Some impressions of the Buddha: Dreiser and Sir Edwin Arnold's the light of Asia

by Douglas C, Stenerson

Canadian Review of American Studies

Vol. No.3 Winter. 1991

Pp. 387-405

Copyright by Canadian Review of American Studies

Since the early nineteenth century, a small but influential minority of American writers and intellectuals has responded with varying degrees of intensity to the religious and philosophical traditions of Asia. One of these authors is Theordore Dreiser. His literary use of Hindu teachings in The Stoic (1947) is well known and has been evaluated by a number of critics.[1] The strong interest in Buddhism expressed in his non-fiction, on the other hand, has largely escaped attention. Dreiser, like most American and British readers, had to depend for information about Eastern traditions on English translations and interpretations of the primary sources. Had he lived in the first half of the nineteenth century, he could, like Emerson and Thoreau, have learned a good deal about Hinduism but not much about Buddhism. At that time Hinduism, and to a lesser extent Confucianism, were widely publicized because British and continental Orientalists had translated Hindu scriptures like the Bhagavad-Gita and the Vishnu Purana from sanskrit and Confucius from the Chinese. Buddhism, for which parallel source in English did not yet exist, still remained largely an enigma. Only a few of the European scholars to whom lay readers looked for guidance had mastered Pali, which, along with other Oriental languages, was required for Buddhistic studies. Furthermore, even specialists found Buddhism confusing because of the many guises it assumed as it spread from northern Indian to Ceylon, Tibet, Bruma, China, Korea and Japan. Not until the 1860s and 1870s did the literature grow sufficiently and attract enough attention to account for the vogue of Sir Edwin Arnold's The Light of Asia (1879), a lively and colorful narrative poem about the Buddha.[2] Just as Dreiser derived his summary of Hindu doctrines in The Stoic mainly from the Bhagarvad-Gita, so he drew heavily upon Arnold's poem for his knowledge of Buddhism. Some time between 1900 and 1916, he preserved nine substantial excerpts from it in his scrapbooks--more than from any other single work.[3] He apparently did not record any explanation or comment, and no copy of The Light of Asia appears among his books in the Dreiser Collection in the University of Pennsylvania Library. One reason for the striking success of The Light of Asia with Western readers was that Arnold, by filtering Buddhist myth through his Victorian consciousness, created an intellectual landscape familiar enough not to be forbidding but still exotic enough to be intriguing. The poem appealed strongly to Dreiser because in its major themes he heard reverberations of some of his own most deeply-help feelings and convictions. As this essay will show, these universal themes, such as love of nature, the Darwinian struggle, mutability, the power of sex, and several others, pervade his novels as well as his non-fiction. As a truth-seeker on his own lower level--a self-styled "Ishmael, a wanderer"--he could appreciate what the Buddha's six-year quest for enlightenment cost in suffering and self-sacrifice.[4] The purpose of this essay is fourfold: first, to compare Dreiser with his contemporaries interested in Eastern thought: second, to consider how and under what circumstances he was drawn toward it; third, to show how each of the passages he chose from Arnold parallels and confirms views he already held; and fourth, to examine his references to the Buddha, the ways in which he uses them, and the extent and reliability of the knowledge behind them. Although the effect of Europe upon American life and thought has been a constant theme for reflection since the first settlements, the parallel Asian influence did not become a subject for scholarly inquiry until the early 1930s. In the vanguard were authors like Arthur E. Christy, with The Orient in American Transcendentalism (1932). In an appraisal of the extensive scholarship that now exists, Carl T. Jackson points out that some Americans have viewed Oriental thought with "interest and qualified appreciation (usually of those elements most similar to one's own ideas)" and other with "acceptance and even assimilation of parts of the Asian traditions."[5] Dreiser, along with such of his contemporaries as Henry Adams, Amy Lowell, Edwin Arlington Robinson and John Gould Fletcher, belongs in the first group. In The Great Circle, Beongcheon Yu singles out, among those whose lives overlapped Dreiser's, only those who fit in the second: Ernest Fenellosa, Lafcadio Hearn, Eugene O'Neill, Irving Babbitt, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.[6] Except for his practice of looking at times toward the Orient, Dreiser had little in common with the writers in either of these categories, most of them from middle-or upper-class families of British descent. Dreiser, coming as he did from a poor, nomadic, often socially ostracized German-American family from a semi-rural district of Indiana, was an outsider who had to prove his right to be recognized by the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture. From Babbitt, Eliot and Pound, he was particularly far removed. Their academic qualifications and scholarly attainments, including proficiency in one or more Asian languages, contrasted strongly with the intellectual groping, newspaper journalism and casual reading through which Dreiser developed his knowledge of Hinduism and Buddhism. One major experience prompting Dreiser to look beyond Christianity to Eastern religious was the crisis of faith that left him and many of his contemporaries disillusioned and bewildered. He, as well as his biographers and critics, have discussed his youthful revolt against the narrow and puritanical Roman Catholicism in which he was brought up and the strong influence upon his thinking of social Darwinists like Thomas Huxley and Herbert Spencer. Not content with either Huxley's militant agnosticism or Spencer's vision of the universe as a vast, self-sustaining mechanism, he had a wavering but recurrent perception of a spiritual dimension in nature and in mankind. Throughout his life, he was a seeker in the traditional sense, turning for answers to science, psychology and the social sciences, philosophy and religion, even occultism and astrology. He accepted not only the skepticism about Christian orthodoxy that was widespread but also the idea that all religions embody a share of the truth and thus deserve respect. He derived this broadly-based ecumenical view partly from the liberal preachers "unshackled of dogma" he went to hear as a relief from the monotony of a series of unskilled jobs he held in Chicago. Two of his favorites were Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch, a brilliant scholar devoted to humanitarian causes, and the Reverend Jenkin Lloyd Jones, a Unitarian who advocated both Darwinian evolution and a universal religion. Both men helped plan the World Parliament of Religions associated with the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.