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
nd 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

thinker[FN#144] says:

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

among mankind?'

[FN#145] 'Chwang Tsz,' vol. vi., p. 23.