On the Will in Buddhism.

The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain &Ireland

On the Will in Buddhism.(1) By Mrs. RHYS DAVIDS. IT is only to be expected, while the ancient literature of Buddhist philosophy is inaccessible to the general critic, and still to some extent also to the Indianist, that many hasty generalizations and one-sided conclusions concerning the nature of Buddhist ideals and discipline should continue to prevail. Enough, however, has already been accomplished in the editing of texts to render some revision of what may be called common errors not altogether premature. There is, for instance, much that is misleading, or downright false, in labelling Gotama's doctrine as Pessimism, Pantheism, Atheism, Nihilism, Quietism, or Apatheia. Nor is that recent criticism altogether discriminating which finds in it the closest coincidences with that of Schopenhauer,(2) or characterizes it bluntly as an ethic rooted in egoism, or as "the crassest eudaemonism, "(3) and aspiring to moral stultification.(4) The critics who are unversed in the study of the Buddhist Canon in the original are precisely those who most freely discourse on these lines about it. In taking account at all of Eastern philosophy, they have followed, consciously or unconsciously, the direction of Schopenhauer's pointing finger, and the general tendency to widen range and method in historical study. In respect of the language through which they acquire their knowledge of Buddhist --------------------------- 1 An abstract of this paper was read at the Paris Congress of Orientalists, 1897. 2 e.g. Drs. Hecker ("Schopenhauer u. die indische Philosophie") and Neumann. 3 Hecker, op. cit.. p. 212. Cf. Oldenberg, Buddha, Abschn, ii, kap. iii; and Nietzsche, Der Antichrist. 4 Hecker, op. cit., p. 221, " Stumpfheit is as buddhistische Ideal." p.48 philosophy, they are at the mercy of the translator. Herein (as I have pointed out elsewhere') lies danger for the justice of their conclusions. They fail to realize that, in a great number of cases, the languages which have grown up with the traditions of Western philosophy do not afford equivalents for Oriental standpoints. The translator may have applied modern phrases with at least an implicit diffidence. The general critic handles them with easy confidence. Language is not the only source whence the erroneous inferences to which allusion has been made have sprung, and are still springing . But on the present occasion I wish to confine myself to showing, by reference to certain texts and translations, how a somewhat loose procedure on the part of translators (when trying to find equivalents for some of the central concepts of ethics), has left room for the general student to get a false perspective of Buddhist ideals. As only one of several important instances, I would; draw attention to the Buddhist attitude in relation to the, volitional side of the human mind. It is not possible to equate in Pali the word 'will,' either in psychological comprehensiveness, or for its trail of bad metaphysic. If however, we lop off the metaphysic, and resolve 'will' into the classes of mental states or processes, of which it forms a factor more or less, and which, in its wider or its narrower meaning, it is used to designate, we shall find in Buddhist terminology abundance of suitable. words, and in the philosophical treatises an application of them as discriminative as we find among ourselves, and sometimes even more so. There is so far no evidence of a reduction of complex volition into simple conation, such as may be found in. our more scientific modern textbooks. There is no such developed psychology to be met with as is implied in the: strictly psgchological use of carefully distinct terms (such p.49 as Appetite, Desire, Deliberate Choice), where a coefficient of bare conation is discerned as involved with feeling of a certain sort, or with intellectual activity of a certain sort, or with both intellect and emotion. But what we do find in the Pitakas is a pretty constant discrimination, in the employment of terms connoting volition, between psychological import only and ethical or moral implication. In two parallel passages in the Dhamma Sangani, for instance,(1) the term which best conveys the meaning of bare, simple conation or consciousness of energy, namely, viriyam, as well as all its synonyms and complementary terms-- trying and striving, effort and endeavour, zeal and ardour, vigour and resistance, persistent striving, sustained desiring and exertion, grasping of a weight---is used to describe, in part, both the state or quality of mind which is morally good and that which is morally bad. To all such terms, then, when used of psychological activity, Buddhism attaches no blame any more than we should. When, on the other hand, the sacred writings wish to convey ethical values in terms of volitional import, either distinct and special words are used, or else the term of volition is explicitly qualified as referring to an object of perverted desire or to a morbid state of will. Want or wish (akankha) becomes craving or thirst (tanha); for desire (chando) we get, lust (chanddarago) , lusts of the flesh (kamarago), sensual delight (nandirago), or else some qualifying phrase, desire for form (rupe chando), and so forth. It should be noted, however, that where words implying effort of will occur without further qualification, it is oftener in connection with progress in self-training than with any idea of depreciating volitional energy.