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THE SUMMUM BONUM.
NITYA, anātman and nirvāṇa have been rightly called the three corner-stones of Buddhism. They form the three cardinal principles of the Dharma. Any system of thought which accepts these three fundamental tenets may properly claim identity with Buddhism, whatever may be the adventitious beliefs and practices which hide them. But no system of thought, that does not recognise these three principles, can lay any claim to kinship with the Dharma.
What, then, is the meaning of these three principles? Anitya means impermanence. It signifies that all things are in a perpetual flux. All things lived through, all erlebnisse, as the Germans call them, are transient and impermanent. Nothing is permanent in the universe but change. Mutability is the very characteristic of all existence (visvam kshanabhanguram). Only non-existence, funyata, can claim to be immutable. Permanent unchanging substances exist in our thought, but not in reality. Whatsoever exists is made up of colours, sounds, temperatures, spaces, times, pressures, ideas, emotions, volitions, and so forth, connected with one another in manifold ways. And these are continually chang ing. Everything is therefore momentary (kshanika). Some things may be relatively more permanent than others, but nothing is absolutely permanent. It is the mistaking of what is impermanent for something permanent that makes anitya the source of sorrow (duhkha).
What is anitya is not necessarily mithya or illusory, as some have supposed. That which is momentary might prove deceptive, and thus become a source of sorrow, when mistaken for something nitya or permanent, for no deliverance of consciousness is in itself complete. The fragmentary character of a single deliverance of consciousness will naturally mislead, if it is not controlled and rectified by other deliverances of consciousness. When the traveller in the desert sees before him a large expanse of water, which continually recedes and finally disappears, proving to be the
effect of mirage, it is not the deliverance of consciousness that is deceptive. The characters that suggest the sheet of water are really present, but the deception arises from the failure to take into account all the facts. Similarly, when a man mistakes a rope for a snake, it is not the deliverance of consciousness that is at fault. The characters that suggest the snake are really there in the rope, but the failure to interrogate consciousness exhaustively gives rise to the deception. Were all experience deceptive, how could we know it to be deceptive?. The fact that we are able to distinguish between deception and truth shows that all experience is not illusory. Nor can dreams cast doubt on the experiences of the waking state. The difference of conditions in the two states is so evident that the ordinary man finds no reason for confounding the one with the other. Even the Vedantin, who would reduce everything to mere illusion (māya), regards the creations of the dreaming state to be refuted by the waking state.
The logical consequence of the doctrine of anitya is the principle of anātmata. This principle lays down that nowhere in the universe, neither in the macrocosm nor in the microcosm, there is an unconditioned, absolute, transcendent entity or substratum. All that we know consists of a flux of sensations, ideas, emotions, volitions, and so forth, associated with one another in various ways. Out of this fleeting complex texture rises into prominence that which is relatively more fixed and permanent, and impresses itself on the memory, and finds expression in language. Certain of these complexes of relatively greater permanency are called bodies, and special names are given to them. Hence colours, sounds, tastes, and other sensations are not produced by bodies, but complexes of these sensations make up bodies. Sensations are not signs by which we recognise things, but a thing is a mental construct or symbol of a relatively fixed complex of sensations. Such complexes are never absolutely permanent. Nor is there behind and beyond these sensations, these elements of experience, any prakriti, pradhana, or ding an sich. Still this does not imply that things are illusory or unreal. They are at least as real as the minds that perceive them.
Among the many comparatively permanent complexes we find a complex of memories, volitions, emotions, ideas, aspirations, linked to a particular body, which is called the ego or "I." But even the ego, as we have already seen, is only relatively permanent. If the ego appears to be permanent, it is because the changes that occur in the elements, or the skandhas, which constitute the " I," are comparatively slow. The mere fact that there is a consciousness of identity does not prove the existence of an ātman, which is the witness or possessor of sensations, ideas, &c. When a man says that he has the sensation hot, it only means that the element of experience called hot occurs in a given group of other elements, such as sensations, memories, ideas, &c., (rupa, vedana, vignāna, samgnā, samskāra). When he ceases to have any sensation, that is to say, when he dies, then the groups, the skandhās, are dissolved, the elements no longer occur in their ordinary accustomed grouping or association. That is all. What has really ceased to exist is a unity constructed, as already pointed out, for economical and practical purposes (samvriti or vyavahārika), not a transcendental (pāramārthika) unity. The ego is not a mysterious, unchangeable unity. Each individual knows what changes his ego is undergoing. Knowing the mutability of the ego each one of us is striving to alter its attributes and improve it.
