Gems of Chinese Literature/Liu Tsung-yüan-Beauties of Buddhism

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a.d. 773-819.

[A most versatile writer, and one of the intimate friends of Han Wên-kung (q.v.), like whom he was banished on political grounds to a distant official post, where he died. His breadth of intelligence allowed him to tolerate Buddhism, in direct opposition to the utterances of Han Wên-kung, who perceived in its growing influence a menacing danger to Confucianism and to the State. He excelled in political satire, and suffered for the sting of his pen. His death called forth the short but beautiful lament, “In Memoriam,” by Han Wên-kung.

My learned and estimable friend Han Yü[1] has often reproached my penchant for Buddhism and the intercourse that I hold with its priests. And now a letter from him has just reached me, in which he blames me severely for not having denounced the religion in a recent address forwarded to another friend.

In point of fact, there is much in Buddhism which could not well be denounced; scilicet, all those tenets which are based on principles common to our own sacred books. And it is precisely to these essentials, at once in perfect harmony with human nature and the teachings of Confucius, that I give in my adhesion.

Han Yü himself could not be a warmer advocate of moral culture (as excluding the supernatural) than was Yang Hsiung; and the works of the latter, as well as those of other heterodox writers, contain a great deal that is valuable. Why then should this be impossible in the case of Buddhism? Han Yü replies, “Buddha was a barbarian.” But if this argument is good for anything, we might find ourselves embracing a criminal who happened to be a fellow-countryman, while neglecting a saint whose misfortune it was to be a foreigner! Surely this would be a hollow mockery indeed.

The lines I admire in Buddhism are those which are coincident with the principles enunciated in our own sacred books. And I do not think that, even were the holy sages of old to revisit the earth, they would fairly be able to denounce these. Now, Han Yü objects to the Buddhist commandments. He objects to the bald pates of the priests, their dark robes, their renunciation of domestic ties, their idleness, and life generally at the expense of others. So do I. But Han Yü misses the kernel while railing at the husk. He sees the lode, but not the ore. I see both; hence my partiality for the faith.

Again, intercourse with men of this religion does not necessarily imply conversion. Even if it did, Buddhism admits no envious rivalry for place or power. The majority of its adherents love only to lead a simple life of contemplation amid the charms of hill and stream. And when I turn my gaze towards the hurry-scurry of the age, in its daily race for the seals and tassels of office, I ask myself if I am to reject those in order to take my place among the ranks of these.

The Buddhist priest, Hao-ch‘u, is a man of placid temperament and of passions subdued. He is a fine scholar. His only joy is to muse o’er flood and fell, with occasional indulgence in the delights of composition. His family―for he has one[2]―follow in the same path. He is independent of all men; and no more to be compared with those heterodox sages of whom we make so much, than with the vulgar herd of the greedy, grasping world around us.

  1. Now generally known as Han Wên-kung (q.v.).
  2. Celibacy is now strictly enforced, with only qualified results.