(2) Thinamiddham, that is, sloth mental and bodily, is a cardinal fault. Quietude and calm are praised, but only as the occasion for sustained ---------------------- 1 pp.11, 77. 2 The only quasi-exception known to me is the case of the so-called Four Agatis, where Chando, standing in company with three had qualities, has a negative. moral value signifying partiality in a judge. This technieal meaning, borrowed from jurisprudence, occurs in one or two passages in the Pitakas (see Cullavagga, J.R.A.S. l898. p.50 effort of concentration, or as indicating the peace following mental toil and struggle. In fact, if there be one feature in Buddhiat ethics eminent for the emphasis attached to it, it is not only that will as such, desire as such, are not to be repressed, but that the culture and development of them are absolutely indispensable to any advance towards the attainment of its ideals. This is, of course, well known by all who have any knowledge of the Sacred Books, yet it is not yet as generally appreciated as it deserves, either by experts, or by general critics.(1) Let us take a few typical passages on the need of diligent effort. In one of the Dialogues in the Shorter Collection(2) Gotama describes the process of conversion as consisting in a connected sequence of trust, drawing near, hearing the word, inquiry, sustained insight, desire (chando), zeal (ussaho), pondering (tulana), and struggle (padhanam). And the learner has to bear in mind this maxim: "Verily may skin, nerves, bones, flesh and blood dry up and wither, or ever I stay my energies (viriyam), so long as I have not attained whatsoever by human endurance, energy, and effort (thama, viriya, parakkama) is attainable." (3) This forcible adjuration recurs in other books,' and was vowed by Gotama to himself in his mental, wrestling beneath the Bo-tree.(5) In fact, it seems to have been characteristic of the man to have rated nothing higher in conduct than a supreme effort of will in which "the whole energies of being consent." This was the one thing which he himself admitted, as he conversed with his leading disciples one moonlight evening in a sylvan scene, might lend an added splendour to the beauty of nature--the resolve, namely, of one meditating to free his heart then and there from ------------------------ 1 Cf. the statement by one of the most recent of these, J. B. Crozier, in his " History of Intellectual Development," p. 118--" The object of Buddhism is the suppression of all desire "--and his distorted view of Buddhism resulting (partly) therefrom. 2 Majjhima Nikaya, No. 70, p. 480. 3 Majjh., i, 480. 4 Ang., i, 50; S., ii, 276. 5 Jat., i, 71. p.51 every trace of evil.(1) To a young prince, an intending disciple, who asks Gotama how long it would take to graduate in his doctrine, the reply is that, as with the art of riding, it all depended on whether the learner brought five conditions, these being conceived as so many forms of effort (padhaniyangani) to bear--confidence, health, sincerity, energy, intelligence.(2) Again (in M., 5th Sutta), the advantage of self-knowledge lies in this, that on it depends an uprising of desire (chando), a beginning of exertion (vayamo), an inception of energy, in the way leading to reform.(3) And the degeneration in the Order that would follow on decay of effort and energy is counted among the apprehensions of a bhikshu.(4) In the Categories of progress toward the Ideal, energy is a constant factor(5); and of two of the Categories themselves, one is conceived as the Four Great Struggles, and one as a course"(6) of Desire, Energy, Thought, and Investigation, with a common factor of meditation and struggle(7) --Ardour being sometimes reckoned as a fifth essential. In the 6th Sutta of the Majjhima seventeen desires for self-improvement are met by advice as to how they may be realized. Hence it is strictly in accordance with the spirit of the older writings when the author of the " Milinda" declares that Nirvana is to be realized, not by bare quiescent meditation, much less by mortification of impulse, but by rational discontent, strong anguish, longing, followed by a forward leap of the mind into peace and calm--then ; again by joyous strenuousness in which the aspirant " strives ------------------------ 1 Majjh., 32nd Sutta. 2 Majjhima, No. 65, now in the press, of which, by the courtesy of the editor, Mr. Robert Chalmers, I have seen the proofs. 