[7] In July of that year, Dreiser attended the Fair as a reporter for the St. Louis Republic and must have heard of the Parliament being planned for September and of its significance as a great forum in which representatives of Eastern faiths, among others, would speak.[8] A number of other experiences Dreiser had in his youth helped whet his curiosity about the Orient. His high-school reading of Emerson and Thoreau may have predisposed him to Eastern forms of transcendentalism. In the early 1890s, as a reporter on dailies in Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and New York, he had many opportunities to attend lectures and programs on such popular and controversial issues as universal religion, spiritualism and theosophy, and in some instances was assigned to cover them. While on the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, for example, he was sent to interview Mrs. Annie Besant, an Enlishwoman famous for her eloquent championship of theosophy and later for her work in India for women's rights and home rule. Theosophy, founded by Madame Helen Blavatsky, whose writings had converted Mrs. Besant, was a heady mix of Hinduism, Buddhism, rationalism spiritualism and occultism.[9] In his news report, Dreiser quotes Mrs. Besant as saying in effect, that through the steady improvement in mankind wrought by successive reincarnations the principle of self-interest dominant in the West will be phased out and replaced by the spirit of brotherhood.[10] In A Book about Myself, Dreiser recalls that Mrs. Besant had spoken about the need "to improve oneself spiritually and so eventually attain to Nirvana, nothingness--a word I had to look up afterward" [150]. The cultural atmosphere in which Dreiser grew up helps account for his eager response to Edwin Arnold's version of the Buddha's life. Arnold (1832-1904) was well qualified to meet the needs of a Western mass audience fascinated by the Orient. His winning the Newdigate Prize at Oxford led to the publication of two volumes of poetry published while he was still an undergraduate. In 1856 he went to Bombay to serve as principal of the government Deccan College in Poona. When in 1861 he returned to England to become a London journalist, he had already earned a reputation for his translation from the sanskrit of The Book of Good counsels and for his writings on Indian education and political history.[11] He composed The Light of Asia in moments he could spare from his busy schedule as a newspaper editor. He wanted to represent the spirit of Buddhist legend and myth accurately, but also to reconcile it with his own liberal, undogmatic Christianity. He portrays the Buddha as an authentic savior worthy to be ranked with Christ but not to be considered his rival or superior. By emphasizing similarities between the lives and doctrines of the Buddha and Christ, using Biblical phrases and alluding indirectly to such modern concerns as Darwinism, he fashioned an intellectual context with which most readers from a Christian background could feel comfortable. At the same time, through his use of lush Tennysonian blank verse, expressive imagery and vivid local color, he dramatized the Buddha's story within an exotic and picturesque setting.[12] Some critics attacked The Light of Asia for its archaisms, wordiness, metaphorical vagueness and general lack of artistic control, but these strictures did not keep the general public--Dreiser included--from embracing it. In the United States, Arnold benefited from the New England connection formed through his marriage to the daughter of W.H. Channing, the prominent Boston trancedentalist and reformer. Channing's friend Bronson Alcott stimulated several other transcedentalists to write enthusiastic reviews and arranged for the poem's American publication. In 1885 Arnold issued a new British edition with only minor changes in wording and punctuation. His biographer has traced eighty-three distinct editions and reprintings, a large number of them from American publishers who pirated the work and sold paper copies for as little as three cents each. Total sales probably ranged between half a million and a million copies.[13] Dreiser may well have encountered The Light of Asia during the first decade of the century when its vogue was still strong. It is in eight books, all in blank verse except for a few short lyrics and a long didactic section in rhymed quatrains. The first four books deal with the miraculous birth of Prince Siddhartha; the efforts of his father, King Suddhodana, to shield him from knowledge of travail and suffering by bringing him up in an atmosphere of luxury and sensual pleasure; his marriage to Princess Yasodhara and the birth of their son; the experiences that made him aware of the evils of human life; and his climactic renunciation of family and privileged position to go out into the world as a common mendicant seeking the way of salvatio for all mankind. Books V and VI present Siddhartha as a wanderer, debating with other preachers and ascetics and performing works of mercy, until after a night of meditation under the Bo tree, he attains the enlightenment of Nirvana and utters his first words as the Buddha. In Book VII, he returns to his father's palace and converts his whole family to his teachings. Book VIII summarizes these. As a poet in his own right who admired many of his Romantic and Victorian predecessors or contemporaries, Dreiser must have particularly enjoyed Arnold's melodious verse and copious imagery.