ON THE SOURCE OF THE HUMAN SOUL
ENQUIRER. How, then, do you account for man being endowed with a Spirit and Soul? Whence these?
THEOSOPHIST. From the Universal Soul. Certainly not bestowed by a personal God. Whence the moist element in the jelly-fish? From the Ocean which surrounds it, in which it lives and breathes and has its being, and whither it returns when dissolved.
ENQUIRER. So you reject the teaching that Soul is given, or breathed into man, by God?
THEOSOPHIST. We are obliged to. The “Soul” spoken of in ch. ii. of Genesis (v. 7) is, as therein stated, the “living Soul” or Nephesh (the vital, animal soul) with which God (we say “nature” and immutable law)endows man like every animal. Is not at all the thinking soul or mind; least of all is it the immortal Spirit.
ENQUIRER. Well, let us put it otherwise: is it God who endows man with a human rational Soul and immortal Spirit?
THEOSOPHIST. Again, in the way you put the question, we must object to it. Since we believe in no personal God, how can we believe that he endows man with anything? But granting, for the sake of argument, a God who takes upon himself the risk of creating a new Soul for every new-born baby, all that can be said is that such a God can hardly be regarded as himself endowed with any wisdom or prevision. Certain other difficulties and the impossibility of reconciling this with the claims made for the mercy, justice, equity and omniscience of that God, are so many deadly reefs on which this theological dogma is daily and hourly broken.
ENQUIRER. What do you mean? What difficulties?
THEOSOPHIST. I am thinking of an unanswerable argument offered once in my presence by a Cingalese Buddhist priest, a famous preacher, to a Christian missionary — one in no way ignorant or unprepared for the public discussion during which it was advanced. It was near Colombo, and the Missionary had challenged the priest Megattivati to give his reasons why the Christian God should not be accepted by the “heathen.” Well, the Missionary came out of that for ever memorable discussion second best, as usual.
ENQUIRER. I should be glad to learn in what way.
THEOSOPHIST. Simply this: the Buddhist priest premised by asking the padri whether his God had given commandments to Moses only for men to keep, but to be broken by God himself. The missionary denied the supposition indignantly. Well, said his opponent, “you tell us that God makes no exceptions to this rule, and that no Soul can be born without his will. Now God forbids adultery, among other things, and yet you say in the same breath that it is he who creates every baby born, and he who endows it with a Soul. Are we then to understand that the millions of children born in crime and adultery are your God’s work? That your God forbids and punishes the breaking of his laws; and that, nevertheless, he creates daily and hourly souls for just such children? According to the simplest logic, your God is an accomplice in the crime; since, but for his help and interference, no such children of lust could be born. Where is the justice of punishing not only the guilty parents but even the innocent babe for that which is done by that very God, whom yet you exonerate from any guilt himself?” The missionary looked at his watch and suddenly found it was getting too late for further discussion.
ENQUIRER. You forget that all such inexplicable cases are mysteries, and that we are forbidden by our religion to pry into the mysteries of God.
THEOSOPHIST. No, we do not forget, but simply reject such impossibilities. Nor do we want you to believe as we do. We only answer the questions you ask. We have, however, another name for your “mysteries.”
THE BUDDHIST TEACHINGS ON THE ABOVE.
ENQUIRER. What does Buddhism teach with regard to the Soul?
THEOSOPHIST. It depends whether you mean exoteric, popular Buddhism, or its esoteric teachings. The former explains itself in the Buddhist Catechism in this wise: “Soul it considers a word used by the ignorant to express a false idea. If everything is subject to change, then man is included, and every material part of him must change. That which is subject to change is not permanent, so there can be no immortal survival of a changeful thing.” This seems plain and definite. But when we come to the question that the new personality in each succeeding re-birth is the aggregate of “Skandhas,” or the attributes, of the old personality, and ask whether this new aggregation of Skandhas is a new being likewise, in which nothing has remained of the last, we read that: “In one sense it is a new being, in another it is not. During this life the Skandhas are continually changing, while the man A. B. of forty is identical as regards personality with the youth A. B. of eighteen, yet by the continual waste and reparation of his body and change of mind and character, he is a different being. Nevertheless, the man in his old age justly reaps the reward or suffering consequent upon his thoughts and actions at every previous stage of his life. So the new being of the re-birth, being the same individuality as before (but not the same personality), with but a changed form, or new aggregation of Skandhas, justly reaps the consequences of his actions and thoughts in the previous existence.” This is abstruse metaphysics, and plainly does not express disbelief in Soul by any means.
ENQUIRER. Is not something like this spoken of in Esoteric Buddhism?
THEOSOPHIST. It is, for this teaching belongs both to Esoteric Budhism or Secret Wisdom, and to the exoteric Buddhism, or the religious philosophy of Gautama Buddha.
ENQUIRER. But we are distinctly told that most of the Buddhists do not believe in the Soul’s immortality?
