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The Indians, the Brahminic as also the Buddhistic, conceived morality, on the basis of their consequentially developed Pantheism, essentially negatively. All finite reality, and above all, that of the human personality, is null, untrue, and illegitimate,—either because, with the Brahmins, it is only the self-estranged divinity, or because, with the Buddhists, the essence of all existence in general is nihility; hence the ground-character of morality is self-denial, world-renunciation,—a passive endurance instead of creative activity. The moral goal, the highest good, is not a personal possession, but a surrendering of personality to the impersonal divine essence or to nihility. There is no realizing and no shaping of a moral kingdom based on personality, nor even a preserving of existing reality, but a dissolving of the same. All reality, in so far as it is a finite formation, 48is evil,—not, however, through the guilt of man, but in virtue of its very essence from the beginning; and there is no other redemption than its annihilation. But while, in the purely Pantheistic doctrine of the Brahmins, the thought of the development of the world out of God recognizes in fact in existence a divine and hence relatively good substratum, and regards mankind as emanated from God, as participant in this divine substance in different degrees, according as they stand at different distances from the divine proto-fountain,—the distinctions of caste,—on the other hand, the doctrine of the Buddhists annihilates, together with the divine proto-Brahma, also these concentric circles around the ungodded middle-point, and requires equal, absolutely world-renouncing morality of all men, even irrespective of the limits of nationality, and changes the positive self-torture, which appears among the Brahmins as the acme of pious morality, into a quietistic, self-denying patience resting upon hopeless grief at the nihility of all existence.
The Brahminic Indians have, in their books of law, ancient and rich collections of moral doctrines. Almost equally esteemed with the Vedas, and attributed to a divine origin, is the book of the Laws of Manu, the parts of which belong to very different ages, though the most recent belong certainly anterior to the fourth century before Christ; the moral precepts proper are as yet unseparated from the religious and civil. Also the Vedas and the later philosophical and legal writings contain much moral matter.
Basing himself, in contrast to the nature-dualism of the Chinese, upon the unity of the universe as divine, the Brahmin regards the real World merely as a, neither necessary nor strictly legitimate, but rather mere dream-like self-alienation of primitive Brahma, which is destined, after an essentially purposeless 49continuance, to be absorbed back into its source. Hence morality has no positive aim, but rather simply looks to an escaping from individual existence, a dissolving of personality into the impersonal. The continuance of personality through metempsychosis is punishment, not reward. Existing reality is not, as in China, good as such, but, as separate existence, is evil, and is good only in its general divine substance; only the latter, but not the former, may be held fast to. The moral subject is not manc as such; there is in fact no unitary humanity, but only different, narrower or wider, circles around the divine middle-point, classes of men differing essentially by nature both spiritually and morally, and of whom the lowest stand even below many brutes, and are absolutely incapable of the moral life; to teach to these latter the Vedas or the Laws, is a crime worthy of the deepest damnation. Only the three highest castes are capable of a knowledge of the truth, and hence also of morality. But also with these the moral duties and capacities are very different, and the Indian speaks not of the moral duties of man, but always only of the duties of the castes. The vaiçja’s highest good is riches; his virtue, industrious acquiring; the xatrija’s highest good is power, and his highest virtue, courage; and only the Brahmin is capable of the highest morality; but this morality directs itself, not transformingly and productively, upon reality, but only, disdainingly and renouncingly, away from the same,—not, however, in order to virtualize a free, self-conscious personality as over against nature, but in order to merge back the personal spirit, as illegitimate, into the impersonal essence of the universe. The highest virtue is renunciation, not indeed merely of sensuous enjoyment, of earthly weal, but of one’s own self-conscious personality; and the acme of this morality is, consequently, self-annihilation as sought through persistent self-torture, to the end that Brahma alone may exist. The highest good of the true man, that is, of the Brahmin, is to become at one with Brahma, not in the sense of a moral life-communion of the personal spirit with a personal God, but as a dissolving of the per se illegitimate personal spirit into the general, the impersonal. That which is in the present state the sum and substance of all wisdom, namely, to know that “I am Brahma,” attains to full truth by the dissolving of the ego into Brahma; the goal of morality is, “Brahma alone is, not I;” 50and as man, even now, while in deepest sleep,—wherein he knows nothing of