[14] An ordinary prose version would have been much less engaging. When the nine excerpts scattered through Dreiser's scrapbooks are arranged in order, it becomes clear that two are from Book I, three from Book III, two from Book IV and two from Book VI. What remarkable about all these selections is the extent to which they illustrate and reinforce ideas that run like leitmotifs through Dreiser's writings: the beauty of nature, the Darwinian struggle for survival, the transition from youth to old age and death (mutability), the evils and sufferings of life, skepticism about conventional religion, the search for truth, the passions and joys of sex, and the concept of an ordered, mechanistic universe pervaded by an inscrutable Power. "I have," Dreiser once remarked, "an insatiable appetite for natural beauty."[15] In his boyhood, Dreiser took a romantic delight in the pastoral landscapes of his native Indiana. He depicts such scenes not only in Dawn and A Hoosier Holiday but also in his fiction. Jennie Gerhardt's instinctive goodness, for example, is nourished by the "spiritual quality" of her response to the sounds and the "fine curves and shadows" of nature. As a youth, Eugene Witla, whom Dreiser modeled upon himself, marvels at "the beauty of a bird in flight, a rose in bloom, a tree swaying in the wind," and, as an artist, wants "to paint a series of country scenes." Hurstwood enjoys a kind of urban pastoral as he sits on "a rustic bench beneath the green leaves of a lilac bush" in Jefferson Park waiting for Carrie.[16] many similar instances occur in Dreiser's other novels and in his short stories, sketches, and poems. No doubt this appetite for natural beauty helps account for his choice of the first passage from The Light of Asia, which is preceded by the King's summons to the boy Prince to see the pleasurance of the spring.... Fair is the season with new leaves, bright blooms, Green grass, and cries of plough-time.... In keeping with this prelude is the descriptions that follows: And all the jungle laughed with nesting-songs. And all the thickets rustled with small life Of lizard, bee, beetle, and creeping things Pleased at the spring-time....[17] Immediately after the first Light of Asia selection is a second one in which the Prince, with an emphasis on the Darwinian struggle that owes more to Arnold than to Buddhist tradition, discerns How lizard fed on ant, and snake on him, And kite on both; and how the fish-hawk robbed The fish-tiger of that which it had seized;... Each slew a slayer and in turn was slain, Life living upon death. So the fair show Veiled one vast, savage, grim conspiracy Of mutual murder, from the worm to man, Who himself kills his fellow....(I, 13-14) Arnold may have assumed that the concept of sansara, the unceasing cycle of becoming that affects all things, animate and inanimate, implies some kind of physical as well as spiritual evolution. This is not at all apparent, however, in the equivalent scene in the English translation form the Chinese of the Abhinishkramanasutra, the main source from which Arnold drew the events of his narrative. There the Prince, having observed "the tired oxen, their necks bleeding from the goad" and the "the birds devouring the hapless insects," is "affected with sorrow on behalf of the whole family of sentient creatures," but he reflects chiefly on "how full of misery is human life."ile teaching kinship with all things and compassion for all living creatures, is concerned with the mental and spiritual evolution of individuals, not with the physical evolution of species.[18] In a famous scene in Dreiser's novel The Financier, a teenager named Cowperwood, after watching the uneven contest between a lobster and a squid confined in a tank, similarly concludes that "men lived on men." This brutal philosphy, somewhat modified by his love of beauty in women and in art, served Cowperwood well in his rise to wealth and power. Dreiser, in his own pursuit of fame and women, shared some of the same goals, but he knew that by themselves money and material possessions could not bring happiness. In the epilogue to The Titan, he portrays Cowperwood as "forever suffering the goad of a restless heart--for him was no ultimate peace, no real understanding, but only hunger a and thirst and wonder! Wealth, wealth, wealth!"[19] With his instinctively religious temperament, nourished by his study of various religious traditions, including the transcendentalism of Emerson and Thoreau, Dreiser was convinced that in order to encompass the spiritual as well as the material aspects of life, the evolutionary hypothesis must be linked with "a conception of a ruling, ordaining Divinity."[20] The baffling riddle was how to judge "the intention of the overruling, intelligent, constructive force."[21] The next two selections Dreiser chose express Prince Siddhartha's initiation into the knowledge of aging, pain, and death. Before the Prince's first venture beyond the palace walls, the King commands the city dwellers to keep holiday and hide anything unpleasant--the sick, the deformed, the elderly--but one emanciated old man, clad in rags, totters from his hovel into the middle of the road. In response to the Prince's questions, Channa, his charioteer, explains that what has happened to this eighty-year-old will come to all of us who live long enough (III, 35-40). That evening, the Prince, "sad of mien and mood," can find no solace in the evening feast, the charms of the palace-dancers, or even the arms of his wife Yasodhara, for, as he says to her, "Nay, though we locked up love and life with lips So close that night and day our breaths grew one, Time would thrust in between to filnch away My passion and thy grace..."(III, 40) In the next episode, the Prince, this time in disguise into the city and sees by the roadside a man dying of the plague. While holding the victim in his arms to comfort him, Siddhartha learns from Channa that all mankind lives in fear of illness and death. Channa then calls his master's attention to a procession bearing a corpse to its funeral pyre. This emphasis on the primacy of youth and the sacrifices and hardships entailed in the cycle from the birth to death struck a responsive chord in Dreiser. It may be significant that his scrapbooks contain William Cullen Bryant's "Thanatopsis," a classic example of the treament of mutability in nineteenth-century American literature.