Buddhist Philosophy and Its European parallels
Philosophy East and West 13, no.1, January 1963.
(c) by The University press of Hawaii.
THE SEARCH for philosophical parallels is
fraught with pit-falls. Some parallels are fruitful
and significant, others incidental and fortuitous. I
now propose to discuss the European parallels to
Buddhist thought in two articles, of which the first
is devoted to the true, and the second to the
As for my interpretation of the basic principles
of Buddhism, I have recently given it in some detail
in Buddhist Thought in India.(1) Since my views
differ to some extent from those of my predecessors,
I will briefly sum them up so that the reader can see
what kind of "Buddhism" I compare with European
The basic teaching of the Buddha can be expressed
in one sentence: The conditioned world as it appears
to us is fundamentally and irreparably undesirable,
and salvation can be found only through escape to the
Unconditioned, also called "Nirvaa.na." Everything
else is elaboration.
All conditioned things are marred by having three
"marks, " i.e., by being impermanent, "ill," and
"alien to our true self."(2) Much thought has gone
into determining the full meaning of those marks.
"Ill," for instance, comprises not only pain and
suffering, but also the unease which is nowadays
known as "existential anxietY,"(3) and the mark of
"not-self" has given rise to interminable
discussions.(4) Human beings fret against a world
which is impermanent, ill, and not-self and are not
content to live in it, because they believe that in
the core of their own being they are eternal, at
ease, and in full control of everything.(5) This
alienation of our empirical personality from our true
being (i.e., from the "Tathaagata" within us(6) )is
brought about by "craving."(7)
(1) Buddhist Thought in India (London: George Alien &
Unwin Ltd., 1962). Hereafter BThl.
(2) BThl, pp. 34-43.
(3) To be discussed in Section 2b of the second
article, "Spurious Parallels to Buddhist
Philosophy," to be published in the next issue of
(4) About its relation to Hume's denial of a "self,"
see Section 3 of the second article.
(5) BThl, pp. 43-46.
(6) It is "A central peace, subsisting at the
heart/Of endless agitation" (W. Wordsworth). See
below, p. 18.
(7) See below, p.19.
If we want to return to our original state of purity,
we must first regenerate ourselves by developing five
cardinal virtues,(8) of which wisdom is the last and
most important. After these virtues have sufficiently
matured, we can slowly attempt a break-through to the
Unconditioned,(9) which, through the three doors of
deliverance, i.e., Emptiness, the Signless, and the
Wishless,(10) leads to Nirvaa.na,(11) which is a
state in which the self has become extinct, in which
none of this world is any longer extant, and which
therefore transcends all words and concepts.(12)
This is all quite simple to understand, though at
times hard to believe. It is very much complicated,
however, by being combined with an ontological theory
of "Dharma" which requires a tremendous intellectual
effort.(13) This theory distinguishes three levels of
reality:  the one and single Dharma, which is the
ultimate and unconditioned reality of Nirvaa.na; a
multiplicity of dharmas, or momentary and impersonal
events, which, though illusory compared with the one
single Dharma,(14) are more real than the things
around us; and  the things of the common-sense
world, which ate mere verbal constructions, in that
they are combinations of dharmas held together by
words.(15) The Buddhist "dharma-theory is unique, and
has no exact equivalent anywhere else.(16)
So much for the tenets of what I call "archaic
Buddhism. They were probably formulated by the time
of A'soka.(16a) Two centuries later the further
elaboration of these ideas led to two distinct
schools, i.e., the "scholastic Hiinayaana" and the
"Mahaayaana," which, contrary to what is often said,
did not significantly conflict in their doctrines but
merely diverged in their range of interest. The
"scholastic Hiinayaana" concentrated on the
conditioned dharmas, systematized their
classification, defined more precisely their
particular attributes and general marks, and worked
out the relations pertaining among them.(18) The
creative contributions of the Mahaayaana, on the
other hand, almost exclusively concern the
Unconditioned. In particular, the notion of
"Emptiness," which in "archaic" Buddhism had been one
of the avenues to
(8) BThIl, pp. 47-55.
(9) Ibid., pp. 56-58.
(10) Ibid., pp. 59-69.
(11) Ibid., pp. 69-79.
(12) "The teachings of European mystics correspond to
this doctrine in its general tone (see below,
pp. 17-18), but only Schopenhauer matches it in
many particulars (see below, pp. 18-20).
(13) BThI, pp. 92-106.
(14) Ibid., pp. 223-225 (see below, p. 22).
(15) Ibid., p. 97n.
(16) See Section 2a of the second article.
(17) BThI, pp. 119-191.
(18) Ibid., pp. 148-158.
Nirvaa.na, was now immensely enriched.(19) It was
also buttressed by a searching analysis of the
traditional concept of the "own-being" of
dharmars(20) and by a type of logic which in Europe
we would call "dialectical."(21) Equally applied to
conditioned and unconditioned dharmas, "emptiness"
led to their identification. The result is a
"monistic" ontology which shows many analogies to
European metaphysical systems of the same type,(22)
while the descriptions of the bafflement experienced
by the intellect when confronted with this one and
unique Absolute resemble the position of the Greek
skeptics in many ways.(23)
Of special interest for the theme of these
articles is the chapter on "Tacit Assumptions,"(24)
in which I compare Buddhist with contemporary
mentality, and try to establish that
Buddhist thinkers made a number of tacit assumptions
which are explicitly rejected by modern European
philosophers. The first, common to nearly all Indian,
as distinct from European, "scientific," thought
treats the experiences of Yoga as the chief raw
material for philosophical reflection. Secondly, all
"perennial"(25) (as against "modern") philosophers,
agree on the hierarchical structure of the universe,
as shown in (a) the distinction of a "triple world"
and (b) of degrees of "reality," and (c) in the es-
tablishment of a hierarchy of insights dependent on
spiritual maturity. Thirdly, all religious (as
against a-religious) philosophies (a) use "numinous"
as distinct from "profane" terms, and (b) treat
revelation as the ultimate source of all valid
This is not how everyone sees it, and the doubting
reader must be referred to the arguments of my book.
