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AT the hour when the peoples of the eastern Mediterranean were writing the first page of history, India was also beginning to live a superior moral life. But only the murmur of the Vedic hymns, more ancient by a thousand or two thousand years, perhaps, than the epics of Greece, arises from the confusion of the past. Not a single poem of stone, save a few megalithic monuments whose antiquity is not known, exists to unveil the mystery of the Indian soul before the Middle Ages of the Occident, and it seems nearer to this period than to the ancient civilizations.

It is because the tribes of Iran, when they had left the high plateaus to descend the lengths of the rivers toward the horizon of the great plains, did not find everywhere the same soil, the same trees, the same waters, the same skies. Some of them had to face the unity of the desert, the source of the metaphysical absolutes. Others peopled the countries of moderate size, with scattered vegetation and clear-cut forms, which led them to observe objectively, and brought about the desire to complete in their minds the balanced forces that make up the harmonious universe. The Iranians who had followed the valley of the Ganges had first to give way to the intoxication of the senses. Still keeping within them the silence and the coolness of the high country, they plunged without transition into a world that overwhelmed them with its ardor and fecundity.

Never, in any part of the globe, had man found himself in the presence of an aspect of nature at once so generous and so fierce. Death and life impose themselves there with such violence that he was forced to endure them no matter what their form. To escape the dead seasons, to reach the seasons of fertility, it was enough for him to move northward or southward. Nourishing vegetation, roots, fruit, and grain sprouted from a soil that does not exhaust itself. He held out his hand and gathered up life. When he entered the woods to draw water from the great rivers or to seek materials for his house, death rose up irresistibly, carried along by the waves, as with the crocodile, hidden in the thickets, as with the tiger, writhing under the grasses with the cobra, or breaking down the rampart of trees with the step of the elephant. Scarcely, if at all, in the nocturnal tangle of tree stems, the branches, and the leaves, could he distinguish the movement of animal life from the movement of rotting matter and the flowering of herbs. Born of the hidden fermentations in which life and death fuse, the torrent of sap which feeds our universe burst from the luxuriant body of the earth in healthful fruits and poisonous flowers.

The mingling aspects of generosity and cruelty that nature offered to man disarmed him mentally and physically. The possibility of attaining a moral ideal, to be reached only through the conquest of tremendous forests and multiplied temptations, seemed to him as inaccessible as the brow of the Himalayas which lifted the highest glaciers of the earth into the blue light of the north. Accepting life and death with the same indifference, he had to do no more than lay open his senses to the penetration of the universe and permit the gradual rise from his instincts to his soul of that grandiose, confused pantheism which is the whole of the science, the religion, and the philosophy of the man of India.

And yet, when Alexander reached the banks of the Indus, a great social revolution was shaking the peninsula. A century before, Sakyamuni, the Buddha, had felt the flood of pantheist intoxication in his inner life, had felt it invaded by a love whose power swept him on like a river. He loved men, he loved beasts, he loved the trees, the stones—everything that breathed, that throbbed, that moved; everything, even, whose form could be grasped by the senses, from the constellations of heaven to the grass on which one trod. Since the world is but a single body, it must be that an irresistible tenderness draws together all the dispersed elements, all the different forms which wander through the world. Hunger, killing, suffering, all are love. Sakyamuni tenderly offered his bare flesh to an eagle that was pursuing a dove.

Whatever the fatalism and the sensualism of a people, it always listens, at least once during the course of history, to him who comes to pour the balm of love upon its wounds. The tiger could not be conquered, it is true, the peak of the Himalayas could not be reached, and the sacred rivers that descended from it could not cease to roll fever and life in their waters. And yet the social machinery of the Brahman, the implacable régime of castes which reflected from top to bottom the relentless rigor of the energy of the universe, was shattered by the revolt of love. Half a century after the incursion of Alexander, the emperor Asoka was forced to follow the lead of the multitudes and erect eighty-four thousand temples in commemoration of a man who had never spoken of the gods.

How long did Buddhism last in India? Seven or eight centuries, perhaps—an hour of the life of these multitudes whose history, as it evolves in the past and in the future, seems as infinite and as confused as their swarming in space. India returned, insensibly, to the Vedic gods; the Brahman, supported by the prince, rebuilt the social pyramid and swept from the earth man's hope of paradise. Buddhism took refuge in the soul of a few cenobites and, beyond the frontiers of India, was to conquer Asia. Thus Christianity, born of the Semitic ideal, was to conquer the whole Occident, save the Hebrews. A revolution does not vanquish the fundamental instinct of the surroundings that provoke it.

It was from the depths of the Indian nature itself that the materialistic mysticism had risen again to stifle all the desires for humanity aroused by Buddhism. The temples with which the crowds of neophytes had sown the soil of India brought them, stone by stone, to submit anew to the ritualization of the primitive beliefs, which did not cease to be source of their emotions. The Buddhistic monument, properly so called, has almost disappeared from India. The topes, the great reliquaries of brick, are perhaps the only edifices not dedicated to a god having a material figure. And yet the history of Buddha, the whole of his life as it was passed among the animals and the forests, is sculptured on the door. The chaityas, the basilicas that were built about the first century, already have capitals composed of animal figures. When Sakyamuni himself appears in the sanctuary, his teaching is forgotten and an instinctive sensualism overcomes the moral needs.

What did it matter to the crowds of India? They needed forms to love. The Brahmans had no difficulty in conquering. Were they even conscious of their victory, and did the miserable multitude feel the defeat weighing upon its hope? Was there a victory? Was there a defeat? Is not defeat the abdication of the real nature that has been developed by our geographical surroundings and the great secret atavism that binds us to the very depths of our history? Is not victory the triumph within us of that imperishable nature through which alone the conception of the life that is native to us can be manifested? Was a single Buddhistic temple destroyed, a single believer persecuted? Perhaps not. In India, the religious spirit dominates dogma. One tide rises after another and, on the shore, leaves seaweed, shells, new corpses, new palpitating lives. Everything is mingled and confused —the Brahman officiates in the Buddhistic temples and venerates the statue of Buddha as well as those of Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu. A given underground temple, begun in the first periods of Buddhism, continues to be dug out when the Tartars, after the Persians and the Arabs, have imposed Islam on half of the Indians.

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