[22] Dreiser plays his own variations on this universal theme. Trying to recapture his teenage years in Warsaw, Indiana, he recalls his dreaminess, his "somewhat cowardly, but still adventurous and willing" behavior, and his enthusiasm for the beauty in women and in the whole of nature. But in the nearly thirty years that have passed, most of the people and "all the atmosphere" that sustained his "old intimacies and loves and romantic feeling" have disappeared. "The remorselessness of time," he exclaims, "how bitterly, irritatingly clear it stood out here!" We talk about the hardness and cruelty of men! Contrast their sharpest, most brutal connivings with the slow, indifferent sapping of strength and hope and joy which nature great dream is filched from the mind, all the delicatem tendril-like responsiveness of youth is taken away, your friends and pleasures and aspirations slain.[23] "Yet," he acknowledges, it is because we can and do dream--and must, at times--and because of our dreams and the fact that they must so often be shattered, that we have art and the joy of his thing called Life. Without contrast there is no life,[24] Out such reflections based on his own experience, he fashioned the interplay in his fiction beteen human dreams and ideals, on the one hand and, on the other, biological drives and the forces of time, circumstances and environment. The solicitude for the tribulations of mankind expressed in the fifth excerpt has its counterpart in what H.L. Mencken called Dreiser's "passionate compassion...that is hard to separate from poetry."[25] Siddhartha, his eyes suffused with tears, cries out "... Oh, suffering world; Oh! known and unknown of my common flesh, Caught in this common net of death and woe, And life which binds to both! I see, I feel The vastness of the agony of earth, The vainness of its joys, the mockery Of all its best, the anguish of its worth..."(III, 51) Dreiser's sympathy for those who suffer came from his own experience and observation. While growing up in Indiana and Chicago, the future novelist had undergone poverty and ostracism, and as a newspaperman he had seen the inequalities and injustices in a system marked by the prosperity of the few and the degradation of the many. From 1895 to 1897, as editor of the New York magazine Ev'ry Month, he spoke out freely on such issues in a series entitled "Reflections" and signed "the Prophet." These articles show how his concern for those at the bottom of the social structure and the conditions that kept them there had already made him "an inconsistent mechanist."[26] On the one hand, as a convert to social Darwinism, he recognizes that "This is the law, cold, hard[,] immutable--the law of self-preservation, and upon it all must take their stand and press forward so or die." In this context, "man seems not only the sport of nature, but of his fellowmen,"[27] On the other hand, as a moralist, he consciously allies himself with the practical application of the teachings of the Old Testament prophets and of Christ, their successor.[28] The more fortunate, he argues, must admit that "the failures in this world are not to blame for their [own] condition." "We will come to realize that there are hard grim forces at work day after day, warping andmoulding our brothers, and making them queer creatures, and in this realization our sneers will melt to sympathy." In our private lives, we should "simply obey our code and commandments. Don't lie, don't steal, don't be wilfully cruel to any living creature." As responsible citizens, we should look critically at our society and try to remove, or at least alleviate, its faults. "Such poison and decay," Dreiser urges, "should be excoriated with a rod of fire." Whenever "false prophets" and "false doctrines" arise, "a true savior is he who can marshal the nobleer sentiments of the people and array them for successful combat."[29] The biblical echoes in these last few quotations are obvious. Some fifteen years later, he specifically linked the Buddha with "Zoroaster, the prophets, Christ, St. Paul, Socrates" as among the inspired men "who have dreamed or sung or worked deeds of mercy and beauty."[30] Dreiser may have sensed in the next selection a rough equaivalent to his own distrust of the convetional religion of his youth. As the passage shows, BUddhism, while originating with Hinduism, reacted against some of the rites and practices of that tradition as it existed in the sixth century B.C. Before living on his appointed mission, Siddhartha sums up his convictions about the futility of prayer, ritual and contributions to priests in this rhetorical question: "How hath it steadied man to pray, and pay Tithes of the corn and oil, to chant the charms, To slay the shrieking sacrifice, to rear The stately fane, to feed the priests, and call On Vishnu, Shiva, Surya, who save None--not the worthiest--from the griefs that teach Those litanies of flattery and fear Ascending day by day, like wasted smoke?" (IV, 62) In a somewhat similar vein, Dreiser expressed his dislike for the way big church organizations used the money they collected "to erect and enjoy power and the panoply of the same, harry and destroy any...individual or group of individuals attempting for reasons or sufferings of their own to address God or Nature direct." Recalling the resplendent ritual at his own confirmations, he exclaims, "Think of the influence of such formulas and all gorgeous flummery on the average mind! Is it any wonder that so many succumb permanently to theories and isms so gloriously arraayed?" Those who, like his father, govern their lives according to dogma, "are forever on their knees before an immense and inscrutable something which cares no more for their adoration or supplications that it does for those of an expiring beetle. In short, all of the impulses to live and strive (life's first command) are completely dissipated in appeals for mercy and spiritual salvation." It was this kind of strict orthodoxy Dreiser had in mind when he wrote, "The world is dosed with too much religion. Life is to be learned from life and the professional moralist is at best but a manufacturer of shoddy wares."[31] The seventh excerpt may well have appealed to Dreiser's truth-seeking instinct. The Prince renounces the ease and privilege of his old heir to a throne and resolves "... to search for truth, Wringing the secret of deliverance forth, Whether it lurk in hells or hide in heavens, Or hover, unreaveled, nigh unto all: Surely at last, far off, sometime, somewhere, The veil would lift for his deep-searching eyes, The road would open for his painful feet...."