The cornerstone of my interpretation of Buddhism
is the conviction shared by nearly everyone, that it
is essentially a doctrine of salvation, and that all
its philosophical statements are subordinate to its
soteriological purpose. This implies, not only that
many philosophical problems are dismissed as idle
speculations,(27) but that each and every proposition
must be considered in reference to its spiritual(28)
intention and as a formulation of meditational
experiences acquired in the course of the process of
winning salvation. While I cannot imagine any scholar
wishing to challenge this methodological postulate, I
am aware that, next to D. T. Suzuki, I am almost
alone in having applied it consistently.
(19) Ibid., pp. 242-249.
(20) Ibid., pp. 239-241 (see Section 1 of the second
(21) BThI, pp. 261--264; also below, pp. 22-23.
(22) See below, pp. 20-22.
(23) See below, pp. 15-17.
(24) BThI, pp. 17-30.
(25) For a definition, see below, pp. 12-13.
(26) BThI, p. 17.
(27) Sections 1 and 3 of the second article.
(28) For a definition, see below, p. 14, note 35.
Finally, any interpretation of Buddhism which
goes beyond the indiscriminate accumulation of
quotations and attempts actual1y to understand
Buddhist thought involves an element of choice, in
that one has to decide which one among the numerous
presentations of the Buddha's doctrine should be
regarded as the most authentic. Bu-ston favors the
Buddhisn of the Paala period, Frauwallner the
Yogaacaarins, Oldenberg the Paa1ii Canon (minus the
Abhidhamma), Stcherbatsky the scholastic Hiinayaana
and the later logicians, D. T. Suzuki the early
Mahaayaana and Zen, some Chinese schools the
Saddharmapu.n.dariika, and so on. With Professor
Murti, I regard the Maadhyamikas as representing the
central tradition of Buddhism, and believe that with
them Buddhist theorizing reached its full maturity.
This preference colors much of what I have to say.
What, then, is the relation of these Buddhist
teachings to European philosophy? From the outset, I
must admit that I do not believe in a clear-cut
distinction between "Eastern" and "Western"
mentality. Until about 1450, as branches of the same
"perennial philosophy, "(29) Indian and European
philosophers disagreed less among themselves than
with many of the later developments of European
philosophy. The "perennial philosophy" is in this
context defined as a doctrine which holds  that as
far as worth-while knowledge is concerned not all men
are equal, but that there is a hierarchy of persons,
some of whom, through what they are, can know much
more than others;  that there is a hierarchy also
of the levels of reality, some of which are more
"real," because more exalted than others; and 
that the wise men of old have found a "wisdom" which
is true, although it has no "empirical" basis in
observations which can be made by everyone and
everybody; and that in fact there is a rare and
unordinary faculty in some of us by which we can
attain direct contact with actual reality--through
the praj~naa (paaramitaa) of the Buddhists, the logos
of Parmenides,(30) the sophia of Aristotle(31) and
others, Spinoza's amor dei intellectualis, Hegel's
Vernunft, and so on; and  that true teaching is
based on an authority which legitimizes itself by the
exemplary life and charismatic quality of its
(29) This term. was originally invented by Catholics
to describe the philosophy of St. Thomas and
Aristotle. It was then taken over by Aldous
Huxley and others, and my definition is akin to
that of Ananda Coomaraswamy. A. Huxley in his
famous book of 1946 'envisaged only the mystical
school, whereas here i include the intellectual
and speculative trends, i.e., Plato and
Aristotle as well as the German idealists. The
only people before 1450 who are excluded are
those who, like the Lokaayatikas in India, were
deliberately antispiritual, but not necessarily
the Epicureans who were anticlerical but no foes
of a tranquil and serene life.
(30) Being for him is "one" kata ton logon (when seen
by reason) , "many" kata t(-+e) aisth(-+e)in
(when seen by perception) . Aristotle,
(31) "In his Metaphysics, Aristotle has taken great
pains to describe the subjective counterpart of
"being as being," e.g., in Book I.981(b)-983(a).
Within the perennial philosophy Indian thought is
marked off by two special features:  the reliance
on yoga as providing the basic raw material of
worth-while experience,(32) and  the implicit
belief in karma and rebirth. Yoga, of course, has its
counterpart in the West in the spiritual and ecstatic
practices of contemplatives, and belief in
reincarnation is nearly world-wide,(33) though rare
among philosophers accorded academic recognition.
Then, after 1450, the East fell asleep and lived
on its inherited capital, until in the end innate
lethargy and aggression from the outside brought it
to its present impasse. In the West, a large number
of philosophers discarded the basic presuppositions
of the "perennial philosophy," and developed by
contrast what for want of a better term we may call a
"sciential"(34) philosophy. That has the following
features:  Natural science, particularly that
dealing with inorganic matter, has a cognitive value,
tells us about the actual structure of the universe,
and provides the other branches of knowledge with an
ideal standard in that they are the more "scientific"
the more they are capable of mathematical formulation
and the more they rely on repeatable and publicly
verified observations.  Man is the highest of
beings known to science, and his power and
convenience should be promoted at all costs. 