3 Cf. Ang, ii, 194-5: " Desire, effort, ezertion, endeavour, persistence.'' 4 Ang, iii, 108. 5 i.e. in the Powers, the Principles, and the Eight-fold Path; omitting only the Meditations. 6 Iddhipada. 7 Even in the list of the ten Highest States (Paramiyo) insisted on in the later Buddhism as the the condition requisite for a Bodhisatva's attaining Buddhahood, we find resolution (adhitthana) included. Cf. also the term abhiniharo. p.52 with might and main along that path, searches it out makes firm his self-possession fast in effort, remains steadfast in love, directs his mind again and again...."(1) And still later Buddhaghosa is constantly insisting on the same doctrine; and, indeed, in one passage goes so far as to say (Attha Salini, 300) that the Buddha himself painted the delights of the higher meditation in such glowing colours precisely " in order to rouse ardour in his hearers, and for the sake of making them lust after it." But Buddhist ethic does not simply enforce and encourage efforts of will and desire. We find some attempts (and may yet find more) to cultivate in detail that which " seems," to quote a modern psychologist, Professor Sully, "to mark off the highly developed will as such," namely, the capacity of Control. "Mature will implies the inhibition of certain nerve-centres by others.... a repression of action when conficting motives arise... the maintaining of a definitive purpose beyond the movement, and the persistent concentration of mind on this."(2) Thus, in the 20th Sutta of the Majjhima, Gotama recommends the student who is obsede by some haunting idea of an undesirable character to try five methods in succession for expelling it-- (1) Attend to some good idea. (2) Face the danger of the consequences of letting the bad idea emerge in action. (3) Become inattentive to the bad idea. (4) Analyze its antecedents, and so paralyze the sequent impulse. (5) Coerce the mind with the aid of bodily tension. ----------------------- 1 See the whole passage, " Milinda," 325-7. 2 Sully, "Pessimism," p. 212. See also p. 290, where the author sketches a plan of will-culture,by which, "in the economic management of all the existing material of pleasure, etc., all evitable suffering may be eliminated from life. The learned author of this interesting work declares it its outset that Buddhism is pure pessimism. Yet the meliorative discipline he describes is very like pure Buddhism. p.53 Again (Majjh., 36th Sutta) , Gotama gives a detailed account of his own exercises in the effort to control his sensations. These are illustrations of Control such as we might find quoted in modern psychological treatises. Once more, the danger of what is now termed aboulie, or atrophy of will-power, is touched upon (Majjh., 19th Sutta) --that pathological state of mind of which, in literature, Hamlet is the classical instance.(l) Gotama, in narrating how, in his quest after enlightenment, he analyzed and classified the thoughts that arose in him, has a care lest by over-long pondering and deliberation he should weary his body and induce a swaying fluctuating mood (cittam uhanneyya), and so pulls himself together--" earnest, zealous, and resolved." Further evidence of insight into the nature and practice of control could be adduced from the Pitakas, and will, no doubt, be found in such portions as still remain to be edited. But in reply to all this, those who quote quietism, apathy, and egoistic self-concentration as the essence of Buddhism, may disclaim any reference to the higher will thus purged and chastened. They might say it is only (tanha) trishna and (kamma) karma that they identify with that primal, noumenal "will to live" and its consequences, in which, they think, the Buddha discerned the perennial source of sorrow, and to which Schopenhauer saw humanity bound, helpless and hopeless, as Tantalus and as Ixion. This was the "will," these the "desires," that constituted for both thinkers the Everlasting No, and induced them to place shrunken and spiritless ideals above a more courageous acceptance of life as a whole. It is true that no ethical ideal insists more strongly, than that which Gotama placed before his Order, on the absolute necessity of renouncing, not only certain spheres of desire --sensuous passion, worldly ambitions, fevered cravings (parilaha) of any kind--but also the longing for mere life -------------------------- 1 Cf. Hoffding, " Psyehology," p. 338. p.54 or being, as such, as well as for any after-life, as such. To prize mere quantity of' living stood by him condemned as ignoble, as stupid, as a mortal bondage, as one of the three great Defilements (Asavas). To a modem poet's cry-- " How can I have enough of life and love! " he may fairly enough be represented as responding, "How can I have too little, if by life and love such and such things be understood! But so indeed might any Christian, might any Hellenist, make reply. Even one of the most modern of all ethical