Sacred Texts  Buddhism  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Way to Nirvana, by L. de la Vallée Poussin, [1917], at

p. 1



I. Religions and disciplines of salvation. II. Old Āryan beliefs, the dead, gods, sacrifice. III. Brahman speculation, theology, ritualism, 're-death,' ātman.


General definitions are always somewhat misleading and give rise to discussion. But some definition of the title of these lectures is necessary. 'Buddhism as a discipline of salvation' is to be contrasted with 'Buddhism as a religion.'

There are and there have been in India, since the beginning, a number of religions, religions properly so called. They present an endless variety; they often differ essentially one from another; they belong to distinct types of civilisation. But, although some are polytheistic, some monotheistic, and a larger number tinged with pantheism; although some are pagan, dishonest, superstitious and magical, and some lofty and pure in every respect, some logical and cold, and some mystical and passionate,—all of them

p. 2

nevertheless come under the concept of religion as this word is generally understood by modern students of religious history. Whatever be their diversity, all were 'made' to meet, and they do meet in some manner, the needs of Man living in society, needs supernatural, moral and secular, needs individual and social. They teach a superhuman power, whatever be the nature and the dignity of this power; they explain the duties of Man towards it, or, more uncompromisingly, the right modus vivendi of Man with it; they have prayers or formulas, sacrifices, sacraments. They are concerned with the welfare of the dead, and also with personal welfare in this life; they have devices and ceremonies for the work and the anxieties of everyday life, for illnesses and for sins, which are often another kind of illness. They teach a general rule of conduct, and penetrate the Law of family or of tribe, for there is no clear and constant distinction between profane and sacred things.

Although the religions of India are usually quite Indian, quite Hindu, parallels are to be found to each of them outside India. Hindu is the word we use to emphasize the special and composite character of the Indian civilisation.

There is no Sanskrit word which covers the

p. 3

whole field of beliefs and practices that the word 'religion' suggests. But if we examine the many words which convey a religious meaning, yajña, 'sacrifice,' magical to some extent, pūjā, 'worship,' often idolatrous, bhakti, 'devotion,' dharma, moral and social rule, 'law' and virtue, we see that, while Indian 'sacrifice,' 'cult,' 'devotion,' 'law,' are quite Hindu, and are unlike the Semitic sacrifice, the Egyptian cults, the Christian love of God, the Roman jus majorum, they are nevertheless simply human (humain tout court) as far as their leading motive and their 'philosophy' are concerned.

For instance, the gods and the rites of the Vedic religion are quite Hindu; they differ largely from the Iranian types, not to mention the other religions of the Ancient World. Nevertheless Vedism is clearly a branch of the Indo-European tradition; it is akin to all naturalistic and patriarchal beliefs the world over, while it is contaminated to a no small extent with the common fancies of the old and always living paganism.


Side by side with the religions properly so called, there arose in India from about the seventh century B.C.—to last for many centuries, attracting thousands of adherents and exercising a strong influence on the Indian religions—a

p. 4

number of 'disciplines' with a special character of their own.

They cannot be exactly described either as philosophies or as religions. We have to see what name is the right name for them.

They are 'disciplines,' that is bodies of doctrines and practices, together with a rule of life, aiming at a practical end,—the Indian word is mārga, 'path,' or yāna, 'vehicle,'—and, from this point of view, they are something more than philosophies, theories, or scholasticisms. But it is doubtful whether they can be styled 'religions.'

In contrast with religions, the disciplines are made for ascetics, for ascetics only. Further they are purely personal or individualistic, that is they do not care for one's neighbour or for the dead. They are unsocial and often antisocial: they deprecate and often prohibit marriage. As a rule, they originate sects or orders and it may be churches, but such social formations are not essential to them: even in Buddhism, where the Master and the Church are all important, a belief exists that, in the days to come, when the Master is forgotten, the Church dissolved and Buddhism extinct, there will arise, from time to time, 'individual saints' (pratyekabuddha) who will be, by themselves, perfect Buddhists, living

p. 5

alone in the wilderness, like a rhinoceros, without companions or pupils.

Another feature of the disciplines is that they are not concerned with mundane ends at all. The Buddhist teaching is clear to this effect: any action which aims at any advantage whatever in the present life, is bad.