(IV, 64) Dreiser did not, of course, forego wordly goods and pleasures, nor did he ever find fully satisfying answers to the ultimate questions, but in his own way he sought earnestly to plumb the "depth upon depths of wonder and power" beyond the range of the five senses.[32] He believed that every individual....should question the things he sees-not some things, but everything--stand, as it were, in the center of this whirling storm if contradiction which we know as life, and ask of its import. Else why a brain at all?[33] In the novels, the quest that Eugene Witla makes to comprehend "the mystery and wonder and terror of life" is closest to Dreiser's own, but Dreiser had equal sympathy for Solon Barness in The Budwark and Berenice Fleming in The Stoic and their struggle spiritual faith.[34] Jennice Gerhardt, though defeated by social sanctions beyond her control, has a goodness imbibed from nature itself. Even worldings like Sister Carrie and Cowperwood aspire toward some combination of values beyond the merely material, such as romantic love, intellectual knowledge and the beauty of art. What probably caught Dreiser's attention in the eigth clipping is its erotic theme. After six years of life as an ascetic and meditative wanderer, the future Buddha has seated himself under the Bo tree destined to be the place where he would "find the Truth and save the worlds." Knowing this, Mara, the Prince of Darkness, dispatches "the fiends who war with Winsdom and the Light" (VI, 102) to divert the savior from his purpose. Midway in the procession of Sins, all whose threats and pleas the Buddha dismisses, comes Kama, the King of Passions, who creates shapes of dancing girls. Eyes lighted withn love-flames, alluring smiles... Murmuring "O great Siddartha! I am thine. Taste of my mouth and see if youth is sweet!" For who hath grieved when soft arms shut him safe, And all life melted to a happy sigh, And all the world was given in one warm kiss/ (VI, 105)[35] Very likely Dreiser would have answered "Not I" to this last question. He held that "via sex gratification--or perhaps better, its ardent and often defeated pursuit--comes most of all that is most distinguised in art, letters and our social economy and progress generally."[36] Apropos of his long courtship of Sallie White, during which he agreed not to consummate their union before marriage, he observed: Love should act in its heat, not when its bank account is heavy. The chemic formula which works to reproduce the species, and the most vital examples at that, is not concerned with the petty local and social restraints which governs all this...Nature's way is correct, her impluses sound.[37] He had no objection to monogamy for those suited to it, but for himself he preferred to hold three, four--even as many as five or six--women in regard of the emotional compass of myself, at one and the same time....Some of my most dramatic experiences and sufferings, as well as my keenest mental illuminations have resulted from intimate, affectionate contact with women.[38] As he approached and passed middle age, a variety of young bed-partners, who also served as his editorial assistants and advisers, may have helped to keep alive his sense of "the sting of existence" as he had known it at their age.[39] As his ninth and final selection, Dreiser singled out Arnold's interpretaion of the Buddha's vision of an ordered universe ... past all gods Immutable, unspeakable, supreme; A Power which builds, unbuilds, and builds again, Ruling all things accordant, to the rule Of virtue, which is beauty, truth, and use: So that all things do well which serve the Power, And ill which hinder; nay, the worm does well Obedient to its kind; the hawk does well Which carries bleeding quarries to its young; The dewdrop and the star shine sisterly Globing together in the common work; And man lives to die, dies to live well So if he guide ways by blamelessness And earnest will to hinder not but help All things both great and small which suffer life.(VI, 109-110) It is not surprising that Dreiser, for the most part, found this conception of the universe compatible with his own, for here Arnold has wndowed the Buddha with a Victorian sensibility. The view of the universe as at once "immutable" yet constantly being built and unbuilt, is Spencerian, as is the implied need to live according to the natural laws that uphold it. "Beauty" and "truth" as part of "virtue" recall the aesthetic of Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn"; "use" suggests utilitarianism; the hawk's "bleeding quarries" summons up the Darwinian struggle for existence; the phrase "all things both great and small" echoes the conclusion pf Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner." The only distinctly Buddhist thought is the indirect allusion in the last four lines to transmigration and its corollary that a virtuous person "dies to live well" in his next incarnation. Except for this aspect, the cosmology Arnold outlines resembles the one Dreiser tentatively reached out for early in his career and reaffiremed, with some modifications, shortly before his death. In his Ev'ry Month pieces, he sometimes expresses contradictory moods. "How frail is man," he laments, "veritably vermin upon the face of so great a globe, and in so boundless and destroy humannlife, he credits human beings "with divine desire to know and a power to analyze" that enable them, within limits, to harness nature to their purposes. Their success in this enterprise depends upon how closely they study and conform to the "unalterable laws" of the universe Spencer delineates: Rebellion neither affects them nor saves you from punishment. Familiarity proves to you how beneficial they are, how much good they will do you if submissively observed, how vast and glorious is the kingdom of life. Because of the beauty of the "countless form" in nature, "each organized after a fashion wondrously adapted to surrounding conditions," Dreiser speculates that the creative force is "over-ruling and kindly." The "calamities" laws of growth, form and duration."[40] Over forty years later, Dreiser returned to the same basic concept of a 'carefully engineered and regulated universe" in which "design [with its beauty] the great treasure that nature or the Creative Force has to offer to man and through which it seems to emphasize its own genius and to offer the knowledge of the same to man"[41] To understand one of the contexts in which Dreiser refers to the Buddha, it is necessary to consider briefly the more sophisticated explanation of evil and suffering the novelist had developed by his middle years. He resolved the contradiction between "over-ruling" and "kindly" by emphasizing the duality of both the ruling power and mankind. "My God if I have one," he wrote in 1918, "is dual--a compendium of evil as well as `good' and a user of both of purposes which man as yet may not comprehend."