Now in this realm Buddha’s speeches are a source and mine of quite unparalleled richness and depth. As soon as we cease to regard Buddha’s teachings simply intellectually and acquiesce with a certain sympathy in the age-old Eastern concept of unity, if we allow Buddha to speak to us as vision, as image, as the awakened one, the perfect one, we find him, almost independently of the philosophic content and dogmatic kernel of his teachings, a great prototype of mankind. Whoever attentively reads a small number of the countless speeches of Buddha is soon aware of harmony in them, a quietude of soul, a smiling transcendence, a totally unshakeable firmness, but also invariable kindness, endless patience. As ways and means to the attainment of this holy quietude of soul, the speeches are full of advice, precepts, hints.
The intellectual content of Buddha’s teaching is only half his work, the other half is his life, his life as lived, as labour accomplished and action carried out. A training, a spiritual self training of the highest order was accomplished and is taught here, a training about which unthinking people who talk about “quietism” and “Hindu dreaminess” and the like in connection with Buddha have no conception; they deny him the cardinal Western virtue of activity. Instead Buddha accomplished a training for himself and his pupils, exercised a discipline, set up a goal, and produced results before which even the genuine heroes of European action can only feel awe.
Among the early Buddhists, the metaphysical theory was neither affirmed or denied, but simply ignored as being meaningless and unnecessary. Their concern was with the immediate experience, which, because of its consequences for life, came to be known as ‘liberation’ or ‘enlightenment’. The Buddha and his disciples of the southern school seem to have applied to the problems of religion that ‘operational philosophy’ which contemporary scientific thinkers have begun to apply to the natural sciences. The modern conception of man’s intellectual relationship to the universe was anticipated by the Buddhist doctrine that desire is the source of illusion.
To the extent that one has overcome desire, a mind is free from illusion. This is true not only of the man of science, but also the artist and the philosopher. Only the disinterested mind can transcend sense and pass beyond the boundaries of animal or average-sensual human life. Perfect non-attachment demands of those who aspire to it, not only compassion and charity, but also the intelligence that perceives the general implications of particular acts, that sees the individual being within the system of social and cosmic relations of which he is but a part. In this respect, it seems to me, Buddhism shows itself decidedly superior to Christianity.
In the Buddhist ethic, stupidity, or unawareness, ranks as one of the principal sins. At the same time, people are warned that they must take their share of responsibility for the social order in which they find themselves. One of the branches of the Eightfold Path is said to be ‘right means of livelihood’, the Buddhist is expected to refrain from engaging in such socially harmful occupations as soldiering, or the manufacture of arms or intoxicating drugs.