These two characters may be found in some institutions of the West. There are, for instance, Christian sects or orders which are practically unconcerned with social and mundane interests;—and so far the Indian Paths could be described as 'individualist transcendent religions.' But they present a third character, in respect of which all non-Indian parallels prove inadequate, except the Sūfis, the best instance of a sect of Indian spirit outside India—a third character, in respect of which our western nomenclature is deficient.

Either the Indian ascetic does not believe in God; or, when he believes in God, he says, as the outspoken Sūfi or as Spinoza: "There is nothing but God. I am God." But the attitude of the Indian ascetic is not the attitude of the western philosopher, a Lucretius or a modern monist. For he has beliefs of his own, foreign to his occidental brothers. To put it shortly, he believes in transmigration and transmigration

p. 6

he dreads. His positivist or monist philosophy is therefore combined with a discipline, a Path, for he has to save himself, to liberate himself from transmigration.

Man migrates from existence to existence, driven by the wind of his actions: there must be a Path to deliverance from rebirth and death. This Path must be a certain knowledge or esoteric wisdom, or a certain sacrifice, or a certain asceticism, or a certain ecstatic meditation.


It is difficult to state accurately the position of prayer or worship and of morality in the disciplines.

Prayer or worship is never an essential part of the path. But it happens that an ascetic—for instance the Buddhist of the Mahāyāna school—believes that gods or divinised saints may help him towards the path, or even in climbing along the first slopes of the path: prayer and worship are, in such a case, useful or even necessary, but they have to be given up once the ascetic has somewhat advanced.

As concerns morality, no discipline admits that an immoral man can reach the path: a purgative process is deemed necessary 1. But all disciplines are fond of stating that a saint is beyond merit and demerit, good deed and sin: no merit can accrue to him; no sin can soil him. In Mahāyāna Buddhism, active morality, gifts, self-sacrifice for the welfare of one's neighbour, are an essential part of the path. A saint is by definition

p. 7

a 'giver,' a 'compassionate': but his gifts are to be 'perfumed' with the knowledge of the transcendent truth that in reality there is no giver, no gift, no receiver (see below p. 781.


By this Path, through this Ford (tīrtha), the ascetic will cross the ocean of transmigration, as well as the worlds of the gods or paradises. The ascetic believes in such worlds—for he is not a sceptic, he willingly admits the whole of the traditional or popular mythology—but he despises them; he despises, as a philosopher would say, every contingent' existence; he aims at something that is beyond the worlds, that is 'hypercosmical' (to translate the Buddhist idiom, lokottara), a mysterious somewhere, a somewhere that is eternal and 'free from sorrow,' and which is called sometimes 'deliverance' (mokṣa, mukti, apavarga), sometimes happiness' (nirvṛti, naiḥśreyasa), sometimes Nirvāṇa, that is 'refreshment' or 'peace.'

Such are the common features of these thoroughly Hindu institutions. In many respects, they are widely different one from another. Some are monist, pantheist or mystical (Upaniṣads, Vedānta, Yoga); some purposely atheist and rationalist (Jainism, Buddhism, Sāṃkhya). But

p. 8

they are sisters born from the same parents, namely disgust with life and love of mystery. If they do not agree concerning deliverance and the path to deliverance, they all pursue deliverance. The right name for them seems to be 'disciplines of salvation' or 'paths to deliverance 1.'


The time of Śākyamuni was an epoch of spiritual effervescence. Brahmans taught new doctrines. There were discussions and ideological tournaments. Scores of ascetics claimed to be discoverers of the Path, literally 'ford-makers,' who had found a ford across transmigration, or they claimed to be buddhas, that is 'awakened,' 'enlightened.' There was a large following for the leaders: people complained that, by their lessons and their example, "they caused the fathers to beget no sons, the wives to become widows and the families to die out." So large was the number of the candidates for deliverance: noblemen, merchants and treasurers, the jeunesse dorée, priests and men of priestly parentage, women, girls and wives and widows of good family, members of low caste or outcasts, Cāpā,

p. 9

the daughter of a deer-stalker, Puṇnā and Puṇṇikā, slave girls. And there was no resistance to whatever the supreme interest of deliverance could demand. Some—especially the Brahmans—preferred a solitary life in the forest; some formed groups of wandering mendicants. All abandoned the most sacred traditions, sacrifices, and the cult of the dead. All accepted the most stringent rule of life. To quote an extreme case, the disciple of the Jina practises a strict abstinence, and fears even to disturb the vermin; he objects to hot water and to hot meals, because the caldron harms the spirit of fire: such is his respect for life; he destroys his sins by extraordinary penances; finally, he starves himself to obtain salvation. Nothing can be too hard in the Path, if only the Path leads to the end.