writers says much the same thing when he asks, "Do you mean 'Let us eat and drink for to-morrow we die'? Nay, rather let us Join hands and work, since to-day we are alive together! "(1) But we might fairly inquire of the ethical standpoint of the Buddhist Canon if there be any sort of "life and love," the which granted, it could sanction and endorse the verse just cited. Now, in seeking to meet this inquiry one thing is ever impressing itself upon me. It is that the compilers of the Canon might fairly demand of translators that they should indicate, by a more discriminating use of terms than is frequently found, what form or direction of volitional activity is spoken of as hurtful and vicious. What we actually find, in many cases, is a curious readiness to use some one term, in itself of psychological import only, and not denoting ethical values, for a great variety of Buddhist words which in themselves convey, or are explicitly qualified as conveying, a meaning that is morally blameable. For instance, a comparison of the translations made by such scholars as Burnouf, Foucaux, Max Muller, Fausboll, Oldenberg, and Warren with the originals, discloses the striking fact that the one English word 'desire' is made to do duty for no less than seventeen Pali words, not one of which means desire taken in its ordinary general sense, but rather in that of perverted, morbid, excessive desire. It would be unnecessarily technical to set out here the proofs of this statement. I put them, therefore, in an appendix. 1 W. K. Clifford. p.55 Dr. Neumann also, who, translating into German and not into English, usually avoids this pitfall of 'desire,' applies nevertheless to precisely the same class of ethical terms the words, in themselves unmoral, Wille, wollen, Wunsch. Still more exception may be taken to his weighting at least two pairs of Buddhiet ethical terms with words borrowed from the dialect of Schopenhauer's doctrine of will (Bejahung, Verneinung). An incitement is hereby afforded to followers of Schopenhauer to magnify the debt of inspiration owed by the latter to Buddhism in a forced parallelism which requires rather to be checked than encouraged. The unique extension given by Schopenhauer to the psychology of will, so as to cover both conation and feeling, renders all such parallelism at least hazardous. We now come to what, in the present connection, is due to Buddhism at the hands of the general critic. The stony, stultified, self-centred apathy we often hear ascribed to the Buddhist ideal is supposed to be the result--in so far as the Indian climate is not held responsible(1) --of a Schopenhauerian pessimism as to the worth and promise of life and the springs of life. If, however, the critic would dwell more on the positive tendencies in Buddhist ethics, he might discern under the outward calm of mien of the Buddhist sage in literature and art, a passion of emotion and will not paralyzed or expurgated, but rendered subservient to and diffused around deep faith and high hope. For there is no doctrine, not even excepting Platonism, that sees in life, in the life that now is, greater possibilities of perfection. Nor is there any system, not excepting that of the Christian, which sees in the evolution of human love a more exalted transcendence of the lower forms of that emotion. It is noteworthy that in the passages containing outbursts of sublimated feeling--of lovingkindness, pity, sympathy, good-will--for all living creatures, the -------------------------- 1 German writers have much to say on this connection between tropics and torpor. English writers, more intimate, directly or indirectly, with the vallev of the Ganges, and the amount of strenuous work and play got through by their countrymen, as well as by Indians, say less. p.56 attitude taken up is, so to speak, more dynamically conceived than in the great Pauline ode to Agape. The emotion is depicted as an energy radiating from a glowing nucleus to fill the universe--as a living force, a "vie intensive et expansive," as the late Jean Marie Guyau might have said--as an overflow of superb effort, of abounding will. "Our wind shall not waver; no evil speech will we utter; we mill abide tender and compassionate, loving in heart, void of secret malice; and we will be ever suffusing such an one with the rays of our loving thought, and from him forthgoing we will ever be suffusing the whole world with thought of love far-reaching, grown great, and beyond measure, void of ill-will and bitterness. Thus, brethren, and well, must ye exercise yourselves."