Spiritual and magical forces cannot influence events,
and life after death may be disregarded, because
unproven by scientific methods.  In consequence,
"life" means "man's" life in this world, and the task
is to ameliorate this life by a social "technique" in
harmony with the "welfare" or "will" of "the people."
Buddhists must view all these tenets with the utmost
"Sciential" philosophy is an ideology which
corresponds to a technological civilization. It
arises in its purity only to the extent that its
social substratum has freed itself from all
pre-industrial influences, and in the end it must
lead to the elimination of even the last traces of
what could properly be called
(32) "Notre philosophie est ne de la curiosit et du
besoin de savoir, d'expliquer le monde d'une
faon cohrente. En Inde la philosophie est
l'interpretation rationelle de l'exprience
mystique." So Constantin Regamey, on page 251 of
what is one of the most notable contributions so
far made to comparative philosophy, i.e.,
"Tendences et mthodes de la philosophie
celles de la philosophie
occidentale, " Revue de Thologie et de
Philosophie, IV (1951), 245-262. Regamey also
shows how this difference in the point de
dpart leads to a radical divergence in the
criteria of absolute truth.
(33) Joseph Head and S. L. Cranson, eds.,
Reincarnation: An East-West Anthology (New York:
The Julian Press, Inc., 1961).
(34) The opponents of the perennial philosophy prefer
to describe themselves as "scientific." There
can be nothing more unscientific, however, than
the drawing of extravagant and presumptuous
conclusions about the mind, soul, and spirit of
man, and about his destiny and the purpose of
his life, from a few observations about the
expansion of gases, the distribution of moths,
and the reflections of the celestial bodies in
little pieces of glass. If I were reduced to
that part of myself which can be seen in bits of
glass, I would certainly feel that most of my
being was omitted. Why should this not be true
also of other things apart from my own dear
"philosophy" in the original sense of "love of
wisdom." For centuries; it existed only blended with
elements from the traditional "perennial" philosophy.
As philosophies, both the "perennial" and the
"sciential" systems possess: some degree of
intellectuality, and up to a point they both use
reasoning. But considered in their purity, as ideal
types, they differ in that the first is motivated by
man's spiritual(35) needs, and aims at his salvation
from the world and its ways, whereas the second is
motivated by hi s utilitarian needs, aims at his
conquest of the world, and is therefore greatly
concerned with the natural and social sciences.
Between the two extremes there are, of course,
numerous intermediary stages. They depend to some
extent on the quality of the spirituality behind
them, which is very high, say, in Buddhism, slightly
lower in Plato and Aristotle, and still quite marked
in such men as Spinoza, Leibniz, Berkeley, Kant,
Goethe, Hegel, and Bergson. The general trend,
however, has been a continuous loss of spiritual
substance between 1450 and 1960, based on an
increasing forgetfulness of age-old traditions, an
increasing unaware ness of spiritual practices, and
an increasing indifference to the spiritual life by
the classes which dominate society.
Leaving aside the relative merits of the
"perennial" and the "sciential" approaches to
philosophy, all I want to establish at present is
their mutual incompatibility, which is borne out by
their mutual hostility. Our "sciential" philosophers
are well aware of this. We need only peruse the
writings of empiricists, logical positivists, and
linguistic analysts, and it will become obvious
that the animosity displayed toward a philosopher is
almost a measure of his spirituality.(36) And, in a
way, the moderns are quite right. For "perennial" and
"sciential" philosophies represent two qualitatively
different kinds of thinking which have almost nothing
in common, except perhaps for a certain degree of
respect for rationality. Our contemporaries
continually assure us that the spiritual philosophers
of the past are not "philosophers" at all, but
dreamers, mystics, poets, and so on. All we can
conclude from this is that the word "philosophy" is
being used in two quite disparate senses:  as the
pursuit of "wisdom," and  as a "rigorous" academic
(35) I have defined the word "spiritual" in my
Buddhism (3rd ed., Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1957)
on page 11. The quintessence of the spiritual
life, shorn of its usual accretions, was
admirably formulated by Petrus Damiani in the
eleventh century in two exceedingly fine poems
which have recently been reprinted in F. J. E.
Raby, ed., The Oxford Book of Medieval Latin
Verse (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959), pp.
185-189. The second has also been translated
into English in Frederick Brittain, ed., The
Penguin Book of Latin Verse (Harmondsworth,
England: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1962), pp.