The unity of consciousness cannot be explained by the numerical unity of an underlying ātman. As Hermann Lotze has pointed out in his Metaphysic, the attempt to explain the unity of consciousness by the unity of an underlying substance is a process of reasoning, which not only fails to reach an admissible aim, but also has no aim at all. The ego is simply a group of elements, such as sensations, ideas, memories, emotions, volitions, &c., more strongly connected with one another among themselves, and less strongly knitted to the elements of other groups of the same kind, that is to say, to other individuals. But if we regard the ego as a numerical unity, which has volitions, ideas, sensations, &c., as a mysterious entity behind the skandhas, we must necessarily involve ourselves in a dilemma. Either one must set over against one's ego a world of unknowable
entities, or one must regard the whole world, together with the egos of all other individuals, as products of one's own ego.. The former procedure would serve no purpose but writing the unknowables with a capital U to terrify ignorant folk, and the latter is not followed by the solipsist himself in practical life.
There is nothing permanent in the ego, and it is therefore incapable of being saved. Partly the intuitive knowledge of this fact and partly the fear of it have been the prolific mother of the many optimistic, religious, and philosophical aberrations and absurdities. After deep thought and psychological analysis (vibhajja sāstra) the Blessed Onerecognised that all false doctrines invariably have their source in the atman conception, whether it be a belief in the existence of a jivātman (ego-soul), or a belief in the existence. of an impersonal brahman (or paramātman) in things. It is the atman conception that makes the ordinary man (prthakjana) regard the impermanent as permanent, and thus gives birth to all the sorrows of this world. As the Bodhicharyavatāra says, “ātmānam aparityajya duhkham tyaktum na çakyate." Without renouncing the atman we cannot get rid of sorrow. Only when the craving for individual immortality is destroyed, will one be able to arrive at a freer and more enlightened view of life, which will not permit of the over-estimation of one's own ego in utter disregard of other egos.
This brief discussion of the principles of anitya and anātmata would have prepared the reader for a better understanding of the true import of Nirvana. There are in vogue two false views concerning Nirvana, which have first to be combated. Some think that Nirvana is a state in which the individual soul is completely absorbed in the universal soul, just in the same way as the Vedanta philosophy of the Brahmans understands it. By others it is regarded as the annihilation of all activities (chittavrittinirodha, nichtergendetwasheit), in which love, life, and everything become extinct. As regards the first view we need only say that it is radically different from the true conception of Nirvana. Buddhism. denies a soul' as well as an Absolute. How could it teach communion
with, or absorption in, such a mysterious being as Brahman? In the Tevigga Sutta the Blessed One likens those who believe in Brahman, and seek a union with it to a man, who builds a staircase at the junction of four roads to mount up to a high mansion, which he can neither see nor know where it is, how it is, what it is built of, nor whether it exists at all. The Brahmans base their authority on the Vedas, and the Vedas rest on the authority of their composers, and these authors rely on the authority of Brahma Prajapati. They are like a string of blind men clinging to one another and leading one another, and their method of salvation is nothing but adoration, worship, and prayer. The Vedantic doctrine is clothed in high sounding words, but it contains no truth. The follower of the Vedanta, says the Blessed One, is like the monkey at the lake which tries to catch the moon in the water mistaking the reflection for the reality.
The second view may seem to accord better with the literal meaning of the word Nirvana. Nirvana is derived from nir, absence, and vāta, wind. The suffix ta is changed into na, if the word is not meant to apply to vāta, wind. Though references to Nirvāṇa may not be wanting in Brahmanical works, the technical sense in which the term is employed is undoubtedly due to the Buddha and his followers. In the Upanishads and the philosophical works of the Brahmans we come across such terms as amrita, moksha, mukti, nihçreyasa, kaivalya, apavarga as Sanskrit equivalents for salvation, but it is only in the ancient Påli and Sanskrit works on Buddhism that the word Nirvana is frequently employed to mean salvation. The meaning of Nirvāņa as employed by the Buddha would seem to be connected with the state of a flame that has been blown out. Whatever may be the literal meaning of the term Nirvana, the life of the Blessed One gives the lie direct to the view that Nirvana is the annihilation of all activities. Sakyasimha attained bodhi at the age of thirty-five, and he spent the remaining forty-five years of his life in active preaching and doing good. Nirvana cannot therefore mean the annihilation of all activ ities. On the one side it is the destruction of the three fires of lust, hatred and ignorance; and on the other side it is the perfection of all human excellences. If it is annihila