(1) In passages like this, which, with its variants, runs like a refrain through much of the Sutta Pitaka--in those on the glory of insight attending the sense of emancipation wrestled for and won--we see a kind of "life and love" of which Gotama would have gladly said " How can we have enough!" The weary, heartrending tragedy immanent in the life of the world he recognized and accepted as honestly and fully as the deepest pessimist. The complexities, the distractions, the burdens, the dogging sorrow inevitable for life lived in participation of all that the human organism naturally calls for, and human society puts forward as desirable--all this he judged too heavy to be borne, not indeed by lay followers, but by those who should devote their lives to learn and practise his doctrine wholly and lift the world to higher standpoints and nobler issues. Life in its fulness they at least were not to cultivate. They could not afford to listen to the bidding-- " Greift nur hinein ins volle Menschenleben! " The penalty incurred by Buddhism for this economy of energy is heavy enough. It is that of ail aristocratic, by which I mean exclusive or partial, systems of thought and culture when tested by the evolving religious needs of humanity. -------------------- 1 Majjh., 21st Sutta. p.57 But if we take life of a certain quality of refinement and sublimity--the life accessible to the earnest, single-minded, single-hearted, strenuous, self-possessed student-missionary, eased of all worldly and domestic cares--Buddhism, so far from " negating " the will to live that kind of life, pronounced it fair and lovely beyond all non-being, beyond all afterbeing. If final death followed inevitably on the fullest fruition of it, this was not what made such life desirable. Final death was a hypothesis, accepted as welcome, not for its own sake, but as a corollary, so to speak, to the solved problem of emancipation. It merely signified that unhealthy moral conditions had wholly passed away. Hence, if fairly judged, neither will, nor aspiration, nor the preciousness of life, can be said to be repressed and contemned in Buddhist philosophy. It spurned both asceticism and luxury, and urged a healthy simplification in living--the open air, the bath, the regular hours, the taking of repose, the daily exercise--discerning that the emancipation, the ideal life, must be rooted in hygiene, not in hysteria. Of the mortification of all desire, of the stultification of will, it would have said: "That way madness lies."(1) It sought, often naively, often pedantically, but on the whole sanely, to divert the current of desire to aims intellectual and ethical rather than worldly or sensual, and then to fosfer and strengthen aspiration and resolve in the effort to persevere towards complete attainment of what it held to be the noblest kind of life. APPENDIX. Burnouf, in the Mahanidana Sutta, rendered upadanam (grasping) by desir. Foucaux rendered trsna (thirst, craving) by desir. Lalita Vistara passim, e.g. p. 347, Ann. Mus. Guimet, vi. ----------------------- 1 The madness ofthe ditthummattako. mohummattako. p.58 Oldenberg translates kama (sensual desires) by desires simply; nekkhammam (which he reads as the contradictory of kama), by abandonment of desire. "Vin. Texts," i, 81, 104. Max Muller uses the one term desires a number of times for all the four terms asava, kama, vana, tanha. Dhp. passim. His translator, Von Schultze, whether metri causa or on other grounds, renders the last term by "des Begehrens durstendem Drang" (Dhp., 154). Fausboll applies desire without qualification to at ]east thirteen different names for vicious or excessive desire: e.g. (Sutta Nipata, passim). sita (clinging bond). nirasaso anasaso (free from hankering after). sineho (cleaving, stickiness). chatata. (hunger). kaye chandam (desire for the body). chandaragaviratto (not dyed with lustful desire). ussada (arrogance). tanha (thirst, craving). panidhi (here, aspiration, after becoming and not-becoming) (cf. Fausb. on v, 243). akasam (space; " puffed-up state "). visattikam (lust, dart of). anejo (greed). jappitani (mumblings, prayers). In Neumann's translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, I--L, we find such renderings as-- Virago: Willensende. Ragaunusayam: Regung des Wollens. Kamachando: Wunscheswillen. Kama:(1) Verlangen. Kamehi vivicca: den Wunschen erstorben. ---------------------- 1 At other times better rendered by him as Begierden. So in places rago is better rendered by Gier. p.59 Warren, in the index to his work, Buddhism in Translations, goes so far to justify his usage as to state that desire and seeking are to be taken as equivalent to passion, lust, covetousness, and thirst (Index, s.v. Desire). Hut his object is rather economy of space than care in interpretation. In the translations themselves desire is made to take on the heavy burden of tanha,(1) often it is true metri causa, but not always, and once at least through a misconception of the meaning of the phrase tanhaya asesaviraganirodho,(2) which should be rendered "the entire cessation and fading out of craving." (3) ------------------------- 1 Cf. ii 33, 34; pp. 160, 370-2, etc., etc. 2 S.iii, p. 26. 3 Mr. Warren twice renders adhitthanam (insistence, persistent resolve) by 'affirmation' (pp. 163, 165), but whether with implicit Schopenhauerism or not I cannot say.