This time was an epoch of exaltation, of serious and sagacious exaltation.

We know the story of two noble and fervent young men, Śāriputra, the future philosopher of Buddhism, and Maudgalyāyana, the future thaumaturge 1. They had given their word to each other: "He who first discovers the Path to immortality shall tell the other." Their good

p. 10

luck led them to the great man for whom the common name or adjective, buddha, enlightened, has become a proper name, to Śākyamuni, the originator of the most celebrated among the Indian Paths of salvation.

We shall follow in their steps and respectfully hear the doctrine to which they clung. If, with the best will in the world, we cannot accept this doctrine, it is none the less worth considering.

But before becoming the disciples of Śākyamuni, it is necessary to study the origin of the ideas on which Buddhism—as well as the other disciplines of salvation—is built; and this inquiry will be our task for the present.


The disciplines of salvation arose from about the eighth to the sixth century B.C., in the middle and upper valley of the Ganges. At this time and in this place, there had been already a long and intimate intercourse between the two elements of the Hindu population.

On the one hand, were the aborigines, concerning whom we lack any direct information. It has been usual to assume that all the elements of the later Hindu civilisation which are not Āryan, or do not look Āryan, are due to their influence.

p. 11

[paragraph continues] However this may be, modern inquiry as to the non-hinduized populations of India has been fruitful. For instance we know that the aborigines, as is the case with many savages, believed in reincarnations; they explained conception by the descent of some disincarnated spirit who had previously inhabited a human or an animal body or even a tree.

On the other hand, the Āryas, the Indo-European invaders of India, who, after settling in North West India, had in time reached the valley of the Ganges, bringing with them their language—which had already split up into dialects—their Book or Bible, the Veda, and their own civilisation, which was every day modified owing to an evolution due to manifold factors.

We are to study some aspects of this evolution, taking as our starting point the Āryan beliefs.


The Ārya is a member of a strongly organized body, the family of men in close relations with the gods, especially with the eternal domestic fire, and with the dead.

The whole fabric of domestic and social life is built on the beliefs concerning the dead. The

p. 12

destiny of the dead depends strictly on the services rendered to them by their descendants in the male line, born in legitimate wedlock and properly initiated into the religious rites of the family. Hence a strict obligation to marry, not only to ensure a man's personal happiness after death, but also that of his ancestors. Hence too a strict obligation to pass through a series of ceremonies of a sacramental character which affect the whole of a man's life from conception to initiation—with a period of study in the house of a preceptor—from marriage to death. No one is entitled to fulfil the funeral rites, the fortnightly banquets and the daily offerings for the dead, if he is not a member of the religious body. No one can hope for happiness after death if the rites are not properly performed for him at his death and in the ages to come by a member of this body.

Such were the conditions of welfare after death according to the oldest ideas of our race.


Superstitions connected with the belief that the dead are living in the grave, depending for this shadowy life on the offering poured on the grave, are not abolished in the Vedic civilisation. The general view is nevertheless an

p. 13

altogether hopeful one. The dead, who are called the Fathers, do not envy the living as did Achilles.

Some of them are now gods. The first of the mortals, Yama, "who first went over the great mountains and spied out a path for many, who found us a way of which we shall not be frustrated," Yama the King sits under a tree with Varuṇa the righteous god. The Fathers are gathered around him, drinking nectar, enjoying the libations of the living, enjoying also—and this point is worthy of notice—their own pious works, their sacrifices and their gifts, especially their gifts to the priests 1.