(36) To mention just two easily accessible sources:
In Bertrand Russell's A History of Western
Philorophy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1945)
this attitude is expressed with some urbanity,
and in J. O. Urmson, ed., The Concise
Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy (London:
Hutchinson, 1960) with blunt rudeness (e.g., the
article on Schopenhauer is sheer personal
much ostensible purpose. The "wisdom" meant here is
compounded of knowledge and a "good life," and to it
apply the words of Proverbs: "Blessed is the man who
has found wisdom. Her ways are good ways, and all her
paths are peaceful. She is a tree of life to all that
lay hold upon her."(37) It is not easy to how such
words could be used of "philosophy" in the second
Having stated the general principles on which the
comparison of Buddhist and European thought must be
based, I now speak of the only three currents of
European philosophy which can significantly be
compared with Buddhism, i.e.,  the Greek Skeptics,
 the wisdom-seeking mystics, and  the monists
 The European system nearest to the
Maadhyamikas is that of the Greek Skeptics. In my
Buddhism,(37a) I have shown their close similarity,
both in intention and structure. They also agree in
that the history of skepticism exhibits the same
tendency to deviate into a purely theoretical
intellectualism which has continually threatened the
integrity of Buddhist thought. Greek Skepticism went
through four stages, which R. G. Bury(38) has called
the practical, the critical, the dialectical, and the
empirical. The parallel with Buddhism is closest in
the first stage, i.e., with Pyrrho (360-275 B.C.).In
the last, with Sextus Empiricus (A.D. 160-210), it is
barely perceptible. Indeed, taking the later
developments as his norm, Bury can affirm that Pyrrho
"was probably not at all a full-blown Sceptic, but
rather a moralist of an austere and ascetic type who
cultivated insensibility to externals and superiority
to environment."(39) It was only in the New Academy,
with Arcesilas (315-241 B.C.), that Skepticism
"ceased to be purely practical and became mainly
theoretical."(40) "Thus, while Pyrrho had renounced
and Timon flouted the Dogmatists, Arcesilas started
the practice of refuting them scientifically and
systematically, and earned thereby the abuse of Timon
for his lapse from pure Pyrrhonism."(41) In fact,
when we read Sextus Empiricus, we find that, although
some of the original message has remained intact,(42)
it has been overlaid by a vast technical apparatus
accumulated over five centuries and by numerous
concessions to common sense. The bulk of Sextus' work
is parasitical on the dogmatic philosophers, and
seems to be motivated more by disputatiousness and
(37) Cf. III:13-18.
(37a) Op. cit., pp. 140-142.
(38) R. G. Bury, trans., Sextus Empiricus, 4 vols.
Vol. I, Outlines of Pyrrhonism (New York: G. P.
Putnam's Sons, 1333),p. xxx.
(39) Ibid., p. xxx; Cf. also p. xxxi.
(40) Ibid., p. xxxii.
(41) Ibid., p. xxxiii.
(42) E.g., in what the skeptik(-+e) ag(-+o)g(-+e)
("sceptical procedure") (Book I. Chap. 4) has to
say about ataraxia (='samatha) as the end of
life (I. 25-30), or about the svabhaava (physis
or peri t(-+o)n ex(-+o)then hypokeimen(-+o)n)
(I. 15, 22, 93, 163) , the relativity of
everything (I. 135), or on non-assertion (I.
192-193) , non-determination (I. 197) , and
non-apprehension (I. 200).
the desire to score debating points than by a
positive interest in mental repose. In many ways his
attitude resembles that of the later Buddhist
At the time of Cicero, halfway between Pyrrho and
Sextus Empiricus, this loss of spiritual earnestness
had not gone quite so far. Some of the statements
which Cicero makes in his Academica,(43) on behalf of
or in response to the Skeptics, are indeed strikingly
similar to the teachings of the Maadhyamikas and
other later Buddhists.
The Skeptics were people who "sanctioned nothing
as proved" (qui nibil probarent(44)). "All those
things you talk about are hidden, closely concealed
(occultata) and enfolded in thick clouds of darkness,
so that no human intellect has sufficiently powerful
sight to be able to penetrate to heaven and get
inside the earth."(45) Though "it is possibly the
case that when exposed and uncovered they change
their character" (quia possit fieri ut patefacta et
detecta mutentur).(46) The Skeptics "have a habit of
concealing (occultandi) their opinion, and do not
usually disclose it to any one except those that had
lived with them right up to old age."(47) And the
opponent says, "What pray are those holy secrets
(mysteria) of yours, or why should your school
conceal (celatis) its doctrine as something
"It is the wise man (sapiens) that we are
investigating,"(49) and it is on him that "ail this
enquiry turns."(50) He "avoids being taken in and
sees to it that he is nor deceived."(51) They hold
that "nothing can be perceived, "(52) or grasped
(comprehendi, anupalabdhi),(53) and the "wise man
will restrain all acts of assent" (adsensus,
abhinive'sa).(54) There is also a reference to the
"perversity" (pravitas) of seeing the non-real as
real,(55) and to arguments against the senses, which
are said to be "full of darkness,"(56) and against
"everything that is approved in common experience"
(consuetudo = sa^mv.rti).(57) And, as
(43) Cicero, De Natura Deorum; Academica, H. Rackham,
ed. and trans. (Cambridge: Harvad University
(44) Ibid., pp. 488-489; Academica, II (Lucullus).
(45) Ibid., pp. 624-625; Academica, II (Lucullus).
(47) Ibid., pp, 462-463; Academica, fragment No. 21.
(48) Ibid., pp, 542-543; Academica, II (Lucullus).
(49) Ibid., pp. 550-551; Academica, II (Lucullus).
(50) Ibid., pp. 614-615; Academica, II (Lucullus).
(51) Ibid., pp. 550-551; Academica, II (Lucullus).
(52) Ibid., pp. 550-551, 554-555, 608-609, 489-490,
542-543. They "do not deny that some truth
exists, but deny that it can be perceived" (qui
veri esse aliquid non negamus, percipi posse
negamus). II. xxiii.73.
(53) Ibid., pp. 620-621; Academica, II (Lucullus).
(54) Ibid., pp. 554-555; Academica, II (Lucullus).
