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THE TWO LOBES
A SOLDIER writes me the following letter from the front:
"There are quagmires and skeletons in the forest. I have discovered and admired the ruined gods under the still living and wonderful vegetation: their spirit has evaporated. The odour of Christ has little charm for me; I prefer that of Buddha. What I adore in him is the fundamental contradiction that seeks to assure us of our immortality by proving our inevitable annihilation. He taught, in the same breath, the illusion of the Ego and its periodical reincarnation, an obvious absurdity which implies a knowledge of the profoundest truth, of the very nature of being, at the same time and alternately collective and individual. This discovery, which he did not formulate, should have led him elsewhere than to Nirvana, that paradise of unripe fruits. . . .
"Man is so fashioned as to perceive only one half of the universe; and the mind of ordinary texture sees barely a hemisphere of truth. Afflicted with a congenital 'nervous headache,' humanity thinks with only one half of its brain, with the eastern lobe or the western, the ancient or the modern; its mind nibbles its own tail; the antinomies pursue one another in an endless circle, which Kant believed that he had discovered, but which Buddha had striven to open. He possessed the complementary virtues; he was religious and rational; while he summed up within himself the mysticism of the east, his was the most scientific of the minds of antiquity, at a time when science did not exist but was merged in philosophy. The moderns who have sought to condense into a system the collective and hardly initiated effort of science have pitiably failed, for they have thought only as westerners, entangled in the contradiction of idealistic aspirations and materialistic arguments, whereas Buddha's formula might still and almost without breaking down contain this gigantic effort and yet not hamper it. From the death of the prince-philosopher, down to the flights of contemporary science, true thought has not advanced one step; Arab or Christian spiritualism and its reagent, positivist or scientific materialism, are recoils in contrary directions, false monisms which, taking the extreme for the supreme, seek to fix the centre of gravity on the circumference of the wheel. The explorers of the Beyond must set out from the crossroads of religious synthesis and scientific analysis and drag these rival sisters by the hand.
"Truth shines at the centre of a circle of onlookers and we must pass through its flame to recognize a brother in the adversary opposite. We must reach the centre of space to discern the identity of its cardinal points: 'Totum et Nihil, Alter et Ego.' The longing to convert others must yield to the need of completing and balancing our own point of view. In the sacred forest, which pioneers have penetrated on all sides and in all ages, the more greatly daring must necessarily draw nearer one to the other. Even if they cannot meet, they can hear one another and give one another mutual encouragement. The most modest cry of discovery may be welcome in the solitude and silence in which the truth of the future is ripening ...."
I thought it well to preserve this page. It sets forth, in a remarkable, though perhaps too rapid summary, two or three of the great problems which in reality are only one and to which, unless we give up everything, we are bound to attempt the answer: the problems of immortality or annihilation, of flux and reflux, of existence alternatively collective and individual, of exteriorization and interiorization, which make up the mighty cosmic rhythm whereof our life and death are but infinitesimal pulsations.
But let us begin by observing that the fundamental contradiction which seeks to assure us of our immortality by proving our inevitable annihilation is not to be found in Buddha and that it is not true to say that he teaches in the same breath the illusion of the Ego and its periodical reincarnation. The doctrine of reincarnation is not Buddha's. He found it readymade; it existed before him and was so deeply rooted in his people that he does not even dream of disputing it. From the exoteric point of view, he tries only to disarm it, to deprive it of its sting, to render it harmless. He tries to reduce life to the point where it can find nothing wherewith to reincarnate itself. According to the exoteric doctrine, which is but a preparation for esoteric truth, life is naught but suffering; and its only aim is the redemption or the extinction of suffering. This extinction is to be found in Nirvana, which is not annihilation but the absorption of the individual into the universe. Ordinary death, by reason of the perpetual reincarnation of the same individual, cannot suppress suffering. We must therefore find a sort of super-death, which makes any reincarnation impossible; and this super-death can be obtained only by the man who has been striving to die all his life long and who has deliberately cut off all the ties that bind him to existence: all love, all hope, all desire, all possession. When, at the end of this systematic and voluntary super-death, the actual death arrives, it will no longer find a living germ capable of achieving reincarnation. This super-death, thus obtained, will precede by many centuries or millenaries purification, final redemption and the absorption into the absolute One.
It has been said that this is exactly the reverse of the doctrine of Christ. With Buddha, life is only the gate of death; with Christ, death is the gate of life. In reality, it is the same thing and everything ends by the absorption into the divine, for the doctrine of Christ is nothing more than a mutilated branch of the great trunk of the mother religion.
Here we have the solution offered to us by the most wonderful mind, the greatest sage that humanity has ever known; by one who knew things which we no longer know and which, it may be, we shall never recover. It is the foundation of the religion of five hundred millions of men. There is nothing nearer to the ultimate truth.
Let us observe, however, that the problem of immortality or annihilation ought not to be set in these terms, since the word annihilation cannot be employed, save in a metaphorical sense, to denote a life which we no longer comprehend, seeing that Nihil or nothingness is the one thing whose existence is utterly impossible and whose non-existence is absolutely certain.
As for immortality, here again there is ambiguity, for, as annihilation cannot exist, immortality is inevitable; and the only question that remains to be solved is whether this immortality will or will not be accompanied by some sort of continuance of our present consciousness.
But, while it is probable that the problem of immortality, more or less accompanied by consciousness, will long remain in suspense, the answer to the problem of the "nervous headache," or rather of congenital hemiphlegia, is doubtless easier to find. In any case, it occupies a domain which our direct investigations are able to explore. It is, after all, an historical and geographical question. It seems that there are in fact in the human brain an eastern lobe and a western lobe, which have never acted at the same time. The one produces, here, reason, science and consciousness; the other secretes, yonder, intuition, religion and subconsciousness. One reflects only the infinite and the unknowable; the other is interested only in what it is able to delimit, in what it may hope to understand. They represent, employing a perhaps imaginary image, the conflict between the material and the moral ideal of humanity. They have more than once endeavoured to penetrate each other, to mingle and to work in concert; but the western lobe, at least over the most active part of the world, has hitherto paralysed and almost annihilated the efforts of the other. We are indebted to it for extraordinary progress in all the material sciences, but also for such catastrophes as those which we are undergoing to-day, catastrophes which, if we are not careful, will not be the last nor the worst. The time would seem to have come to awaken the paralysed lobe; but we have neglected it so greatly that we no longer quite know what it is capable of doing.