The abode of the Fathers is an immortal, unending world: "There make me immortal," says the Vedic poet, "where exist delight, joy, rejoicing, and joyance, where wishes are obtained." It is not a spiritual paradise. Whatever poetical descriptions we may find, 'supreme luminous regions, middle sky, third heaven, lap of the red dawns,' the pleasures of the Fathers are essentially mundane ones: rivers of mead, milk and waters, pools of butter with banks of honey, also Apsarases or celestial damsels.

The dead were happy; their life was worthy

p. 14

to be lived. The men of these old Āryan days might have said what the philosophers said later: "Man has three births: he is born from his mother, reborn in the person of his son, and he finds his highest birth in death."

While the ascetic—the learned ascetic—does not expect anything from the gods or fear anything from the demons, with the old Āryas happiness in this life depends on the goodwill of the gods and the deprecation of malignant spirits. A. Barth said eloquently 1: "The connexion between man and the gods is conceived as a very close one. Always and everywhere he feels that he is in their hands and that all his movements are under their eye. They are masters close at hand, who exact tasks of him and to whom he owes constant homage. He must be humble, for he is weak and they are strong; he must be sincere towards them, for they cannot be deceived. Nay, he knows that they in turn do not deceive, and that they have a right to require his confidence as a friend, a brother, a father. . . . Sacrifice is often an act of affection and gratitude towards the gods, through which man acknowledges their sovereignty, renders thanks to

p. 15

them for their benefits and hopes to obtain others in the future either in this life or after death."

The Vedic gods, except in a few instances, are not regarded as 'transcendent'; to a certain extent, they depend on man. As the dead are fed by funeral oblations, so the gods need sacrificial oblations. A. Barth continues: "In the grossest sense, sacrifice is a mere bargain. Man needs things which the god possesses, such as rain, light, warmth and health, while the god is hungry and seeks offerings from man; there is giving and receiving on both sides: 'As at a stipulated price, let us exchange force and vigour, O Indra! Give me and I shall give thee; bring me, and I shall bring thee.'"


Malignant spirits, if not in the Rigveda itself, at least in the Vedic religion, are no less important than the gods. All the movements of daily life as well as all the ceremonies of religion are to be made safe from their attacks. Illnesses and mishaps of every description are their work. Therefore they must be propitiated, and it is an old formula that "every supernatural being (yakṣa) has a right to his own offering."

p. 16


Such were the fundamental ideas of the Āryan religion and life. The Ārya, without being δεισιδαιμονέστερος, did love and respect his gods; he used meat and even cow's flesh; he sacrificed to obtain male offspring and a life of a hundred autumns; he hoped after death to join the Fathers and to enjoy, with them, the offerings of his sons. Life is serene, joyful, active, not in any way spiritual or intellectual.

One sees how radical a change was necessary for asceticism and the disciplines of salvation to be possible. The inborn feelings of the Āryas had to be destroyed to make room for an altogether different conception of life and human destiny.

What were the causes of this change? They certainly were many and manifold.

To begin with, we must not forget that the Sanskrit-speaking people, the priestly and feudal aristocracy who created the disciplines of salvation, were no longer of unmixed Āryan race, as the old poets of the Veda, but a mixture of Āryas and of the aborigines. Oldenberg has laid much stress on this fact: we should not venture, in our present state of knowledge, to base too much upon it. But it is certain that the 'intellectual

p. 17

[paragraph continues] Āryas, at the time of the compilation of the Rigveda and later on, did not see and feel as their ancestors did. They had acquired, as A. Barth says, "a love of mystery, an extreme subtlety of mind, a fearlessness of inconsequences and absurdities," together with the sérieux, the disinterestedness and the strength of mystical research that are, through history, such prominent marks of the Hindu mind.

On the other hand, this aristocracy was likely to borrow from the aborigines, and from the mass of the Āryan people in daily contact with the aborigines, many superstitions or beliefs—confused notions connected with penance, ecstasy, reincarnations—as well as the principle of ahiṃsā, 'respect for life'; a sort of cult of the cow; new gods, obscene and cruel; phallic worship; idolatry, and so on. Such notions, it is certain they borrowed: this can be proved in many cases.