[42] On the lower plane, "all men are liars, robbers, bearers of false witness, murderers, lechers, ingrates, and the like in part the same time they are kind, gentle, peaceful, longsuffering, truthful, noble and sacrificing." What necessitates and enforces such polarities in nature and in human society is the persistence of force (or energy) in opposite and conflicting forms: no strong without a weak, no material without a hot without a great without a small, no savage without a tender, no greedy without a generous, a something wherewith to contrast it, however minute in quality; the one being inconceivable even without the other.[43] One of Dreiser's deepest convictions, based on a concept borrowed from Spencer, is that God, or the creative force, brings about an "equation," or rough balance, between these eternally competing energies. Take, for example, Cowperwood's ultimate defeat in his effort to dominate public transportation in Chicago. "In the end." Dreiser comments, "a balance is invariably struck wherein the mass subdues the individual or the individual the mass--for the time being." Words like right and justice convey the human feeling of the need for such balance.[44] The fact that none of The Light of Asia passages in the scrapbooks deals with Buddhist precepts suggests that Buddha as an historical personality fascinated Dreiser more than his specific teachings. he recommended that "Man...sit beneath a tree, Buddha fashion," to ponder "the wholly inexplicable world about him," but he did find any occasion for expounding Buddhist doctrines as he does those of Hinduism in The Stoic.[45] His writings, in fact, reveal some serious deficiencies in his knowledge of Buddhist beliefs. When, for example, he speaks of Nirvana, he does not use the term in any of its accepted Buddhist sense, such as the extinction of ignorance and desire, but in its popular sense of cessation from all activity, as when he observes that there can no "Nirvana or exact equation or nothingness" in nature.[46] In an argument intended to prove "that individuality is a myth," Dreiser lumps Buddhism together with Hinduism and Christian Science as affirming an over or one universal soul, itself being so containing all wisdom and all creative power...Buddhism, the Vedas and other sacred writings of the East, see neither positive good nor positive evil in any so called "material" or "living" creature or its action. Nor do they grant it individually. As illustrations, Dreiser quotes the "red slayer" stanza from Emerson's "Brahma" and a statement by Mary Baker Eddy ending "God is All-in-All."[47] This reasoning shows, first, that Dreiser is not aware that the Buddha rejected the assumption common in Hinduism that the finite self merges with the infinite Self.[48] Second, it demonstrates ignorance of a paradoxical complexity in the Buddha's view of the individual. As Dreiser might have been pleased to learn, the Master did teach that it is an illusion to think of the individual self as an unchanging entity. The apt disciple "knows himself to be only the unreal and impermanent location of a fleeting series of natural phenomena--the only ones that really count." He is constantly in a state of transformation and at no given moment is he the same person he was before. This consciousness of the impermanence of the self as well as of the external world leads him to realize the futility of the selfish passions that bind him to the wheel of life.[49] In The Light of Asia, Arnold does not present this concept of selfhood, but near the end of the poem Dreiser could have discovered the other side of the Buddha's teaching--that each individual is responsible for his own fate: Within yourselves deliverance must be sought; Each man his prison makes. (VIII, 138) Or, in the Buddha's own words, It is within this fathom-long carcass, with its mind and its notions, that i declare there is the world, the origin of the world, the cessation of the world and the path leading to the cessation of the world."[50] If individually is a "myth," so, too, Dreiser insists, is the concept of individual creativity. He uses the Buddha as an example, illustrating to his own satisfaction the impossibility of being "an independent thinker." Like all the highly-gifted, the Buddha had to work with the materials his culture made available: most notably, in his case, the ancient religion of Hinduism and its scriptures, "the Upanishads and the Vedas--the speculations of no single man, but of a race." The religions ascribed to the "Buddha, Lao-Tze, Mohammed," Dreiser asserts, owed all to tradition . . . and were made "great," not by any particular founder, but by the reclassification and re-emphasis under favoring circumstances, of much that has been thought and said before.[51] In a related context, he concedes that up to "one-tenth" of genius may rest on "individual merit," while "nine-tenths" depends on tradition. How could an arch-individualist like Dreiser, creator of the titanie Cowperwood, voice such an opinion? He would answer, first, that an individual can emerge as a "seer or poet" only when time and circumstance permit and, second, that he is merely a channel for the "chemic or dynamic compulsions . . . which operating in or through him bring about and enforce his master-generation."[52] With his characteristics skepticism about organized religion, Dreiser could not believe that the golden rule or "any precept handed on from Christ, Buddha, Mohammed or any other prophet" is a universal law: At best it is a convention by which society saves itself from too much chaffering, a rubber band easily stretched for the strong, but too strong for the weak to get through. . . . There is really only the golden suggestion (not a golden rule) which softens life greatly and makes it more endurable, but it is not a law.