(55) Ibid., pp. 566-567; Academica, II (Lucullus).
(56) Ibid., p. 559; Academica, II (Lucullus).
(57) Ibid., pp. 562-563; Academica, II (Lucullus).
though he had read the Praj~naapaaramitaa, an
opponent points out that "as for wisdom herself, if
she does not know whether she is wisdom or not, how
in the first place will she make good her claim to
the name of wisdom? Next, how will she venture with
confidence to plan or execute any undertaking when
there will be nothing certain for her to act
 Secondly, there is a close similarity with
those ascetic, other-worldly, and "mystical" thinkers
who assigned a decisive importance to "spiritual expe
rience." They are represented by four main trends:
(a) First, there are the Wisdom speculations of
the Near East between 200 B.C. and A.D. 300. Their
conception of chochma and sophia is closely analogous
to that of praj~naapaaramitaa, and some of the
similarities are really quite startling.(59)
(b) Next, the kindred Gnostic and Neo-Platonic
modes of thought, especially the later
Neo-Platonists, like Proclus and Damascius,(60) and
also their Christian form in Origenes and in
Dionysius Areopagita, who in some passages of his
Mystical Theology(61) gives what may well be called a
Christian version of the Heart Suutra.
(c) Thirdly, there are the great mystics of the
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, such as Meister
Eckhart,(62) Ruysbroeck, and Suso. Their kinship with
Buddhism has been noted so often that I can be quite
brief. Ruysbroeck says of the "God-seeing man" that
"his spirit is undifferentiated and without
distinction, and therefore feels nothing without the
unity." Among Western contemplatives, 'suunyataa
corresponds to the "desert of the Godhead," to
Ruysbroeck's "idle emptiness," to Eckhart's still
wilderness where no one is at home, to the "naked
orison," the "naked intent stretching unto God,"
which becomes possible with entire self-surrender,
and also to the fathomless abyss of Ruysbroeck and
Tauler.(63) This "abyss" is wholeheartedly welcomed
by those steeped in self-negation and self-naughting,
but, later on, less selfless people
(58) Ibid., p. 499; Academica, II (Lucullus).
(59) For some details, see my review of H. Ringgren,
Word and Wisdom, in Oriental Art, I, No. 4
(Spring, 1949), 196-197.
(60) Some useful material has been collected by R.
Gnoli in La Parola del passato, I (1961), fasc.
LXXVII, 153-159. See also J. Rahder's
suggestions on 'suunyataa in Indogaku
Bukky(-+o)gaku Kenkyuu (Journal of Indian and
Buddhist Studies). IX, No. 2 (1961), 754. On the
other hand, I can see no merit in E. Benz's
attempt to establish a direct link by claiming
that Plotinus' teacher, Ammonios "Sakkas," was
either a member of the Indian dynasty of the
"Saki," or a "Sakya" (Sakiya, Sakka), i.e., a
Buddhist monk. Orientalia Romana, I (1958),
18-20 (Instituto Italiano per il Medio ed
Estremo Oriente. Serie Orientale Roma, XVII).
(61) I.e., 1.2, II.1, III.1, chaps. 4 and 5. The
translations are apt to obscure the parallel,
which becomes strikingly obvious as soon as the
Greek text is consulted.
(62) Cf. Daisetz T. Suzuki, "Meister Eckhart and
Buddhism," in Mysticism, Christian and Buddhist
(London: George Alien & Unwin Ltd., 1957), pp.
(63) For a good description, see Tauler, "Sermon on
St. John the Baptist," in The Inner Wary: 36
Sermons for Festivals. New translation, edited
with Introduction by Arthur Wollaston Hutton
like B. Pascal(64) and Ch. Baudelaire(65) felt
rather ambivalent when confronted with it, since they
were clearly none too enchanted With the implication
of being "separated from all created things." The
Theologia Germanica(66) (ca, 1425), as is well known,
contains many formulations with a distinctly Buddhist
flavor. The most striking similarity lies, of course,
in the constant emphasis on "I-hood and selfhood," on
"I, me, and mine" as the source of all alienation
from true reality, and on the need to undo that
"blindness and folly."(67) But this is not all. On
re-reading the book I have been astounded to find how
close it is in so many ways to Buddhist mentality, in
spite of its author's "cautious limitation of his
speculations to what is compatible with the
Church,"(68) and some minor concessions to theism,
especially in the later parts. Apart from the subject
of satkaayad.r.s.ti this is true of what is said
about the Godhead (= Nirvaa.na), the "deified man" (=
the bodhisattva), activated by both "cognition" and a
"love" wherein "there neither is nor can remain any
I, Me, Mine, Thou, Thine, and the like, "(69)
non-attainment, (70) the perverted views, (71)
self-deception (= avidyaa),(72) Suchness, (73) faith,
(74) the One, (75) emptiness, (76) desire, (77) and
so on--in fact, quite an impressive list.
(d) Toward the end of the seventeenth century,
shortly after Galileo, European mysticism of this
type lost its intellectual distinction, and faded
away into the "Quietism" of Molinos and Mme Guyon. In
the aftermath of the French revolution, many of the
basic laws of the spiritual life were rediscovered by
great poets who were also fine thinkers, such as
Blake, Shelley, Wordsworth, and Coleridge in
England. Though often vitiated by a fatal rift
between theory and practice, their thought offers
many parallels to Buddhist thinking. To this
generation of rebels against the Goddess of Reason
belonged Arthur Schopenhauer, whose thought, partly
under Indian influence, exhibits numerous, and almost
miraculous, coincidences with the basic tenets of
Buddhist philosophy.(78) The term "parallel" implies
that two lines run
(London: Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1901), pp. 97-99. Cf.