But however profound and large the influence of new ethnic and climatic surroundings, the Sanskrit-speaking people, especially the Brahmans, were the heirs and the faithful preservers of the Āryan tradition and mind. The notions they borrowed were at once elaborated into rationalistic and fairly coherent doctrines. That

p. 18

again may be proved in many cases, and we shall quote an instance which is of special interest for us. The belief in reincarnations was a purely savage surmise, liable to be organized into what is called totemism, an unprogressive and absurd paganism, and no more: to be sure of it, we have only to open the books of Tylor or Durckheim. Brahmans and Buddhists borrowed this belief, which was altogether new to the Āryan tradition; but they found no difficulty in adapting it either to the dogma of the reward of good and evil deeds, or to a monism as rigid as that of the Eleatic school.

The change we are studying is, to a large extent, not a revolution, but an evolution; and the safest way to understand it is perhaps to describe it as an autonomous alteration of the genuine Āryan beliefs and notions. The Brahmans, endowed with an equal genius for conservation and adaptation, were the workers of the change.


A word on the Brahmans and their probable origin.

The old rites of the family, offerings to the domestic fire, had, in the beginning and for a long time, no professional priest. The father and the mother were the priests at their fire 1. But a certain ritual, which is as old as the period when the ancestors of the Iranians and of the Vedic Indians lived together, the ritual of

p. 19

[paragraph continues] Soma-Haoma, had from of old a clergy of its own. And, by a slow progress, the members of certain clans, better provided than others with technical knowledge in formulas and in rites, became the masters of the altar and the acknowledged intermediaries between gods and men. They were the ancestors of the Brahmans.


The Brahmans were, by profession, busied with gods, sacrifice, and ritual. After a time, before even the Rigveda was compiled, they became philosophers and they made many striking discoveries. Four are worthy of notice.

1. The most ancient, if not the most important: the traditional gods are not the self-existent and individual beings whom the poets of old praised so ardently.

Each of them had long been credited with the features and the characteristic powers of his colleagues—the so-called 'henotheism,' which is not, as Max Müller said, a stage in the making of the gods, but, on the contrary, a stage towards their disintegration.

Polytheism pure and simple was not crushed, and it remains as living in the India of to-day as it was thirty centuries ago; but another theology crept behind and below it, and was admitted, first among thinkers, then by the great public, as an esoteric and more scientific view of the universe.

p. 20

The gods, the gods we know, are not real gods. Who then is the true god, the unknown god? The texts permit us to trace different lines in the development of the theological inquiry.

We meet sometimes in the Veda lofty expressions of a moral monotheism,—and, throughout history, they are re-echoed from time to time. Varuṇa, for instance, is more than once a sort of Jehovah of the Far East: he has established the sun and made a path for it; it is in accordance with his order or his rule that the moon and the stars go their changeless course; he loves truth and hates iniquity; he pardons the sinner who repents. But there is no evidence that this monotheism is a product of philosophical speculation; we are inclined to think that it is rather the spontaneous expression of religious feeling, a devotion rather than a doctrine. As a matter of fact, the theology of the later Veda tends to become a pallid deism, coupled with pantheistic tendencies which become stronger as time goes on.

The true god is a generator, an architect of the cosmos, as were the majority of the old gods, each in his turn ('henotheism'). But the changes in the divine nomenclature show the evolution

p. 21

of the philosophical thought. Instead of Agni, the omnipresent but visible fire, or Indra, holder of the thunderbolt, or Varuṇa, 'who is the ocean and is contained in a drop of water,' the Vedic poets now prefer new names, Prajāpati, the Lord of creatures, Viśvakarman, the fabricator of the universe, the great Asura or Great Spirit, Svayambhū, the self-existing Being, Parameṣṭhin, the Supreme.

Little personality is attached to these gods, who have no history as Indra or Heracles has, and who are not 'natural gods' as the Fire or the Sky. While the old gods, the gods of the sacrifice, the heavenly heroes endowed with cosmical powers, les dieux à biographie, fade before them, they themselves appear as mere shadows of a more abstruse reality, or rather as the mere names of an impersonal anonymous force, a universal principle.

"The gods are only one single Being under different names,"

ekaṃ sad viprā bahudhā vadanti.