[53] At times, Dreiser doubts the efficacy of the messages of both the Buddha and Christ. In preference to their "meek" spirit, he champions in one of his poems Prometheus's persistent rebelliousness in the midst of suffering. In another poem, he questions whether "their humble mood" can cope with man's "savage, dominant desire." More typically, he honors the Buddha and his peers for two main reasons:as truth-seekers they are among "the great in heart and mind" attempting to fathom the meaning of "the vast bleeding, dreaming machine called life," and as Dreiser classifies them, they are also part of the prophetic tradition he admired for its concern with helping the poor and exploited.[54] In discussing his own closest approximation to a universal moral law--an "equation" among competing energies--Dreiser often refers to the Buddha and his kind. As agents of the creative force they assume several guises, in one sense, they are "but chemical and physical reactions against, or equations of, a too-gross materiality in other directions."[55] As spiritual leaders, they attest that "Men do fight for idealistic or moral beliefs just as plainly as they do for material ends." Their "ascetic passions and self-sacrifice" are at the opposite extreme from the "entirely material or animal" goals of an Alexander VI, a Medici, a Morgan or a Gould. Nature, Dreiser feels, clearly wants "an equation or balance between the types."[56] Considering the prophets as social reformers, he likes to group them with modern figures like John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, Henry George, Walt Whitman or William Jennings Bryan.[57] From the Buddha on, he is convinced, each of them arose to help right some inequity or injustice such as the abuse of the underclass by the rich and powerful. On occasion, he is euphoric about how "it is positively beautiful and thrilling, this love of balance and 'fair play' in nature." More commonly, he cautions that nature's measure of what is "necessary in way of equation" may be entirely different from the merely human scale. Evils and corruption, wars, plagues and natural disasters may persist much longer than our "very finite minds" would consider fair or just.[58] Except for a brief reference in The Stoic to the Buddha as one of "many divine incarnations" Hinduism accepts, Dreiser makes room for the Buddha mainly in his non-fiction.[59] his search for a comprehensive philosophy extends from his "Reflections" in the mid-1890s to A Traveler at Forty, A Hoosier Holiday, Twelve Men, Dawn and A Book about Myself. He attempted a summing-up of his findings in Hey Rub-a-Dub-Dub (1920). Not content to rest there, he worked intermittently for another twenty years, assisted by his secretaries, on a book tentatively entitled The Mechanism Called man. His notes on books and his interviews with scientists, clippings from newspapers and magazines, and the chapters wholly or partially completed, ran to about half-a-million words.[60] He had intended to incorporate insights from Eastern as well as Western sources into a book embodying the results of his lifetime quest, but his restless and wide-ranging thought, full of contradictions and ambivalences, did not easily lend itself to shaping and contouring. he became so engrossed in amassing suitable materials that he made only moderate progress in getting them into publishable form. Neither he, nor Helen Dreiser after his death, proved able to complete the project, but portions of these materials were published posthumously as Notes on Life. In Hey Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Notes on Life and the related pieces in uncollected Prose, the spiritual and ethical wisdom of the East enters into a kind of counterpoint with the Western obsession with science, technology and material values. The most specific example of such interplay occurs in a context in which Dreiser quotes approvingly an undated newspaper clipping which includes this statement: "We are seeing now that our boasted advance of science and of modern knowledge is worse than futile without corresponding spiritual faith and development." As a desirable alternative to "inordinate individual vanity and the brutal effects of social and financial greed" in the West, he cites the Taoist doctrine of non-striving in the sense of resisting actively and successfully the illusions of mental and spiritual growth or achievement via the amassing of material wealth or earthly distinctions, honors, or powers. These are the things that are to be actively resisted in the sense of one's refusing to succumb to their allure and, instead, in their place, to cultivate moderation, simplicity, self-restraint, and repose. This outlook, Dreiser adds, implies . . . not only the active maintenance of these qualities in oneself . . . but the vital (that is, spiritual) presentation of these same not by words or argument but by silent forceful example.[61]. To make this same point, he could have drawn just as easily upon Buddhism or, like Berenice in The Stoic, upon Hinduism. While the modern Orient coveted Occidental prosperity and was rapidly becoming industrialized, Dreiser, along with some other Western writers, believed that the West needed a strong infusion of the wisdom that could be distilled from a variety of traditional Eastern faiths. For him, the contrast between the materialism of the modern West and the spirituality of the ancient East was one of those polarities between conflicting energies that demanded a greater degree of "equation." Notes [1] See, for example, R.N. Mookerjee, "Dreiser's Use of Hindu Thought in The Stoic," American Literature 43 (1971), 273-279; Philip Gerbe, "Dreiser's Stoic: A Study in Literary Frustration," Literary Monographs 7 (1975), 117-120, 133-144; Donald Pizer, The Novels of Theodore Dreiser (Minneapolis, 1976), 335-346. [2] Carl T. Jackson, The Oriental Religions and American Thought: Nineteenth-Century Explorations (Westport, 1981), 141-143. [3] Dreiser Collection, University of Pennsylvania Library. Dreiser's collection of clippings typed pieces and illustations was certainly in existence by 21 November 1902, the date of a letter in which Richard Duffy, one of the editors of Ainslee's Magazine, mentions some poetry clippings that "may be worth reading once, if unworthy of the Uncommonplace Book of Theodore Dreiser" (also in UPa). Internal evidence suggests 1916 as the approximate terminal date. The scrapbooks consist of heavy sheets of gray paper with items pasted on both sides of each page. The first sixteen pages are numbered in ink. The others are unpaginated and, because the bindings have broken, may not be in their original order. [4] Theodore Dreiser, A Book about Myself (New York, 1922), 430. [5] Jackson, "The Influence of