St. John of the Cross, Noche Oscura, Vol. I, Book 2,
(64) E.g., L. Brunschvicg, ed., Penses (14th ed.,
Paris: Hachette, 1927), p. 350.
(65) It is quite interesting to note, when reading
Les Fleurs du Mal, the varying and conflicting
connotations of such key terms as gouffre,
abime, and vide.
(66) New York: Pantheon Books, Inc., 1949. London:
Gollancz, 1950. This is the translation of S.
Winkworth, revised by W. Trask, on the basis of
J. Bernhart's translation into modern German:
Theologia Germanica (New York: Pantheon Books,
(67) Chaps. 1-5, 20, 22, 24, 32, 34, 40, 44, 49, 51.
(68) Bernhart, op. cit., p. 101.
(69) Ibid., pp. 191-192, 197.
(70) Ibid., pp. 167, 180, 183.
(71) Ibid., pp. 119, 186.
(72) Ibid., p. 200.
(73) Ibid., pp. 206, 240.
(74) Ibid., p. 207.
(75) Ibid., pp. 197, 204-206, 218-219.
(76) Ibid., pp. 144, 219-220.
(77) Ibid., p. 115, liebheyt.
(78) Cf. R. Fussell, The Nature and Purpose of the
Ascetic Ideal (Kandy, Ceylon: Buddhist
Publication Society, 1960). H. v. Glasenapp, Die
Philosophie der Inder (Stuttgart: Alfre Kroener
Verlag, 1958), pp. 428-429.
parallel at more than one point, and the degree of
affinity existing between Schopenhauer and Buddhism
will give us a standard by which to judge other
As he himself said, Schopenhauer continued the
triple tradition of "quietism, i.e. the giving up of
all willing, asceticism, i.e. intentional
mortification of one's own will, and mysticism, i.e.
consciousness of the identity of one's own inner
being with that of all beings, or with the kernel of
the world."(79) He shows that life in the world is
meaningless, essentially suffering, and bound to
disappoint the hope that our desires might be
fulfilled. He attributes this suffering to "the will
to live," which is the equivalent of t.r.s.naa, and
which "involves us in a delusion." He looks for
salvation from this world by way of a "denial of the
will to live," which is a "consequence of the dawning
of better knowledge,"(80) and by an asceticism and
self-renunciation exemplified in "the lives of
saints, penitents, sama.nas, sannyaasins, and so
on."(81) We may add his atheism, his denial of an
immaterial, substantially unchanging, soul, his
belief in reincarnation, his stress on compassion as
the basis of morality, his indifference to the
"achievements" or "rhythm" of human history,(82) as
well as his insight into impermanence(83) and into
the reasons why Nirvaa.na can be described only
negatively, and yet it is not nothing.(84)
It is only on two points that he differs from
(A) He fails to appreciate the importance of
disciplined meditation. Educated non-Catholic Germans
of the nineteenth century were quite unfamiliar with
the tradition of spiritual contemplation. On the
other hand, for relaxation they habitually visited
art galleries and went for walks in the countryside.
It is no wonder, therefore, that Schopenhauer sees
the foretaste of "the exalted peace" of Nirvaa.na,
not in trances (dhyaana), but in "pure esthetic
contemplation." Although the contemplation of beauty
has some analogy to the conditions prevailing in
trance, it is on the whole an undisciplined faculty,
and its results are rather fleeting and have little
power to transmute the personality. In this respect,
the German bourgeois town-dweller was a lesser man
than the Indian man in the forest.
(B) Secondly, Schopenhauer teaches that the Will
is the Thing-in-itself, whereas in Buddhism "craving"
operates within the conditioned and phenomenal world,
and the unconditioned noumenon lies in Nirvaa.na,
which is quite calm as the result of the abolition of
craving. Unacquainted with the
(79) E. F. J. Payne, trans., The World as Will and
Representation (WWR), 2 vols. (Indian Hills,
Colorado: The Falcon's Wing Press, 1958), p.
613. Vol. II.
(80) WWR, Vol. II, p. 608.
(81) Quoted in Fussell, op. cit., p. 1. Sama.nas =
recluses; sannyaasins = ascetics.
(82) WWR. Vol. II chap. 38.
(83) WWR, Bk. I, par. 3; Bk. III, par. 33.
(84) WWR, Vol. II, pp. 608, 612.
practice of yoga, Schopenhauer did not know that at
the bottom of every mind there is a calm quietude
which is the prototype of Nirvaa.na. His central
metaphysical thesis is, however, incompatible, not
only with Buddhism, but also with his own
soteriological aspirations. It is, indeed, not only
hard to see how any cognitive act can ever reach the
Thing-in-itself, but it also remains incomprehensible
how thought can ever have the strength to stand up
against the Will, and, what is more, how as a part of
the purely illusory phenomenal world it can possibly
overcome and effectively "deny" it.(85) This was
early recognized by Nietzsche(86) and J. Bahnsen(87)
(1881), Schopenhauer's immediate successors, and led
them, respectively, into nihilism and a pessimism
unrelieved by the hope of escape.
(C) Furthermore, Buddhism has a distinct affinity
with the "monistic" traditions of European thought.
