|Pessimistic Pantheism, rooted
in the doctrine of birth and rebirth -- which seems to be the essence of
Hindu thought -- is definitely an otherworldly philosophy. So are the man-centered
creeds that sprang, in the West, from Judaism (creeds based upon the belief
in transcendent Godhead cannot but be so). Western Free Thought, in all
its different forms, has, as we pointed out, retained Christian ethics
while doing away with Christian metaphysics. It is not other-worldly at
all, but it has never preached or even conceived a love more comprehensive
than that of humanity. And every one of its aspects, from Descartes to
Karl Marx, is as man-centered as any philosophy can be.
On the other hand, the immemorial social and ethical wisdom of the Chinese, centered around the sacred continuity and expansion of the human family -- that one, real, everlasting religion of China, more solidly established in the subconscious mind of her millions than either the popular indigenous nature cults or any of the great imported faiths -- is, as far as we know, eminently man-centered. Its outlook is human-social, not cosmic. It is the rational religion of humanity, if ever there was any. But no more than a religion of humanity.
And as for that aspect of Indian religion which seems to have escaped the general pessimistic trend of Hindu thought while accepting the idea of the oneness of life, or which flourished before that general trend of pessimism had appeared; as for that outlook expressed, for instance, in those old Vedic hymns in which the conquering Aryans asked their Gods for numerous male descendants, for herds of cows, and for the strength to destroy their enemies in battle, it can surely not be accused of having an otherworldly tint. But it has equally very little to do with universal love, as good King Asoka understood it (if we take the beautiful archaic scriptures as they are written). It is the product of a healthy, warrior-like, animal-sacrificing race, much akin, in spirit, to the Achaeans of the Homeric epics -- one of the most intelligent and aesthetically-minded among the sturdy races of Antiquity, no doubt, but surely not of a race endowed with the softer virtues of the Indians of the "Buddhist period." And it seems fair to notice that something has survived of that outlook in India at nearly all epochs, more or less.
In other words, there have been, and there still are philosophies "faithful to this earth" and centered around something narrower than mankind (around a nation, for instance, or a class, or a family). There are and there have been philosophies equally devoid of any human welfare. There are and there have been religions and philosophies with a background of otherworldly faith or speculation, of which some are centered around man and others around life in general.
But we know of no historic civilization based upon a joyous earthly wisdom, implying active love towards all living creatures; upon a religion of this world and of this life in flesh and blood, which would be neither man-centered nor pessimistic, nor lacking truly universal kindness in the Buddhistic sense of the word. We only know of a very few individuals who have put forward such a philosophy, professed such a religion -- consciously or unconsciously -- from time to time; a few individuals of whom the most ancient and the most illustrious seems to have been Akhnaton, King of Egypt, and Founder of the Religion of the Disk in the early fourteenth century B.C. -- perhaps the one man who ever dreamed of building a world civilization upon the basis of a joyous wisdom like that to which we have just alluded.
The basis of his "Teaching of Life" was extremely simple. It was, first of all, the enthusiastic admiration of an artist for the beauty of our Parent Star. It was also the assertion that from this visible shining Father of ours -- the Sun -- comes all life and power on earth and that, if we need to worship anything, the best is to worship Him, or rather, His "ka" or soul: the energetic Principle at the root of all existence. And it seems to have been scientifically unshakable, for it implied that idea of the equivalence of heat and light and of all different aspects of energy, no less than -- ultimately -- of energy and of that which appears to our senses as matter; the equivalence of the "Heat-and-light-within-the-Disk" (Akhnaton's One, everlasting, impersonal God) and of the fiery Sun-disk itself. The worship of the Sun-disk meant, in reality, the worship of immanent, cosmic Energy.
