THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD*
[Lucifer, Vol. VIII, No. 44, April, 1891, pp. 170-173.]
Of the form of the poem we have little to say except that the author has previously written much that is superior. Theosophical criticism will have to go deeper than a merely literary review. Sir Edwin Arnold, the author of the unparalleled Light of Asia, has tried to make his peace with the Christian world by means of a ruse which oversteps even the large licence allowed to the priests of the Muses. He has cast the honied cake to the hound of Hades, but whether Cerberus will wag his tail at the sop or not, is still a question. Surely the ethical teaching and life of Jesus, whether legendary or actual, whether of a real man or of an ideal type of manhood, were themes noble enough for the poet’s skill without the transparent fiction, the unworthy tour de passe-passe, which we shall have to describe! The somewhat pretentious title is not a creation of the poet’s mind. Not to speak of the time honoured Lux Mundi of the Latin Church, we have the suggestion of the name in a certain public criticism made by Sir Monier Monier-Williams who, some two years ago, in a lecture more against than about Buddhism and the Lord Buddha, in order to please his audience, endeavoured to belittle the happy title
* By Sir Edwin Arnold. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1891.
given by Sir Edwin Arnold to his greatest poem. In fact the “Light of the World” was used by the lecturer as a pair of theological snuffers to put out that which was only the “Light of Asia.” We regret to see the partial success of the criticism; for the claim put forward in the title, though a pleasant tinkling in the ears of the ill-informed, is simply in a line with the modern advertisement system in the eyes of the truly learned. But we can let that go without further remarks in the pages of Lucifer, for the claim is not new and the Theosophical Society is a living protest against the further scattering of such seeds of dissension among the votaries of the various world-religions, of which the aggressive West has hitherto been so industrious a sower.
And now for Sir Edwin’s pious subterfuge. Surely the mantle of Eusebius must have fallen upon him!
The “Light of the World” to be so must, of course, put the “Light of Asia” into the shade. How was that to be managed, and at the same time place the scenes of the poem in the orthodox pigeon-holes of chronology and geography? Happy thought! Make the Magi Buddhists, since Cologne has made them already Germans, and bring one of them back to be converted, after the death of the Great Teacher, by Mary Magdalene. Make Mary Magdalene the hostess of a palatial house, a Galilean châtelaine, and the protagoniste of the Tragedy, and bring in one or two who were raised from the dead and of whom history sayeth naught further, as chorus—and the thing is done!
But truth alone can make us free and not fiction, however poetical. We will leave the criticism of biblical names and places to those who are already busy with them, merely pointing out the following coincidences.
Let us turn to Renan’s Vie de Jésus pp. 27 and 28,* and to Sir Edwin Arnold’s poem p. 106.
“. . . . . . . how Carmel plunged
Its broad foot in the tideless hyacinth Sea.”
* [On p. 29 in 3rd ed., Paris, Calmann-Levy, n.d.]
“À l’ouest, se déploient les belles lingnes du Carmel, terminées par une pointe abrupte qui semble se plonger dans la mer.”
“Rose Tabor, rounded like a breast; . . . . . .”
“ . . . le Thabor avec sa belle forme arrondie, que l’antiqué comparait à un sein.”
“Down to Megiddo with her twofold peak,
And Gilboa, dry and smooth; and Salem’s slope;
And, between Salen and soft Tabor, glimpse
Of Jordan’s speed.”
“Puis se déroulent le double sommet qui domine Mageddo. . . . les monts Gelboé . . . . . . Par une dépression entre la montagne de Sulem et le Thabor, s’entrevoient la vallée due Jourdain . . . . . .”
Thus we find in instances more than we can enumerate, that the English poet has allowed himself to be deeply inspired by M. Renan, the “Paganini du Christianisme.” And why not? Did not the author of La Vie de Jésus proceed on the very identical lines of fancy as Sir Edwin? Does he not call Jesus in the same breath “le charmant Docteur” and “un Dieu ressucité” donné au monde par “la passion d’une hallucinée.”
We now turn to the Buddhist (!) Magus and his utterances. Objecting to the term “Our Father” as the naming of the unnameable, he says:
“Yet is the Parabrahm unspeakable” which is true in itself, but strange in the lips of a Buddhist. We have always learned that Buddhism was a protest against Brahminism and that Parabrahm was a Vedantic term! Otherwise we might have read on drowsily into the state of dreams and heard without surprise Mary retorting: “But Allah is the only God!” But the rude shock kept us awake and we were only mollified by the following beautiful reply of the Indian Magus.