The Eleatic emphasis on the One(88) implied
devaluation, depreciation, and at times even
rejection of the plural and multiple world. However
they may phrase it, all monistic systems are in tune
with the feeling which Shelley formulated in the
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass
Stains the white radiance of eternity
Until death tramples it to fragments.(89)
Parmenides (ca. 480 B.C., nearly the Buddha's
contemporary) and his successors assume a radical
difference between appearance and reality, between
surface and depth, between what we see (phainomena)
and what we can only think (noumena), between opinion
and truth. For Parmenides, opinion (d.r.s.ti) is
derived from the senses, which are deceptive and the
basis of false information. Truth is derived from the
logos, which has for its object Being (that which is
and has no other attributes but to be). Being is,
non-being is not; and that which Is can never not be,
either now or later (as in change). Nothing that Is
can either arise or perish.(90)
All monistic systems are remarkably uniform, and
they are all equally
(85) For an exceedingly clear and lucid survey of the
many inconsistencies in Schopenhauer':
philosophy, I must refer to H. M. Wolf, Arthur
Schopenhauer. Hundert Jahre Spter (Bern and
Muenchen: Francke Verlag, 1960).
(86) H. M. Wolf, op. tit., pp. 36, 70, 106-107.
(87) About his "miserabilism," see E. Conze, "The
Objective Validity of the Principle o:
Contradiction," Philozophy, X (1935), 216.
(88) But the panta ch(-+o)rei of Herakleitos fits
none too well, because not everything flows
Nirvaa.na, the most important thing of all,
(89) Good parallels can be found in P. Damiani, "The
Glories of Paradise," referred to above note 35.
(90) "It never was, and it never will be, since it
Is, all of it together, only present in the Now,
one and indivisible." (Diels-Kranz. Fr. 8
[Simpl. Phys. 145.I.3-6].)
beset by at least four unavoidable difficulties. They
must, first of all, try to guard against the
misunderstanding that the One might be a datum within
the world, or a part of the conglomeration. Both
East and West acutely felt the difficulties of
finding an adequate verbal expression for the
essentially transcendent and elusive reality of the
One, and both made many attempts to circumvent them
by the use of paradoxes, absurdities, contradictions,
tautologies, riddles, negations, and other devices.
Secondly, the monists must attempt to maintain the
simplicity of the One by redefining the meaning of
predication in regard to it. In this context,
scholastic p hilosophers explained that God is each
of his predicates, whereas creatures have them, and
that the predicates of God are not different from one
another, since otherwise he would not be simple. "The
absolute essence is not in one respect different from
what it is in another; what it is, it is in the
totality of its being."(91) Everything plural is
itself and in addition something else, and only the
completely free can be itself pure and simple.
A third problem concerns the relation between the
One and Being. The old Eleatic school, which
flourished between 540 and 300 B.C.,(92) identifies
the two. One must bear in mind, however, that in
doing so it uses a special archaic, pre-Atistotelian
type of logic(93) which, among other things, employs
"the principle of unlimited predication." This means
that a predicate is either predicated without
limitation of the subject or it is not valid at all.
This logic only knows statements of the type "All A
are all B," which predicate the entire P of the
entire S, without any qualification as to time, part,
or respect, without any distinction being made
between total and partial identity of S and P, or
between their partial and total difference. The
Eleatics also "assumed that one speaks only in one
sense (monachos) of 'one' and 'being.'"(94) The
victory of Aristotelian logic changed all that.
Plotinus describes the One expressly as "beyond
being"; for Meister Eckhart, who said that "in the
Kingdom of Heaven all is in all, all is one, and all
is ours," Pure Being, as the most general, becomes
the richest of all terms;(95) and Hegel, again,
treats "being" as the initial and minimal definition
of the Absolute, which is later
(91) Plotinus, Enneads, VI.viii.10.
(92) Also the Megarics and Antisthenes belonged to
it. Pyrrho appears to have started with the
(93) S. Ranulf, Der eleatische Satz vom Widerpruch
(Kopenhagen: Gyldendal, 1924). The archaic
character of Parmenides' thinking is also shown
in his belief that Being is a mass which,.as a
well-rounded sphere, fills space. Also the
well-known works of Prant1, Apelt, Maier, E.
Hoffmann (Die Sprache und die archaisthe Logik
[Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1925]), and Cornford
are helpful in this connection.
(94) Aristotle, Physics, 185(b)33. In many passages
(Metaphysics, Gamma 2, 4, E 1, Z 1, K 3),
Aristotle points out that Being is said
pollach(-+o)s (in many senses).
(95) See R. Otto, Mysticism East and West (London:
Marmillan and Company, 1932), pp. 21-26.
enriched by many further "attributes." The Theologia
Germanica(96) says that "he who finds satisfaction in
God, his satisfaction is the One, and is all in the
One. And he to whom the One is not all and all not
the One, and to Whom something and nothing are not
one and the same, cannot find satisfaction in God."
The Buddhist non-dual One was in the same way by many
devices transferred beyond all logical categories.
