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with the most extraordinary good fortune, are opposed such as only form a chain of endless tortures, as in the animal world. Why should nature not do on a grand scale, what we see every day occurring on a small scale? Why, in short, should not extremes of existence exist, extending in the direction of happiness as well as in that of unhappiness? Of course, the extreme in the direction of untainted happiness, such as is said to be found within the heavens, we easily agree with; but in any case, this much is clear, that if there are heavens, according to the law of polarisation there must also be states of the opposite extreme, designated as hells, in whatever form we choose to picture these states. Therefore, whoso does not want to miss a heaven, must also reckon with a hell.
Therewith we come to the second objection, to wit, that the supposition that man can fall back into such depths is absurd. But there is nothing at all absurd here, at the most only something may be contrary to our will. This means that against this possibility nothing at all may be adduced from the standpoint of reason and experience, but that the only thing opposed to it is our will, thirsting for wellbeing, and, as it always does, falsifying insight in this case also. Because human will abhors a form of existence "consisting only of suffering," such as the view of a reappearance in a hell, or in animal form insinuates, therefore man simply shuts his eyes to all such eventualities, trying to persuade himself that such things cannot be. But what can be and what cannot be, is not decided by our will, but by the laws dominating the world; and it has always been fatal to truth when, faced by it, people have attempted to adopt the standpoint: Sic volo, sic jubeo: stat pro ratione voluntas.
This influence of will in the investigation of truth is often to be found concealed behind even the most "scientific" theories. Especially is it concealed within the theory of
“evolution" with which the possibility of a relapse of man into lower realms of existence is thought to be refuted. Because man perceives in nature a progressive development in the forms of life, and because it thus pleases his will, he rashly infers an unlimited development of his own species, though nature teaches him by clear evidence that there is no such development: every evolution being, as hinted above, only the first half of a process, namely, of becoming, the second half of which must always bring about decay and, at last, the complete collapse of the thing that seemed at first to develop. This is a law that holds good for the greatest as well as for the smallest things. But when, by and by, man gains the insight that the unlimited development of a species is an illusion, then he at last transfers the realization of the thought of evolution to the single individual, rather than believe in the purposelessness of his striving and of his volition. He imagines a metaphysical goal to be set up for the individual beyond the realm of transitoriness, and thinks that the individual ripens more and more towards this goal until this is actually reached, either in death, or at least after a series of existences following each other, as a traveller on foot comes nearer to his goal with every step he takes, even if he does not notice it.* If the thought of evolution is formulated thus, then it comes near to truth in as much as man looks for the centre of gravity within himself and no longer in the species, in harmony with his own inner nature which is only able to regard itself as the centre of the whole world and thereby as the object of all its endeavours. But even daily experience ought to tell us that progressive evolution does not take place here either. Of course we have to bear in mind that evolution is only to be taken as a purification
* This conception is not at all a production of modern times, as the Buddha had already to refute it. Majjh. Nik. I, p. 518.
of character; that is to say, moral evolution is to be attained, since it is a question not of a physical, but of a metaphysical goal. But how little of such evolution is to be found! Do we not rather almost as a rule perceive just the opposite of it? Is life not serving in general to develop selfishness, the opposite of moral purification, in every direction? How very few men are there who at the end of their life are free from qualms of conscience, this sole measure of all moral progress, and thereby feel within themselves the immediate certainty that they really have made moral progress and may die in peace and full of trust without being in need to pacify their minds artificially by an imagined external forgiving of sins through a priest, or through the belief in a god forgiving sins! So here is no development either; nay, many men in the course of their life are sinking through their instincts and inclinations down to the level of beasts, or even reach such a degree of bestiality as even beasts do not descend to, for which reason the decent section of their fellow-countrymen do their utmost to keep them at a distance as much as possible, the state even enforcing their actual exclusion from human society. Is it absurd, if eternal justice, inexorably at work, in the moment of death, when alone a new settlement in a corresponding environment is possible, actually undertakes this settlement, sending the being there where it belongs according to its entire character, and where the dispositions peculiar to it are not regarded at all as unnatural, but as quite natural and proper, that is, sending it to the animal realm or even to a hell, to balance at the same time all the misery it has caused? Certainly not for ever, for everything in the world, in Samsara, has an end, the stay in the animal world, or in hell, also.
This hypothesis, which besides does justice to the idea of the unity of all life, in as much as according to it, animal
as well as devil have the prospect somewhere and some time of coming up again and attaining human existence, truly seems much more in accordance with reality than that evolution-idea, according to which everything happens so nicely in agreement with our will, that one cannot help suspectin gthat here once more the wish is father to the thought. Certainly, from this point of view a truly horrible prospect opens before us in the future: we are not by a "law of evolution" born onward and upward to ever purer regions, but as through times long past, so also now, and through all future time, we wander through the gruesome abysses of existence. And in view of the endless number of the rebirths still in store for us the possibility, even the certainty exists, that we ourselves may sink down to the deepest of those abysses, to the animal-world and to the hell-worlds, thus into states of greatest misery, so that we might experience for ourselves the truth of the words of Facob Boehme: "If all the mountains were books, and all the lakes ink, and all the trees pens, still they would not suffice to depict all the misery.'
But is it the fault of the Buddha, of the Christ, of all the men of sanctity to whom a glimpse into these abysses has been granted, that by some incomprehensible fatality we are involved in such a world? Are they bound to be wrong, merely because we because we cannot believe in such a dreadful situation, like a child who cannot believe that the beautiful flowers it is gathering are growing above an abyss hidden precisely by them, and on that account finally itself must tumble into this abyss?
But if our stay in the world is of this sort, if wheresoever we may look, in the infinitudes of space and time, ultimately we only see suffering, often only suffering for immeasurable time, then even the most inveterate "optimist" will certainly not venture to doubt the first of the four excellent truths
that all life at bottom is suffering. Rather will he be unable to do otherwise than concede the truth of these other words of the Master also: "The whole world is devoured by flames, the whole world is enshrouded in smoke, the whole world is on fire, the whole world is trembling.” And so, full of expectation, he will listen to the further message how he may escape this world of suffering for ever. But this problem presupposes for its solution before all else the elucidation of the relation in which we stand to our everchanging personalities during the round of rebirth* and therewith to the world itself. Therefore we will now turn to the consideration of this relation, the more so, as it forms the bridge to immediate insight into the endless round of rebirth of which we have been treating above.
THE SUBJECT OF SUFFERING
am: that is the most certain axiom there is. It belongs to those axioms that are evident in themselves without any proof. Indeed, it holds good before every proof; for whatever I want to prove, that "I" want to prove, and to prove for Myself. This axiom is more certain than all perception, which, in general, is the most reliable criterion of truth we have. For every perception is effected through me, and therefore already presupposes me as the perceiving subject. I may be in doubt as to what I am; I may even doubt if I really "am," that is, I may doubt if the definition of my essence can and may be undertaken by means of the idea of being that is itself only gained through perception. I may even prove irrefutably that "I" is indeed nothing but a mere
* Personality is to be understood in the sense given above, as the totality of the five groups of grasping, be it in the form of a human, or of an animal, or of any other organism.