the world and of himself,—is nearer to divinity than when in his waking hours, so the goal of virtue is the total falling to sleep of the personal spirit, the exhaling of the dew-drop that trembles on the lotus-leaf. The holding fast to personality is the essence of all evil. Nothing can nor should permanently endure but the divine essence alone, which tolerates nothing other than itself, and for which all reality of the world is, at best, only a dream-phantom, a transient hallucination;—even in the eyes of the deeper instructed of men, the world in general is only a false imagination of the foolish, and does not really exist at all. The Chinese aim, in morality, simply to conserve the already-existing; the higher nations aim at transforming it into a more spiritual reality; the Indians aim at dissolving it into nonentity. The West-Asiatic nations see the truth in the future, and long, hopefully, and through moral effort, for a better reality than is offered by the present; the Indians look sadly into the present, with indifference into the future, and with satisfaction only into the past, when as yet nothing else existed but unitary Brahma, and into that future which simply returns to the condition of this past. The Chinese work for the present; the higher nations, for the future; the Indians work not at all, but simply endure and perish; they aim not at implanting the free moral spirit into reality, but at tearing it away from the same,—not at transfiguring reality by the spirit, but at emancipating the spirit from the same. Indian morality is less a creative working than a sacrificing, and hence is essentially identical with the practice of religion, of which the highest phase is self-mortfication—aiming at a total annihilation of personal existence. The way which the world has traveled out from primitive Brahma, this way it must travel back again; nature herself accomplishes this by death; man accomplishes it by morally-pious self-annihilation. That which is with nature the natural goal, is with man a moral end. Even as Brahma developed himself out of his pure transparent unity into the world of plurality, so must man fold himself back out of his isolated existence again into unity; man, the highest fruit of mundane existence, must gather himself out of the dispersion of Brahma in the world, back into unity,—must give up his separate existence. Man must die away, not indeed to sin, or merely to 51sensuousness, but to himself,—must cease to be a real personality, must renounce every feeling, every volition, every thought, which contains any thing whatever other than Brahma alone. The fearful self-tortures of the Indians are not penance for sins, but the highest virtue-exercises of saints. A vital consciousness of guilt, the Indian is utterly devoid of; the evil of existence is not his own, is not the fault of man in general. Whatever is and transpires, is directly Brahma’s act. It is true, evil inheres by nature in all existence, but it is not to be imputed to man, and there is no other redemption from the same than the destruction of the finite, even of one’s own being. The entire scope of morality bears a negating character; the truly knowing one needs not merely not to do any positive works, but he avoids them from principle, because they belong simply to the realm of folly.
For man, even in so far as he is an object of the moral activity, the Indian has no concern; he has a higher love for nature, which stands nearer related to the nature-divinity, and constitutes the narrowest circle around the divine center-point. In nature he beholds his mother, and he loves it reverently as the most direct and most unclouded revelation of Brahma. The same Indian who can heartlessly see a pariah famish without so much as stretching out to him a helping hand, reverently avoids, as a severe sin, the breaking of a grass-blade, or the swallowing of a gnat; a Brahmin allows himself not, without ground, to break even an earth-clod.—Marriage and the family-life in general can only be a transition-stage for the, as yet, morally immature. The Brahmin who has risen to true knowledge must leave father and mother, wife and child, and, dead to the world and to himself, live henceforth only in solitary contemplation of Brahma,—standing for years, in the forest, upon the same spot, emotionless as a tree-trunk, and seeking or accepting only the scantiest food; every thing finite must have become absolutely indifferent to him, until, vegetating on like a plant, and fading away, he attains to the long-sought death. For society and politics, only those who belong to the inferior castes can have any further interest,—for the Brahmin himself these things have no attraction, and, higher than the warrior-hero and than the zealously-ruling prince, is he who exchanges a crown for the life of the hermit.52
More remarkable still is the moral consciousness of the Buddhists, whose world-historical and influential religion—an off-shoot of the Brahminic—was founded by the Indian prince Sakya-Muni in the sixth century before Christ,—the sole heathen religion which sent out missions beyond the national limits,—so that within a few centuries it extended itself throughout all middle, southern, and eastern Asia, as far as into Japan. The sacred books of the Buddhists are chiefly of moral contents, for here religion passes over almost entirely into morality.