No code of ethics was explicitly attached to the Religion of the Disk, as far as we know. But Akhnaton's creed, while fully accepting the fact of God-ordained diversity, and upholding the separation of races on religious grounds*, certainly did imply the broadest and most impartial love, not merely towards man, irrespective of race or nationality, but also towards all living creatures, irrespective of species. It looked upon them all as children and co-worshippers of the one universal "Father-and-Mother" -- the Sun; and in the two surviving hymns from which can be gathered our only direct knowledge of its spirit, the marvel of birth and growth, the joy of being alive in the beautiful sunlit world, and the religious rapture of creatures all adoring the Sun, each one in its way, are emphasized, both in the case of men, of quadrupeds, of birds, of fishes, and even of plants, in the same breath. [Image: Akhnaton and family offering to Aton.]
[*"Thou hast put every man in his place, Thou hast made them different in shape, in speech and in color; As a divider, Thou hast divided the foreign people (from one another)"; from Akhnaton's Longer Hymn to the Sun -- Savitri's note.]
And though, unfortunately, nothing had remained of that happy cult of light and tangible beauty, one can say with hardly any risk of making a mistake that, had it endured, it would have been perhaps the one joyous creed of worldwide scope, making it impossible not to claim for animals (and plants) a right to our full active love in everyday life. Whatever might have been Akhnaton's personal views regarding death -- views which he appears never to have preached -- it is certain from his hymns that he valued the beauty of this ever-changing world, and more than all the beauty of any living organism, masterly sample of what divine heat-and-Light can produce under favorable conditions. Individual life, finite and brief as it surely is, was precious in his eyes because it is beautiful. And without any speculation about the intimate nature of life, or about its alleged "higher purpose"; without any theory about the soul of creatures and its ultimate destiny, a man filled with the young king's love would be bound to be disturbed at the idea of any creature's suffering-especially of its physical suffering. He would be bound to interfere in favor of the hungry street dog, of the homeless kitten, of the overloaded horse, ass, camel or buffalo he meets on his way, and to do for each of them all that a sincere Christian would do for a hungry man, a homeless child, and ill-treated and overworked human slave.
The man-centered creeds, based upon the assumption of man's special value without, apparently, any thought for other living creatures, tell us to love all men as ourselves. The existing creeds of universal love, centered around the idea of "liberation" of creatures from the prison of finite individuality, can be interpreted in both ways; they lead only a few men to actually universal charity (extended to all living beings) and remain, more often than not, for the others, an excuse for general indifference to suffering. The creed based solely upon the full consciousness of the beauty of daylight and of the sweetness of life as such, apart from any metaphysics; upon the filial worship of the subtle Essence of Life -- Energy -- through the resplendent Star, origin and regulator of our planetary system, that creed, we say, logically implies active sympathy -- a warm sort of fellow feeling -- for all that lives. If, indeed, one realizes to the full the brotherhood of all creatures in the father-and-motherhood of the life-giving Sun, and if one is happy to be alive and to see His beauty, then one cannot, it seems, but do one's utmost to help all bodies endowed with life to live and enjoy their span of years; one cannot but contribute one's best to give them, in every daily circumstance, whatever is necessary for them to be, and to remain, what the intimate finality of their nature intended them to be: beautiful living hymns of joy to the splendor of Him Whose radiance and movements ordain all life on earth.
It is this joyous wisdom that we profess to follow, to the extent it is compatible with the natural struggle for survival, the laws of which rule Life at all levels. It may not be possible -- it may not even be essential -- that all men should adhere to it out of love and reverence for the great historic figure who first preached it and lived up to it. But its spirit seems to be the only spirit worthy of a future society, better than ours; of a society in which increasing intellectual agnosticism -- already apparent among the scientifically-minded people of today -- would exclude hasty metaphysical assertions, but in which increasing consideration for the right of all sufferers (especially of all the exploited) would logically bring man to include all sentient creatures within the range of his active sympathy.
The preceding text is excerpted from the third chapter of Savitri's Impeachment of Man (Calcutta, 1959). The book was written in 1945-46. The most recent reprint can be purchased from Noontide Press.