But, normally, the forest life was only the last stage of a dicipline that was begun with the Brahmin’s birth; and the practice of asceticism, if indulged in at all, was for the confirming within him of that will to refrain by which, and by which alone, a man may acquire dominion over himself, subduing the lower to the higher nature. Again and again it is said that only he who is tranquil, self-restrained, self-denying, patient, and collected, can enter into the possession of Brahma; and all this is the discipline of tapas, by which the obstructions on the path are burned a way. We know that path, and the guides of knowledge and self-control that conduct us on the way, but who shall name to us the last step ?

“The Self is not found out by study, nor by the understanding, nor by much learning. To whomsoever it listeth, the Self becomes manifest, and to him it belongeth,”

To whomsoever it listeth. If we wish to find any parallel in the Western world for this last mystery of faith, we must go back to Saint Augustine’s theory of Free Grace or to the attempt of Jansenius to restore that hard doctrine. The discipline and preparation for the divine gift were pretty much the same for Brahmin and for Christian: to both salvation came in the end as an ineffable transition or transformation in which his natural human faculties took no part. Only there was this profound difference. In the Christian this change was effected by the arbitrary beneficence of a being who, as it were, rapt him out of himself. The Hindu, strictly speaking, knew no God, and needed no mythology; emancipation came to him when the illusion of his lower self fell away and left him to his true Self, alone with that alone. Brahma and Atman were one.

Thus the dualism of the Vedânta was in the man himself; discipline and preparation there might be, but in the end it perceived an irreconcilable gulf fixed between the infinite Self and the finite personality. And as the mind dwelt on one of these terms, the other inevitably lost in comparison its reality; the world was divided into the real and the unreal, the true and the false, the blissful and the sorrowful, the known and the unknown. Hence arose that doctrine of Mâyâ, illusion, as applied to the whole realm of phenomenal existence, which has led many to read in the Upanishads a philosophy of monistic pantheism. The true interpretation involves the subtlest and least understood process of Oriental thought. There was not for the Hindu (as there has never been for human intelligence) any means by which the reason could pass from the finite to the infinite and explain one in terms of the other. Our attitude toward the rational relation of these two must always be one of confessed ignorance. Therefore, if one of these states of consciousness is a reality to us, is, so to speak, known (that is, experienced), the other must at that time be an unreality, must be unknown. As we face in one direction, we must turn our back on the other. Thus the very endeavor of the forest philosopher to realize the higher Self within him meant that his lower self and its home in the phenomenal world, became an unreality. He transferred our ignorance of the relation between the infinite and the finite to the finite itself. For him the world existed thus only through ignorance; ignorance was the cause of the world’s existence; and as he attained knowledge by putting away ignorance the world ceased for him to exist. Such is the nature of the doctrine of vidyâ (knowledge) and avidyâ (nonknowledge) which formed the basis of Hindu philosophy. It differs from Western metaphysics in its frank acceptance of the dualism of human experience and of man’s inability to reconcile that dualism through the reason.

In after times the sense of this dualism weighed on the Hindu mind like the oppression of a frightful nightmare, and we not seldom find him sinking into a state of pessimism similar to that which Schopenhauer portrayed to Europe as the essence of the Upanishads. He could not throw off the weariness of ceaseless change and of unresting desires; he was haunted with a vision of the soul passing through innumerable existences, forever whirled about with the wheel of mutation, forever seeking and never finding peace; and from that weltering sea he reached out toward salvation with a kind of pathetic despair: —

O World ! I faint in this thy multitude
Of little things and their relentless feud;
No meaning have I found through all my days
In their fantastic maze.
O World ! still through the hours of blissful night
The widowed moon her benison of light
Outpoureth, where the sacred river seems
From heaven to bear sweet dreams.
How soon, O World, beside the Gangâ shore,
Through the long silent night shall I implore
The mystic name ? how soon in Gangâ’s wave
My sin-stained body lave ?

But in the books of the older philosophers there is little of this morbid yearning, no touch of fierce pessimism. Indeed, the illusion and mutability of life are seldom mentioned, however they may lie as a background to the brighter picture. The substance of those books is the great and indomitable zest of a strong people groping for the light; and through the seeking and the questioning there breaks now and then the supreme joy of one who has found and knows what he has found. “Brahma is joy and knowledge,” said the teacher whose name we have met most frequently in this excursion into the forests of India.

Packed in my mind lie all the clothes
Which outward nature wears,
And in its fashion’s hourly change
It all things else repairs.”
“Einem gelang es, —er hob den Schleier der Göttin
von Sais,
Aber was sah er ? — er sah — Wunder des Wundera ;
sich selbst; ” —
“ Dine hunc ardorem mentibus addunt,
Euryale, an sua cuique deus fit dira cupido ?”
  1. The Philosophy of the Upani shads. By PAUL DEUSSEN. Authorized English translation by Rev. A. S. Geden. Imported by Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. 1906. This forms in the original the second volume of Professor Deussen’s Allgemeine Geschichte der Philosophie. Other works by him dealing with India are: Das System des Vedanta, Die Sûtras des Vedânta, and Sechzig Upanishad’s des Veda.
  2. Thoreau, in the fields about Concord, said something very similar: “ Day would not dawn if it were not for
  3. The quotations from the Râmâyana are from the excellent version by R. T. H. Griffith, which might well be rendered more accessible to English readers. In quoting from the Upanishads I have made my own translation, using Max Müller’s as a basis, but with the original text and Deussen’s Sechsig Upanishad’s before my eye.
  4. It may seem that unnecessary weight is laid on this contrast between the Upanishads and metaphysical Romanticism. But two things must be remembered. In the first place our own “higher” religion to-day, whether we call it Ritschlianism or what not, comes to us in direct descent from Fichte, Schelling, Sehleiermacher, and the other Romanticists of Germany who dissolved the philosophy of J. J. Rousseau into a cloud of mystifying words. And in the second place our conception of ancient India, as an element of universal culture, comes to us from the same source. When we read in Novalis the oft-quoted sentence : “Naehlnnen geht der geheimnissvolle Weg; in uns oder nirgends ist die Ewigkeit mit ihren Welten, die Vergangenheit und Zukunft; ” when we read his mystical couplet:
  5. it might seem as if the wisdom of Yâjnavalkya were to be caught from the lips of a modern poet. Alas, nothing is more deceptive than the human heart, nothing more elusive than these high words of mysticism ! One needs but a little acquaintance with the lives and writings of the Schlegels, et id genus omne, to know how far apart India and modern Europe lie. The transcendental Tch of Fichte and the Fichtians turns out in practice to he not the Atman at all, but a mere mummery of what we know as egotism, an unwholesome exaggeration of the desiring and suffering personality.
  6. In a word the whole aim of Romanticism was to magnify the sense of individuality to a state of morbid excess, wherein the finite and infinite should he dissolved together in formless reverie; “ Erkennen und Begehren soll nicht zwei in mir sein, sondern Eins,” said Scbleiermacher, and this union was to be found in emotional self-contemplation. The Vedânta sought through the discipline of knowledge and self-restraint to put away these purely individual desires and emotions altogether, and so to distinguish between the two selves. The disentangling of the genuine Vedânta from its Romantic associations is thus as imperative as it is difficult. Deussen, a professed disciple of Schopenhauer, has not lightened the task. And it must be confessed that the publications of modern Hindus in the Vedânta Society and elsewhere only increase the confusion. We hear the old words, but they have acquired a new emotional coloring. India, also, in more recent years has passed through its period of Romanticism.