Professor Max Müller on Buddhism
The Path, October, 1889
The distinguished Sanskritist Max Müller delivered last year before the University of Glasgow a series of lectures—called Gifford Lectures—upon Religions, and made the following remarks about Buddhism which will be of interest:—
The essence of Buddhist morality is a belief in Karma, that is, of work done in this or in a former life, which must go on producing effects till the last penny is paid. There can be no doubt, the lecturer thinks, that this faith has produced very beneficial results, and that it would explain many things which to us remain the riddles of life. Thus, while to us the irregularities with which men are born into the world seem unjust, they can be justified at once by adopting the doctrines of Karma. We are born what we deserve to be born. We are paying our penalty or are receiving our reward in this life for former acts. This makes the sufferer more patient, for he feels that he is working out an old debt, while the happy man knows that he is living on the interest of his capital of good works, and that he must try to lay by more capital for a future life. The Buddhist, trusting in Karma—and he does trust in it with belief as strong as any belief in a religious dogma—can honestly say, Whatever is, is right; and the same belief, that makes him see in what he now suffers or enjoys the natural outcome of his former deeds, will support him in trying to avoid evil and to do good, knowing that no good and no evil word, thought, or act performed in this life can ever be lost in the life of the universe. But while Müller regards the Buddhist belief in Karma as extensively useful, he cannot see how it can be accommodated under any of the definitions of religion which he has passed in review.
But who, asks Müller, has the right so to narrow the definition of the word religion that it should cease to be applicable to Buddhism, which is the creed of the majority of mankind?