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Pessimistic View Of The Ancient Hindus
In addition to this, the new theory of matter has entirely over
thrown the old conception of the unchanging atoms, and they are now
regarded to be composed of magnetic forces, ions, and corpuscles in
incessant motion. Therefore we have no inert matter in the concrete,
no unchanging thing in the sphere of experience, no constant organism
in the transient universe. These considerations often led many
thinkers, ancient and modern, to the pessimistic view of life. What
is the use of your exertion, they would say, in accumulating wealth,
which is doomed to melt away in the twinkling of an eye? What is the
use of your striving after power, which is more short-lived than a
bubble? What is the use of your endeavour in the reformation of
society, which does not endure any longer than the castle in the air?
How do kings differ from beggars in the eye of Transience? How do
the rich differ from the poor, how the beautiful from the ugly, bow
the young from the old, how the good from the evil, how the lucky
from the unlucky, how the wise from the unwise, in the court of
Death? Vain is ambition. Vain is fame. Vain is pleasure. Vain are
struggles and efforts. All is in vain. An ancient Hindu
O saint, what is the use of the enjoyment of pleasures in this
offensive, pithless body--a mere mass of bones, skins, sinews,
marrow, and flesh? What is the use of the enjoyment of pleasures in
this body, which is assailed by lust, hatred, greed, delusion, fear,
anguish, jealousy, separation from what is loved, union with what is
not loved, hunger, old age, death, illness, grief, and other evils?
In such a world as this, what is the use of the enjoyment of
pleasures, if he who has fed on them is to return to this world again
and again? In this world I am like a frog in a dry well.
[FN#144] Maitrayana Upanisad.
It is this consideration on the transitoriness of life that led some
Taoist in China to prefer death to life, as expressed in Chwang Tsz
When Kwang-zze went to Khu, he saw an empty skull, bleached indeed,
but still retaining its shape. Tapping it with his horse-switch, he
asked it saying: 'Did you, sir, in your greed of life, fail in the
lessons of reason and come to this? Or did you do so, in the service
of a perishing state, by the punishment of an axe? Or was it through
your evil conduct, reflecting disgrace on your parents and on your
wife and children? Or was it through your hard endurances of cold
and hunger? Or was it that you had completed your term of life?'
Having given expression to these questions, he took up the skull and
made a pillow of it, and went to sleep. At midnight the skull
appeared to him in a dream, and said: 'What you said to me was after
the fashion of an orator. All your words were about the
entanglements of men in their lifetime. There are none of those
things after death. Would you like to hear me, sir, tell you about
death?' 'I should,' said Kwang-zze, and the skull resumed: 'In death
there are not (the distinctions of) ruler above minister below.
There are none of the phenomena of the four seasons. Tranquil and at
ease, our years are those of heaven and earth. No king in his court
has greater enjoyment than we have.' Kwang-zze did not believe it,
and said: 'If I could get the Ruler of our Destiny to restore your
body to life with its bones and flesh and skin, and to give you back
your father and mother, your wife and children, and all your village
acquaintances, would you wish me to do so?' The skull stared fixedly
at him, and knitted its brows and said: 'How should I cast away the
enjoyment of my royal court, and undertake again the toils of life
[FN#145] 'Chwang Tsz,' vol. vi., p. 23.
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