And, fourthly, monists must come to some decision
on the status of appearance. It may well be that
not all of them have, like most Buddhists, regarded
appearance as a mere illusion, and it is probably
true that' "there is never any suggestion in Plotinus
that all things except the One are illusions or
fleeting appearances."(97) But this is a distinction
without much of a differece, because also in the
Plotinian system the sensory and material world has
an extremely low degree of reality, and is afflicted
by a great loss of the original reality, near its
point of extinction. In the same way, in the Hegelian
system the natural world is a state of estrangement
from the Absolute Spirit. In Eckhart, "all creatures,
insofar as they are creatures, as they are in
themselves (quod sunt in et per se), are not even
an illusion, but they are a pure nothing."(98) And,
for Spinoza, "a temporal existence insofar as it is
purely temporal is the same as non-existence, and is
perishing in proportion to its fragmentariness and
exclusiveness; existence in every range insofar as it
gains content move already towards an ideal of
perfection which is one with eternity itself."(99)
The background of all "monistic" views(100) is a
religious contempt for the world of ordinary
experience, for that which is not One or not He who
Is. That world is held to be unsatisfactory-partly
emotionally as a source of suffering, and partly
logically as self-contradictory, and as therefore
either non-existing(101) or unable to abide in the
state in which it is. In this way monism is apt to
beget the dialectics out of itself, as in Zeno,
Hegel, and Bradley, to name only a few. In the case
of Zeno of Elea (ca. 460 B.C.),
(96) Pp. 204-205. Italics mine.
(97) A. H. Armstrong, Plotinus (London: G. Alien &
Unwin Ltd., 1953), p. 41. For the ambiguities in
Plotinus' own thought, compare Armstrong p. 21
with p. 29.
(98) For useful quotations see 11. Otto, op. cit.,
(99) According to Harold F. Hallett, Aeternitas
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930), p. 45.
(100) It may be objected that the comparison of all
this with Buddhism applies more to the
"monistic" Mahaayaana than to the "pluralistic"
Hiinayaana theories. But the difference should
not be overstressed. As the Theravaada had a
latent idealism and an implicit bias toward a
mentalistic interpretation of physical reality
(%tienne Lamotte, L'enseignement de
Vimalakiirti. Bibliothque du Muson, Vol. 51
[Louvain: Institut Orientaliste, Universit
Catholique de Louvain, 1962], pp. 52-60), so it
teaches also the one Dhamma side by side with
the multiple dhammas (see Buddhaghosa on ekam
hi saccam, na dutiiyam atthi, in Visuddhimagga
of Buddhaghosaacariya, H. C. Warren, ed; rev.
by Dh. Kosambi, Harvard Oriental Series, Vol.
41 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950),
pp. 422, 421.
(101) A purely intellectual contradiction reduces
thought to nothing. It results in nonsense. He
who thinks a contradiction thinks nothing at
whom Aristotle called the founder of the dialectics,
the "paradoxes" (aporiai) he devised aimed at
defending by indirect proofs the view of Parmenides,
which held local movement to be impossible in the
ultimate reality of the true world of being. All Zeno
did was to show that, on assuming movement, the
consequences which follow are contradictory and
untenable,(102) and that, therefore, the information
derived from sense-data is patently false, since
selfcontradictions are the marks of false appearance.
Zeno's dialectics has had many successors. Among
them, Bradley seems nearer to the Maadhyamikas than
either Hegel or Marx. Both Hegel and Marx make two
assumptions which must irritate Buddhists. The first
is the insistence on human history, (103) which
Buddhists hold to be utterly pointless. The second is
the constant introduction of the tripartite scheme of
thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, which postulates a
relentless "progress" from one state to the other,
culminating in the tyranny of the Prussian state or
of the U.S.S.R. On the other hand, Bradley is, next
to Schopenhauer, the nearest representative in modern
Europe of at least one side of Buddhist thought. Even
the procedure of Appearance and Reality is the same
as that of the Maadhyamikakaarikaa, in that one
currently accepted category after the other is taken
up and shown to be self-contradictory and untenable.
Nor can I agree with Professor Murti's(l04) claim
that they differ greatly "in their notion of the Real
and its relation to appearance." In fact, they both
treat the Real as ineffable, and "at once
transcendent and immanent."(105) If Bradley takes
care not to exclude entirely the appearance from the
Real, and seeks somehow to identify the two,(106)
then this is not a "rather inconsistent
contention,"(107) but the exact equivalent of the
Maadhyamika position ("Form is emptiness, " etc.).
Both these books are essentially polemical treatises
and their message seems to be identical.
(102) Or, in other words, that his Pythagorean
opponents cannot assert the reality of movement
without coming into conflict with their own
premises. These opponents assumed that a line
consists of indivisible points in
juxtaposition, and the counter-arguments of
Hobbes ( Works, I. 110), Bergson, and Aristotle
take no notice of the historical situation. The
contradictions involved can be seen succinctly
in Hegel, History of Philosophy, Haldane,
trans., 1892, I. 273-274; cf. Logic, I.
191-193, II. 143 sq.; F. Engels, Herrn Eugen
Dhrings Umwlzung der Wissenschaft, 3rd ed.
(Stuttgart: J. H. W. Dietz, 1894), 120; E.
Conze, Philosophy (see note 87), p. 21).
(103) Hegel said that "comprehended history forms
both the memorial and the calvary of the
absolute Spirit--that without which it would be
Lifeless (!) Solitude." He seems to have a
strange view of "life," as composed of a long
series of senseless oppressions and massacres
perpetrated in the name of some fatuous "ideal"
(104) The Central Philosophy of Buddhism (London:
George Alien & Unwin Ltd., 1955), p. 308.
(105) Murti, ibid,, p. 310.
(106) Appearance and Reality: A Metaphysical Study
(9th impression, corrected, Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1930),p. 404.
(107) Murti, op. cit., p. 309.