Is this Being a god or a force? Is the universe born from a principle possessed of name and form (sat), or from a liquid and undifferentiated mass (asat)? Did the gods come first and the universe afterwards? The poet professes to

p. 22

ignore the right answer: "The god that is above knows it, or he does not know"; but the real thought of the poet is not doubtful: the primeval force is styled Heat, Order, Truth, Waters, Golden Germ (first born of the Waters), Kāma or Desire, the starting point in the evolution of being, Kāla or Time, creator and destroyer, or, with a name which is destined to have a marvellous fortune, Brahman.

Brahman is a new god, but an old word: it meant prayer or sacred formula. How did the word acquire a new meaning of this kind? Because the sacred formula came to be regarded as the great creative power.

2. While speculation on the gods and on cosmogony leads to the substitution, for the divine heroes of yore, of abstract and obscure forces, the speculation on sacrifice leads to a like result.

Victor Henry is inclined to believe that the Indo-Iranian sacrifice of Soma-Haoma, from which the Vedic sacrifice of Soma is derived, was originally a magical rite for rain. This view is only a conjecture. But two points seem to be ascertained. (1) While magical notions are always lurking in old rituals, the oldest theologians of the Veda—the authors of the Hymns—

p. 23

saw in the sacrifice of Soma more than a mere act of oblation: "To sacrifice is to stir up, actually to beget, two divinities of first rank, the two principles of life par excellence, Agni, the Fire, and Soma, the Oblation 1." (2) On the other hand, the magical conception of sacrifice was, for a long time and to a large extent, checked by the lofty idea the Āryan had of his gods. Later on this conception underwent an enormous development in the circle of the professional sacrificers.

Indians—sorcerers, priests, philosophers or poets—are not a little ambitious: ils voient grand. The Vedic priests ventured to think that their hymns, formulae and rites were, not only the invigorating power that helps the gods in the struggle for light and waters, but "the condition even of the normal course of things." Sacrifice prevents the world from lapsing into chaos. Further, if sacrifice is the actual cosmical agency, it must probably at the beginning have been the cosmogonical factor. It was by sacrifice that the gods delivered the world from chaos; it was by sacrifice that the gods became immortal, and why should not Man also become immortal by sacrifice?

p. 24

Sacrifice to whom? To no one. Rites and formulae are, in themselves, efficient.

In short, the universe was conceived as a huge ritual, the quintessence of which is the Veda, the eternal and productive Word. Vāc, the Voice, is praised in some passages as another Logos, but this Logos is magical sound, not reason.

3. The fading away of the living gods, the rise of pantheistic gods, the mechanical conception of a cosmic sacrifice,—all these transformations of the old ideology went hand in hand with another and possibly more important transformation. The beliefs concerning the destiny of Man were utterly modified. The Vedic Indians discovered—step by step—the doctrine of transmigration (saṃsāra).

How they made this discovery, that the Fathers die in the heaven whither they have been brought by funeral ceremonies, that the dead are reborn as men or as animals, that animals may be reborn as men—how they came to accept these ideas which were as foreign to their ancestors and to their sacred folk-lore as they are to us—is a long history 1. It is the history of a radical change in mental and

p. 25

moral habits. We shall only point out some of the doctrinal factors that seem to have been decisive.

The starting point is the admission of the 're-death' (punarmṛtyu) of the dead. Death was deemed no less powerful a force than Desire or Time. There is a multiplicity of deadly forces which pursue Man everywhere, some in the worlds on this side, some in the worlds beyond. Therefore the dead, although they are made half-divine, die again.

On the other hand, the philosophers, who dared to inquire into the origin of the gods and the universe, could not be long satisfied with the traditional eschatology. Could they admit that the Fathers possess, for ever, a perfect happiness, enjoying every pleasure of a magnified human life? "Whatever Man attains, he desires to go beyond it; if he should reach heaven itself, he would desire to go beyond it." An eternal paradise of Mahomet or a Walhalla seems unlikely to a philosophical mind; it would be, in any case, an altogether wrong paradise, as says Andrew Lang, for philosophers.

4. The speculation, which has in this way dispelled or abandoned the hope of immortality, cannot stop at this conclusion. It is everywhere

p. 26

the rōle of philosophy to destroy natural beliefs, and to rebuild them according to some new pattern. This second task of a philosophy the Vedic philosophy did not fail to fulfil.

Psychology began. The following distinction was made.

