PURITY, the Key-Note of Religion
WE HAVE now reached a point at which religion ordinarily begins as a practical factor in the life of man. How shall man, as a human being living in a world of sense, overcome the suffering and sorrow born of his sojourn therein, turn his existence to the best possible account, and, becoming aware of his divine nature, establish direct and palpable relations between himself and God? “By doing the Will of God,” answers religion. And as the Divine Will can only be learned individually through the soul, and the soul can perceive and transmit that Will in its entirety and truth only when she herself is whole and pure, it follows that the heart of all Religion is summed up in the idea of Purity, and the one way of salvation is its practice to the uttermost within the system and soul of man. (1) Thus the immediate purpose of religion – when worthy of the name – has always been in some way to stimulate man towards purity of life; and the difference between a living and a dead religious
system is that the former aims constantly at the purification of that inner and real life of man which is the soul, while the latter has become content with a superficial standard of morality for observance by the outward man only.
Now one of the most deplorable features of Ecclesiasticism is its habitual intolerance of all other faiths and religious systems, despite their antiquity, authenticity, fundamental similarity, and standing. It regards them not as friends, but as rivals and foes; not to be understood, appreciated, and – in part at least – assimilated, but to be ignored, depreciated, or controverted. This attitude Ecclesiasticism credits to itself as zeal for its own particular tenets, while it is in fact nothing but the intolerance born of ignorance. But it is an attitude fatal in the long run to the existence of Ecclesiasticism itself, having in it an element of self-destruction.
“The Light of
This precise attitude towards that particular system of religion, Buddhism, which preceded the advent of Christianity by some five or six centuries has been little short of suicidal to the real success of the latter, having proved disastrous to its hold on all save the ignorant or elementary, the prejudiced, and the conventional classes still dominated by Ecclesiasticism. For the fact is that the doctrine of the Buddha, with its Four Great Truths and its Noble Eightfold Path, its boundless compassion towards all sentient life, its reasonable ethical teaching of development through self-conquest and self-culture, its simple yet profound analysis of suffering and sorrow with the method of escape therefrom open to all, its entire regeneration of the mind, its exalted code of morality and standard of tolerance, peace, and charity – that doctrine is the indispensable forerunner and interpreter of the doctrine of the Christ. In brief, they are not two gospels but
two aspects, the without and the within, of one Gospel. For Buddhism finds its translation and completion in Christianity, and Christianity its inception and foundation in Buddhism.
“The Light of the World”
Thus regarded, Christianity, as religion, takes up the work of perfecting man in heart at that degree of partial regeneration to which Buddhism, as philosophy, has already brought him in mind; and so the former depicts and deals with but the closing stages of the whole great work. Were this recognised the serious foundational deficiencies, those rational, intellectual, and moral ellipses which confront the thoughtful and impartial student of the Christian system, would be largely accounted for, and a step taken towards re-habilitating as a living whole that most mutilated faith. How little they know Christianity who only an historical Jesus know, and leave out of account the way of the Buddha as the ladder that must be climbed to reach the state of Jesus!
(25:1) To adapt a phrase of Thoreau’s, there are nowadays schools of occultism and volumes about mysticism, but there are few mystics. How many of these teachers and writers have yet begun to comprehend that indulgence in such desire as expresses itself in the appetite for flesh-food, alcohol, and tobacco – to name but three elementary lusts of the body – is inimical to the growth and purification of the soul? Yet elimination of such impurity, as the Buddha saw, is an essential and early step on the way to regeneration of even the lower dualism of body and mind.