While in Brahminism the ground and essence of all existence is the one absolutely indeterminate and un-positive proto-Brahma, Buddhism goes a step further, and declares this indeterminate, empty substratum to be nonentity itself. All things are sprung of nonentity; hence nonentity is the contents of all being,—hence all reality is per se null, and finds its truth only in that it returns to nothing. As the beginning, so is also the end of all being, and hence also that of man and of his moral efforts, nonentity. Every thing is vain, in heaven and upon earth; heaven and earth themselves are vain, and upon the ruins of a crumbling world sits, eternally enthroned, empty Naught. The moral element of this atheistical religion lies in the fact that the Buddhist is really and truly in earnest with the comfortless thought, and,—in striking contrast to the lustful, pleasure-seeking atheism of modern times,—presents to man the God-forsaken world as in fact really such, and forbids to him all enjoyment of the same,—that he has no joy in it, but makes deep grief at all existence the foundation of all morality. The Buddhist is fully conscious of what it signifies to place nature above spirit, to seek God only in nature and in the world in general. Not being able to rise to the conception of a personal God, he disdains the impersonal nature-God, and chooses rather to live without God in the world,—only, however, as one who has no hope at all. Buddhism in its pure form is a religion of despair, and its ethics answers to this character, and is essentially different from the Brahminic. Here no divine proto-Brahma unfolds himself into a world; and hence the different castes of mankind have no longer any essential meaning; no one man stands, by nature, nearer to the divinity than another, but all men are equal; there is no plant-like branching-out of a divine proto-germ, but only a homogeneous sea of equally-53worthless sand-grains. With the Brahmin moral freedom is essentially trammeled, and in fact, consequentially regarded, annihilated, by the fact that Brahma alone works all and in all; but for the Buddhist no such limitation exists. No divinity forcibly interferes with human action. Moral effort, however, has no reality, as a highest good, for its goal; the ultimate goal is annihilation, and this thought is here much more deeply and sadly embraced than with the Brahmins. While with the Brahmins, man and the entire world sink back into the divine essence, with the Buddhists they fall into utter annihilation; and the goal of all life and effort is a traceless extinguishment—nirvana. The Buddhist strives not; he only patiently endures the pain of inner nothingness, that falls to the lot of all living existence. The entire history of the world is but one grand tragedy; in deep pain worries on all that lives, until it succumbs to death, and the consciousness of this pain is the beginning and the end of all wisdom. In comparison with this acme of all wisdom, namely, the knowledge of the four-fold misery inherent in the world, that is, birth, old age, disease, and death, all other questions lose their importance. All reality is vain and irrational; this is the basis of all morality. Hence, man should break loose from all love to real existence,—should renounce all earthly pleasure; the only feeling that beseems the sage is that of pain and compassion. For a positive moral acting, aiming at the production of a reality, there is here no place; man strives only to urge his way out of this world of pain, for misery is the essence of the world, and all moral wisdom consists in the greatest possible breaking away from all liking for the same. In the God-void world, man feels homeless,—finds therein no rest and no satisfaction; his future is annihilation; his present, the renouncing of all joy. The world-renunciation of the Brahmin is rather active and manly, for by the throwing off of his finite existence he returns into Brahma. The world-renunciation of the Buddhist is rather passive and womanly,—does not rise to positive self-torture and to real self-destruction; on the contrary, the Buddhist waits, still and patient,—supports the misery of life in unmurmuring pain, until his existence falls away; the characteristic of this world-theory is a quiet, gentle grief, for the thought of the empty nothingness of all things cannot inspire to manly action; and the pain of existence should 54not be additionally heightened by voluntary act. Man is simply to disdain the world,—not because he compares it with a better sinless one, but because evil and misery are inseparable from it. Separated from all the world, and as a homeless wanderer, or as a hermit in forest or desert, the pious man should live in beggar-garb, devoid of adornment, utterly possessionless, entirely isolated, indifferent to joy and grief, and dead to all emotions. Marriage, as productive of new existence, is per se of evil, and is absolutely forbidden to the saint; the family bonds have no significancy for him, and sensuous enjoyment is in his eyes a pure folly. The most ancient and pure doctrine of Buddhism requires such renunciation of all men, and it is only a deteriorated form of later times that conceded that all did not need to lead this spiritual life, but that a portion of the people might content themselves with an inferior severity.
Buddhistic ethics contains but few positive precepts; almost all of them are negative; virtue consists essentially in omitting; “thou shalt not,” is the almost unvarying beginning of the precepts; all of them aim simply at preventing the spirit from taking delight in existence,—forbid worldly pleasure, but do not create a moral reality; and, as relating to other living creatures, beast as well as man, they guard against all multiplication of the already so widely-prevalent misery. Hence there goes here, hand in hand, with the intensest world-despising, the greatest gentleness toward all living beings; no creature may be tormented, nor even slaughtered; in order to alleviate the pain of another creature, man should rather himself endure it. Hence the Buddhists have been, in fact, the gentlest of heathen nations; but their gentleness is not so much an expression of active love as rather merely of compassion,—is simply a non-interfering, a sparing, but not a positive helping. The dumb, patient enduring of pain, a complete indifference to joy and sorrow, is not the heroic pride of a deeply self-conscious personality, but the womanly, submissive patience of a heart broken with pain.
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