Mill’s Use Of Buddhism -- By: M. L. Gordon

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 042:167 (Jul 1885)
Article: Mill’s Use Of Buddhism
Author: M. L. Gordon


Mill’s Use Of Buddhism

Rev. M. L. Gordon

As is well known, Mr. Mill used Buddhism to prove that mankind can perfectly well do without belief in a heaven or a future life. His essay on the Utility of Religion closes in the following words:

“The Buddhist religion counts probably at this day a greater number of votaries than either the Christian or the Mahomedan. The Buddhist creed recognizes many modes of punishment in a future life, or rather lives, by the transmigration of the soul into new bodies of men or animals. But the blessing of Heaven which it proposes as a reward, to be earned by perseverance in the highest order of virtuous life, is annihilation; the cessation, at least, of all conscious or separate existence. It is impossible to mistake, in this religion, the work of legislators and moralists endeavoring to supply supernatural motives for the conduct which they were anxious to encourage; and they could find nothing more transcendent to hold out as the capital prize to be won by the mightiest efforts of labor and self-denial, than what we are so often told is the terrible idea of annihilation. Surely this is a proof that the idea is not really or naturally terrible; that not philosophers only, but the common order of mankind, can easily reconcile themselves to it, and even consider it as a good; and that it is no unnatural part of the idea of a happy life, that life itself be laid down, after the best that it can give has been fully enjoyed through a long lapse of time, when all its pleasures, even those of benevolence, are familiar, and nothing untasted and unknown is left to stimulate curiosity and keep up the desire of prolonged existence. It seems to me not only possible but probable, that in a higher, and, above all, a happier condition of human life, not annihilation but immortality may be the burdensome idea; and that human nature, though pleased with the present, and by no means impatient to quit it, would find comfort, and not sadness, in the thought that it is not chained through eternity to a conscious existence which it cannot be assured that it will always wish to preserve.”

One of the first impressions which this passage makes on the reader is that Mr. Mill claimed to know a good deal about Buddhism. According to him this religion

recognizes a “soul” in man; a “transmigration of the soul into new bodies”; a “future life”; a “Heaven”; the “supernatural.” It is “the work of legislators and moralists”; and its “capital prize” (Nirvana) is “annihilation; the cessation at least of all conscious or separate existence”; and this being true of a “religion which counts a greater number of votaries” than any other, the inference ...

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