“We have a scroll which saith:
‘Worship, but name no name! blind are those eyes
Which deem th’ unmanifested manifest,
Not comprehending Me in My True Self,
Imperishable, viewless, undeclared.
Hidden behind My magic veil of shows
I am not seen at all. Name not My Name!’
Also a verse runs in our Holy Writ:—
‘Richer than heavenly fruit on Vedas growing;
Greater than gifts; better than prayer or fast;
Such sacred silence is! Man, this way knowing,
Comes to the utmost, perfect, Peace at last’!”
The chief points which the fictitious Hindu Magus is made to yield by his self-constituted prosecutor, advocate, jury and judge, are now to be noticed.
“Yet, truly, nowise have we known before
Wisdom so packed and perfect, as thy Lord’s,
Giving that Golden Rule that each shall do
Unto his fellow as he would have done
Unto himself . . . . .”
Let us take down from our shelves any book on comparative religion, say Moncure Conway’s Sacred Anthology or Max Müller’s Introduction to the Science of Religion.* On page 249 of the latter we read italics and all:
“According to Buddha, the motive of all our actions should be pity or love for our neighbor.
“And as in Buddhism, so even in the writing of Confucius we find again what we value most in our own religion. I shall quote but one saying of the Chinese sage:—
“‘What you do not like when done to yourself, do not do that to others.’”
Now of course this is no news to our readers; but the question is: is it news to Sir Edwin Arnold? If it is, he must be a culpably negligent student: if it is not, then he knows best what purpose he is serving by so flagrant a mis-statement.
* [London. Longman’s & Green, 1873 ed.]
Then again we are forced to query the honesty of the translator of the Song Celestial when he writes of the kingdom of Heaven, in his latest effort:
“Likewise, that whoso will may enter in—
Now and for ever—to full freedmanship
Of Love’s fair kingdom, having Faith, which is
Not wisdom, understanding, creed, belief,
Nor sinlessness—by Yogis vainly sought
In deedlessness—but earnest will to stand
On Love’s side; . . . .”
In which leaving aside the rest of the debateable ground we point to the word deedlessness. Of course we know that the Bhagavad-gita is not a Buddhist sutta, but since Sir Edwin has brought Parabrahm into court to prop up his case, we think ourselves justified in sending him to his own translation to refresh his memory about the true Yogi.
In Book the Third, Krishna ( the Higher Ego ) thus speaks:—
“No man shall ’scape from act
By shunning action; nay, and none shall come
By mere renouncements unto perfectness.
Nay, and no jot of time, at any time,
Rests any actionless; his nature’s law
Compels him, even unwilling, into act;
. . . . . . . .
But he who, with strong body serving mind
Gives up his mental powers to worthy work,
Not seeking gain, Arjuna ! such an one
Is honourable. Do thine allotted task!
. . . . . . . .
Work is more excellent than idleness;
The body’s life proceeds not, lacking work.
There is a task of holiness to do,
Unlike world binding toil, which bindeth not
The faithful soul; such earthly duty do
Free from desire, and thou shalt well perform
Thy heavenly purpose.”
And so on we might quote for pages. Is our distinguished author, then, losing his memory?
In general, the key-note of the “larger teaching” which the Magus is made to hail is “Love’s tolerance fulfills the law.” But surely this is no news to the mild and peaceful East; it was news perhaps to the worshippers of Javeh and the turbulent and savage tribes that Rome held under her sway, but to the followers of the Buddha such teaching was and is “familiar in their mouths as household words.”
In conclusion, we can only sincerely regret that Sir Edwin Arnold has gone so far out of his way to spoil his honourable record, and cause both East and West to blush over so sad a spectacle. To one thing alone we can give our unqualified approval; viz., that the poet disposes most summarily of Javeh and does not fall into the vulgar error of confounding Christianity with exoteric Judaism and its “jealous God.” The volume is fitly dedicated to “The Queen’s most excellent Majesty.” Later on we may again refer to the matter and let our readers hear what a Buddhist has to say on the subject.