Epicureanism And Life
There are a good many people always buoyant in spirit and mirthful in
appearance as if born optimists. There are also no fewer persons
constantly crestfallen and gloomy as if born pessimists. The former,
however, may lose their buoyancy and sink deep in despair if they are
in adverse circumstances. The latter, too, may regain their
brightness and grow exultant if they are under prosperous conditions.
As there is no evil however small but may cause him to groan under
it, who has his heart undisciplined, so there is no calamity however
great but may cause him to despair, who has his feelings in control.
A laughing child would cry, a crying child would laugh, without a
sufficient cause. 'It can be teased or tickled into anything.' A
grown-up child is he who cannot hold sway over his passions.
He should die a slave to his heart, which is wayward and blind, if he
be indulgent to it. It is of capital importance for us to discipline
the heart, otherwise it will discipline us. Passions are
like legs. They should be guided by the eye of reason. No wise
serpent is led by its tail, so no wise man is led by his passion.
Passions that come first are often treacherous and lead us astray.
We must guard ourselves against them. In order to gratify them there
arise mean desires-the desires to please sight, hearing, smell,
taste, and touch. These five desires are ever pursuing or, rather,
driving us. We must not spend our whole lives in pursuit of those
mirage-like objects which gratify our sensual desires. When we
gratify one desire, we are silly enough to fancy that we have
realized true happiness. But one desire gratified begets another
stronger and more insatiable. Thirst allayed with salt water becomes
more intense than ever.
Compare Gaku-do-yo-jin-shu, chap. i., and Zen-kwan-saku
Shakya Muni compared an Epicurean with a dog chewing a dry bone,
mistaking the blood out of a wound in his mouth for that of the bone.
The author of Mahaparinirvana-sutra has a parable to the
following effect: 'Once upon a time a hunter skilled in catching
monkeys alive went into the wood. He put something very sticky on
the ground, and hid himself among the bushes. By-and-by a monkey
came out to see what it was, and supposing it to be something
eatable, tried to feed on it. It stuck to the poor creature's snout
so firmly that he could not shake it off. Then he attempted to tear
it off with both his paws, which also stuck to it. Thereupon he
strove to kick it off with both his hind-legs, which were caught too.
Then the hunter came out, and thrusting his stick through between
the paws and hind-legs of the victim, and thus carrying it on his
shoulder, went home.' In like manner an Epicurean (the monkey),
allured by the objects of sense (something sticky), sticks to the
five desires (the snout and the four limbs), and being caught by
Temptation (the hunter), loses his life of Wisdom.
The sutra translated by Hwui Yen and Hwui Kwan, A.D.
We are no more than a species of monkeys, as evolutionists hold. Not
a few testify to this truth by their being caught by means of
'something eatable.' We abolished slavery and call ourselves
civilized nations. Have we not, nevertheless, hundreds of life-long
slaves to cigars among us? Have we not thousands of life-long slaves
to spirits among us? Have we not hundreds of thousands of life-long
slaves to gold among us? Have we not myriads of lifelong slaves to
vanity among us? These slaves are incredibly loyal to, and
incessantly work for, their masters, who in turn bestow on them
incurable diseases, poverty, chagrin, and disappointment.
A poor puppy with an empty can tied to his tail, Thomas Carlyle
wittily observes, ran and ran on, frightened by the noise of the can.
The more rapidly he ran, the more loudly it rang, and at last he
fell exhausted of running. Was it not typical of a so-called great
man of the world? Vanity tied an empty can of fame to his tail, the
hollow noise of which drives him through life until he falls to rise
no more. Miserable!
Neither these men of the world nor Buddhist ascetics can be
optimists. The latter rigorously deny themselves sensual
gratifications, and keep themselves aloof from all objects of
pleasure. For them to be pleased is equivalent to sin, and to laugh,
to be cursed. They would rather touch an adder's head than a piece
of money. They would rather throw themselves into a fiery
furnace than to come in contact with the other sex. Body for them is
a bag full of blood and pus; life, an idle, or rather evil,
dream. Vegetarianism and celibacy are their holy privileges. Life
is unworthy of having; to put an end to it is their
deliverance. Such a view of life is hardly worth our
Such is the precept taught in the Vinaya of Hinayanists.
See Mahasatiptthana Suttanta, 2-13.
This is the logical conclusion of Hinayanism.
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