BUDDHISM THROUGH CHRISTIAN SPECTACLES
[Lucifer, Vol. IV, No. 21, May, 1889, pp. 251-252]
On the occasion of a new pseudo-Oriental dirge* by “Sir Monier Monier-Williams, K.C.I.E.” the very Christian Orientalist, a daily takes the opportunity of poking fun into the ribs of several members and ex-members of the T.S. We have had an opportunity of acquainting ourself with some of the views of the “Duff” lecturer in Edinburgh, and therefore doubt our ever opening his new volume. It has once been shown in Lucifer, April, 1888, how the “Orientalist” of that name, scoffing at the modest title of Light of Asia seeks to make it pale into insignificance before the proud appellation of “Light of the World”—a rather paradoxical boast to make before a mankind, more than two-thirds of which are non-converted Buddhists and “heathens.” But such intellectual legerdemain, such jugglery of facts and historical data sacrificed to sectarian views, are no novelty to any reader. The modus operandi is as old as the Nazarene faith, and the genus “missionary” familiar to every admirer of Buddha, the DIVINE MAN par excellence. We leave therefore the onus probandi—easy enough, with audiences of gobemouches and too willing helpers—of proving the unprovable, to the clever author who uses so dexterously the well-known missionary trick, namely, that “Buddhism is the Devil’s imitation of Christianity.”
And why shouldn’t he, when it is the only thing in our day of shams that pays? Let Sir Monier adopt another tone; let
* Buddhism, in its connection with Brahmanism and Hinduism and in its contrast with Christianity, is the short and comprehensive title of a new work compiled from his “Duff Lectures” by Sir Monier Monier-Williams.
him speak truth and fact, and declare them squarely to his audiences. Let him state that neither Buddhism, nor the gospel of Krishna—nor yet the legends of the numerous Solar Gods who lived, died, and after descending into Hades, resurrected, bringing back to earth the divine light of which the Demon of Darkness, the Winter Solstice, had deprived it—could be “imitations” of the Christian legend, as they preceded it by long ages. Let him speak as every impartial historian and Orientalist is in duty bound to do, truth and nothing but the truth, and he will soon find that, instead of being referred to by his reviewers as “one of the most distinguished of living Orientalists” (?!) he will dwindle down to the status of a fifth-rate lecturer, “talking gibberish,” “under Mr. Sinnett’s influence” (sic).
True, the Oxford Sanskritist has never been under the influence of the writer of Esoteric Buddhism; and his own version (Vide “Preface” to his work) assures us that having thrice travelled through the sacred lands of Buddhism, he has “brought to the study of Buddhism and its sacred language Pâli, a life-long preparatory study of Brâhmanism and its sacred language Sanskrit.” Yet there exists another version both in India and Oxford. Some irreverent pundits, among others the late Dayanand Saraswati, the greatest Sanskrit scholar of India, laboured under the impression that in the last voyage through “the sacred lands of Buddhism,” namely Benares and beyond, made by Prof. Monier-Williams (was it in 1876 or 77?) no pundit could make head or tail of what the “most distinguished of living Orientalists” meant, when he attempted to speak Sanskrit; nor could they (the pundits) be coaxed into admitting that the illustrious Oxford Orientalist knew anything of Sanskrit at all. In fact, it was a truly benevolent action of Pundit Dayanand to have allowed his pupil, Shamji Krishnavarma, then a theosophist by-the-by, to go to Oxford and teach the eminent Professor some real Sanskrit.* Whether the distinguished Orientalist has profited by the lessons of his young
* [Vide p. 437 in the Bio-Bibliographical Index of Volume I of this Series, for information concerning this remarkable Hindu scholar.—Compiler.]
and most intelligent guru—lessons which covered several years since 1879—remains an open question. At all events he speaks like a true-blue Brahmin and reader of the Purânic dead letter of Buddha’s death having been caused by eating “too much dried boar’s flesh.” This is something, in view of Buddha’s asceticism and aversion to eating anything that had life in it, still more wonderful in its dead letter than that other statement that “prayer to the unknown (God) is among the chief duties now recognized by Buddhists.” We find it in a daily that quotes from the Professor’s lecture.
Priests and brothers of Ceylon, please rise and explain!
Therefore the remark is quite true that the “work of Sir Monier-Williams, K.C.I.E.” which—
will most interest those who have dabbled in what is called “Theosophy,” of which Colonel Olcott, Mr. A. P. Sinnett, and Madame Blavatsky are the best known exponents, is that entitled Mystical Buddhism. For Sir Monier holds that the Buddha himself was opposed to mysticism; that originally Buddhism “set its face against all solitary asceticism, and all secret efforts to obtain sublime heights of knowledge; it had no occult, esoteric system of doctrine which it withheld from ordinary men.”—Literary World.
Oh, Brahmâ Prabhavâpyaya! Thou God of the imperishable origin who took the figure of a boar—the same from eating whose DRIED remains Buddha is said by the metaphor-loving and wily Brahmin to have died—be merciful to thy detractors and would-be scholars! Our contemporary, the Literary World, launching on the dangerous depths of “Pure and impure Buddhism,” confesses after enumerating several learned works, that:
In this enumeration we have taken no account of the writings of the Theosophists or Neo-Buddhists, which pretend to initiate Western readers into the secret doctrines of Buddhism, and are generally too mystical and unintelligible for an ordinary man’s comprehension.
No wonder our “secret doctrines of Buddhism” are too much for an ordinary man’s comprehension. But then the “Duff” lecturer, Sir Monier Monier-Williams is, on his own confession and statement, of very extraordinary comprehension and most remarkable learning. He has forgotten more than any man ever knew; and learnt more of that which all
the Orientalists put together had to unlearn. A few “Duff” lectures more, and the English public will be told that Sir William Jones and Colonel Wilford were, after all, right; that Gautama Buddha was a parody of the Biblical Lamech, Buddhism and Wodenism, hence, Mercury and Buddha, are identical, and that the whole character of the Prince of Kapilavastu was copied from the mythical St. Josaphat, the Roman Catholic saint of India.
Will it be deemed very impertinent to the “greatest of living Orientalists” to say that it is only to be regretted that, having finished his Sanskrit rudiments with Shamji Krishnavarma, the eminent Oxford scholar has not turned to the Theosophists to give a little finishing touch to his Brahmano-Buddhist knowledge? We would have never grudged him his “Light of the World”; but taking him lovingly to our esoteric bosoms and permitting him to “dabble” in theosophy, we would have brought order into the confusion of his Buddhist notions and restored the equilibrium to the very unbalanced ideas culled by him in some Purânas, adverse to the Light of Asia. But now, do what we may, it is not Sir bis-Monier-Williams, K.C.I.E., who can ever hope to become “the Light of Orientalism.” Sic transit gloria mundi!
After all it is not the theosophists who are the losers; for never has a certain daily uttered a greater truth than when saying that a certain “Radical gentleman” is “not alone in the transfer of his allegiance from Christianity to Buddhism. Since the publication of Mr. Sinnett’s ‘Esoteric Buddhism’ various English converts have been made by the propagandists, male and female, who have devoted themselves to the work of proselytism; and there is no doubt that Asiatic mystery in any form has a great charm for a certain class of minds.”
It has, it has; and no amount of Western pride and prejudice will ever prevent the truths which Buddha taught from coming home to the hearts of the most intelligent thinkers of the West.