There is, on the one hand, the body with the vital energies that seem in a closer relation with the body, and which savages often explain by a number of souls. There is, on the other hand, the truly living principle (jīva) that constitutes the true self of Man. This principle, which is an entity, really a 'noumenon,' is called either puruṣa, 'man,' 'spirit,' or ātman, etymologically 'breath' (?), literally 'Self,' the reflexive pronoun and the noun.

The puruṣa or ātman is eternal. It has inhabited various bodies and is destined to inhabit new ones; but its natural aim is to reach an eternal, changeless abode; free from any created or generated body, it will live by itself, either conscious or unconscious, either formless or wrapped in a form of its own, according to the preferences of the philosophers. There have been many diverging conceptions of the Self.

But the solution, which is by far the most

p. 27

popular among the Brahmans, is to identify the Self with the universal god then in process of discovery, with Brahman.

The inquiry as to the gods and the universe has shown that the true god is a nameless, universal agent, the self or breath of the world. Therefore the god who blows in the wind and shines in the sun is the same principle that breathes through the human mouth and keeps the living body warm. The universal self is the true self of Man, as it is the life and the essence of Nature: "It directs the eye and the ear; it is the ear of the ear, the mind of the mind, the breath of the breath, the speech of the speech, the eye of the eye." "This Breath (ātman) is the guardian of the world, the Lord of the world: he is my Self."

Such an admission: "I am that Being," "I am Brahman," was a bold and a decisive move. In short, that was the great discovery which has remained for at least twenty-five centuries the capital and the most cherished truth of the Indian people. It is much more than an academical theory.


There is only one Self, for the self of man is not a creation, an emanation or a part of the

p. 28

[paragraph continues] Self of the universe: it is this very Self. "The unique and indivisible Self is immortal, happy, unqualified, unconscious; but he animates the body, he becomes, as it were, man. As such he experiences pain and desire, he accumulates merit and demerit, he migrates from existence to existence, always unhappy because he is always a prey to ever recurring death,—and without any hope of deliverance, as long as he does not withdraw himself from the not Self. But as soon as the individualized Self has acquired the perfect immediate certainty that he is the universal Self, he no longer experiences doubt, desire or suffering. He still acts, as the wheel of the potter continues to revolve when the potter has ceased to turn it. Death, at last, abolishes what no longer exists for him, the last appearance of duality 1."

That is perfect bliss,—which we sometimes experience in dreamless sleep, when the Self is withdrawn from not Self,—and unconsciousness: for, "where there is a duality, one can see the other, one can smell the other, one can address the other, one can hear the other, one can think of the other, one can grasp the other. But where for each everything has turned into his

p. 29

own self, by whom and whom shall he see, smell, address, hear, think or grasp 1?"


That the doctrines of transmigration, of the Self, of the merging of the individual self in the great self, were antagonistic to the traditional beliefs in the gods, the sacrifice, the paradises, and aimed directly at the destruction of the whole fabric of social life, is self-evident.

The times were ripe for asceticism and the disciplines of deliverance to arise.


6:1 "As a clean cloth free from stain duly takes the dye, so in Yasa, the noble youth, arose a pure, unstained insight into the doctrine."

7:1 An exposé of this intricate doctrine may be found in Hastings, E.R.E., see 'Bodhisattva,' 'Mahāyāna,' 'Nihilism.'

8:1 On the notion of deliverance, see Mrs Rhys Davids’ article 'Mokṣa,' in Hastings, E.R.E. viii, pp. 770-774.

9:1 See Rhys Davids’ article on 'Moggallāna,' Hastings, E.R.E. viii, p. 769.

13:1 Oldenberg (tr. V. Henry), Religion du Véda, pp. 453, 457.

14:1 Religions of India, p. 35 foll.

18:1 P. Oltramare, Le rōle du Yajamāna dans le sacrifice.

23:1 Barth, Religions, loc. cit.

24:1 See A. M. Boyer, 'Étude sur l’origine de la doctrine du Saṃsāra,' J. As. 1901, 1, p. 451.

28:1 A. Barth, Religions of India, p. 78. See below, p. 161.

29:1 Bṛhadāsaṇyaka, II, 4, 13; compare iv, 3, 23.

Next: Chapter II. The Buddhist Soul