THEOSOPHIST. No more do we, if you mean by Soul the personal Ego, or life-Soul — Nephesh. But every learned Buddhist believes in the individual or divine Ego. Those who do not, err in their judgment. They are as mistaken on this point, as those Christians who mistake the theological interpolations of the later editors of the Gospels about damnation and hell-fire, for verbatim utterances of Jesus. Neither Buddha nor “Christ” ever wrote anything themselves, but both spoke in allegories and used “dark sayings,” as all true Initiates did, and will do for a long time yet to come. Both Scriptures treat of all such metaphysical questions very cautiously, and both, Buddhist and Christian records, sin by that excess of exotericism; the dead letter meaning far overshooting the mark in both cases.
ENQUIRER. Do you mean to suggest that neither the teachings of Buddha nor those of Christ have been heretofore rightly understood?
THEOSOPHIST. What I mean is just as you say. Both Gospels, the Buddhist and the Christian, were preached with the same object in view. Both reformers were ardent philanthropists and practical altruists — preaching most unmistakably Socialism of the noblest and highest type, self-sacrifice to the bitter end. “Let the sins of the whole world fall upon me that I may relieve man’s misery and suffering!” cries Buddha; . . . “I would not let one cry whom I could save!” exclaims the Prince-beggar, clad in the refuse rags of the burial-grounds. “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest,” is the appeal to the poor and the disinherited made by the “Man of Sorrows,” who hath not where to lay his head. The teachings of both are boundless love for humanity, charity, forgiveness of injury, forgetfulness of self, and pity for the deluded masses; both show the same contempt for riches, and make no difference between meum and tuum. Their desire was, without revealing to all the sacred mysteries of initiation, to give the ignorant and the misled, whose burden in life was too heavy for them, hope enough and an inkling into the truth sufficient to support them in their heaviest hours. But the object of both Reformers was frustrated, owing to excess of zeal of their later followers. The words of the Masters having been misunderstood and misinterpreted, behold the consequences!
ENQUIRER. But surely Buddha must have repudiated the soul’s immortality, if all the Orientalists and his own Priests say so!
THEOSOPHIST. The Arhats began by following the policy of their Master and the majority of the subsequent priests were not initiated, just as in Christianity; and so, little by little, the great esoteric truths became almost lost. A proof in point is, that, out of the two existing sects in Ceylon, the Siamese believes death to be the absolute annihilation of individuality and personality, and the other explains Nirvana, as we theosophists do.
ENQUIRER. But why, in that case, do Buddhism and Christianity represent the two opposite poles of such belief?
THEOSOPHIST. Because the conditions under which they were preached were not the same. In India the Brahmins, jealous of their superior knowledge, and excluding from it every caste save their own, had driven millions of men into idolatry and almost fetishism. Buddha had to give the death-blow to an exuberance of unhealthy fancy and fanatical superstition resulting from ignorance, such as has rarely been known before or after. Better a philosophical atheism than such ignorant worship for those —
“Who cry upon their gods and are not heard,
Or are not heeded —”
and who live and die in mental despair. He had to arrest first of all this muddy torrent of superstition, to uproot errors before he gave out the truth. And as he could not give out all for the same good reason as Jesus, who reminds his disciples that the Mysteries of Heaven are not for the unintelligent masses, but for the elect alone, and therefore “spake he to them in parables” (Matt. xiii. 11) — so his caution led Buddha to conceal too much. He even refused to say to the monk Vacchagotta whether there was, or was not an Ego in man. When pressed to answer, “the Exalted one maintained silence.” (5)
ENQUIRER. This refers to Gautama, but in what way does it touch the Gospels?
THEOSOPHIST. Read history and think over it. At the time the events narrated in the Gospels are alleged to have happened, there was a similar intellectual fermentation taking place in the whole civilized world, only with opposite results in the East and the West. The old gods were dying out. While the civilized classes drifted in the train of the unbelieving Sadducees into materialistic negations and mere dead-letter Mosaic form in Palestine, and into moral dissolution in Rome, the lowest and poorer classes ran after sorcery and strange gods, or became hypocrites and Pharisees. Once more the time for a spiritual reform had arrived. The cruel, anthropomorphic and jealous God of the Jews, with his sanguinary laws of “an eye for eye and tooth for tooth,” of the shedding of blood and animal sacrifice, had to be relegated to a secondary place and replaced by the merciful “Father in Secret.” The latter had to be shown, not as an extra-Cosmic God, but as a divine Saviour of the man of flesh, enshrined in his own heart and soul, in the poor as in the rich. No more here than in India, could the secrets of initiation be divulged, lest by giving that which is holy to the dogs, and casting pearls before swine, both the Revealer and the things revealed should be trodden under foot. Thus, the reticence of both Buddha and Jesus — whether the latter lived out the historic period allotted to him or not, and who equally abstained from revealing plainly the Mysteries of Life and Death — led in the one case to the blank negations of Southern Buddhism, and in the other, to the three clashing forms of the Christian Church and the 300 sects in Protestant England alone.