Asia upon American Thought: A Bibliographical Essay," American Studies International 22 (1984), 3-31; quotations from 9-10. [6] Beongcheon Yu, The Great Circle: American Writers and the Orient (Detroit, 1983). Other valuable surveys include Jackson, The Oriental Religions and American Thought and Dale Riepe, The Philosophy of India and Its Impact on American Thought (Springfield, 1970). [7] Dreiser, Dawn ([1931]) Greenwich, Conn., 1965), 512-514; Lawrence E. Hussman Jr., Dreiser and His Fiction (Philadelphia, 1983), 7. [8] While Dreiser does not specifically mention the World Parliament of Religion in his dispatches back to St. Louis, his autobiographical volumes or his published correspondence, he is enthusiastic about the Fair as a whole, especially the creation, in the midst of what was only recently "a wilderness of wet grass and mud flats," of a harmonious White City in which "the artistic, mechanical and scientific achievements of the world" are on display. See Dreiser, A book about Myself, 246-247, and the reports in the St. Louis Republic, 18-23 July, 1893; rpt. T.D. Nostwich, ed., Theodore Dreiser Journalism: Newspaper Writings, 1892-1895 (Philadelphia, 1988), I, 121-138. [9] Jackson, The Oriental Religions, 165-166, 157-158. [10] Dreiser, "Theosophy and Spiritualism," St. Louis Glove-democrat, 20 January 1893; rpt. Nostwich, 36-38. It would be interesting to know whether Dreiser detected the survival of Occidental prejudice in Mrs. Besant's statement: "'The Indian that dies now will undoubtedly return to a higher state, assuming the body of a Caucasian'" (37). [11] See the Dictionary of National Biography, Supp., 2, 58-59. [12] Brooks Wright, Interpreter of Buddhism to the West: Sir Edwin Arnold (New York, 1957), 71, 86-97. [13] Wright, 75, 78, 72-75; on the reception of the book in New Englan, see Arthur E. Christy, The Orient in American Transcendentalism ([1932]) new York, 1972), 248-259. [14] See Dreiser, A Hoosier Holiday (New York, 1916), 307-308, and Dawn, 98, 116-180, 244, 252-253. The range of Dreiser's reading is documented more fully in his scrapbooks, with their clippings of lyrics by poets ranging from Burns, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley and Emerson to Whitman, both Rossettis, Wilde, Hardy and Yeats. [15] Dreiser, A Traveler at Forty (New York, 1913), 417. [16] Dreiser, Jennie Gerhardt ([1911] New York, 1963), 29; The "Genius" ([1915] New York, 1928), 12, 115; Sister Carrie ([1900] New York, 1960, 134. [17] Sir Edwin Arnold, The Light of Asia (London, 1911), I, 12, 13. Hereafter all page references to this edition are inserted in the text. [18] See Arnold, Sakya Buddha, tr. Samuel Beal ([1875] Delhi, 1985), 73-74; Wright, 94-95. [19] Dreiser, The Financier ([1912] New York, n.d.), 14; The Titan (New York, 1914), 552. [20] Dreiser, the "Genius", 696; see also the religious discussions, 681; 684-709, 722, 726-728, 734-736. On the influence of Emerson and Thoreau on Dreiser, see Dreiser, "Thoreau, "in Dreiser, ed., The Living Thoughts of Thoreau ([1939] London, 1946), 1-27; Dreiser, Notes on Life, ed. Marguerite Tjader and John J. McAleer (University, Alabama, 1974), 14, and accompanying note, 335; Roger Asselineau, "Theodore Dreiser's Transcendentalism," in G.A. Bonnard, ed., English Studies Today, 2nd series, (Bern, 1961), 233-243; and J.I). Thomas, "Epimetheus Bound: Theodore Dreiser and the Novel of Thought," Southern Humanities Review 3 (1969), 346-357. [21] The Financier, 779. [22] On Dreiser's respect for Brynant as both man and poet, see Yoshinobu Hakutani, Young Dreiser: A Critical Study (Rutherford, N.J., 1980), 1437-138, 141. [23] A Hooseir Holiday, 292, 283-284; see also the related passages on 192-196, 252-253, 261-263, 293-294, 399-400, 406, 422, 425, 503-504, 512-513. [24] Ibid., 226; see also J.D. Thomas, "The Supernatural Naturalism of Dreiser's Novels," Rice Institute Pamphlet 46 (1959), 62-67. [25] H.L. Mencken, A book of Prefaces ([1917] Garden City, 1927), 136. [26] See Eliseo Vivas, "Dreiser, An Inconsistent Mechanist," in Alfred Kazin and Charles Shapiro, eds., The Stature of Theodore Dreiser (Bloomington, 1965), 237-245. [27] Donald Pizer, ed., Theodore Dreiser: A Selection of Uncollected Prose (Detroit, 1977), 63, 89. [28] Robert Forrey, "Dreiser and the Prophetic tradition," American Studies 15 (1974), 21-35. [29] Uncollected Prose, 83, 65, 105. [30] "A Confession of Faith," in Uncollected Prose, 182. [31] Dawn, 436; A Hoosier Holiday, 463; Dawn 318; The Titan, 550. [32] The "Genius," 728. [33] Dreiser, Hey Rub-a-Dub-Dub (New York, 1920), 257. Hereafter this work is cited as Hey. [34] The quotation is part of the subtitle of Hey. [35] In this passage the last three lines are place in the order in which they appear in the scrapbooks version. In the kegan Paul (1911) edition they immediately precede the line (not quoted here) "so sang they with soft float of beckoning hands." [36] Hey, 134. [37] A Book about Myself, 427; see also Jennie Gerhardt, 98-102. [38] A Hoosier Holiday, 366-367. [39] Ibid., 212; see also Dreiser, American Diaries, 1902-1926, ed., Thomas P. Riggio, et al., (Philadelphia, 1983), esp. Riggio's introduction, 24-28. [40] Dreiser ed., Pizer, 65, 89, 91-93, 107-108, 94. [41] Notes on Life, 333, 332. [42] Dreiser to Frank Harris, 23 June 1918, in Robert H. Elias, ed., Letters of Theodore Dreiser, 3-vols., (Philadelphia, 1959), I, 254; Dreiser's italics. [43] Uncollected prose, 182-219. [44] The Titan, 551. "Equation" is the key concept in Hey (see especially "Equation Inevitable," 157-181) and is a persistent theme in many of Dreiser's other writings. For valuable interpretations of this and other aspects of hi philosophy, see Richard Lehan, Theodore Dreiser: His World and His Novels (Carbondale, 1969), 32-53; and Pizer, 8-16. [45] Uncollected Prose, 248. [46] Ibid., 219-220; see also The Titan, 551. [47] Dreiser to Dorothy Payne Davis, 18 July 1940, in Letters III. 887; Dreiser's italics. [48] For the Buddha's pragmatic testing of this and other established doctrines and practices, see Michael Carrithers, The Buddha (Oxford, 1983), 37-48. [49] A. Foucher, The Life of the Buddha, tr. Simone Brangier Boas (Middletown, Conn., 1963), 149-150. [50] Quoted in Carrithers, 3. [51] Notes on Life, 113; see also the rest of this section, 109-119. On the cultural matrix of the Buddha's thought, see Carrithers, 12-28, and Foucher, 91-94. [52] Notes on Life, 177-178, 113-114. [53] Uncollected Prose, 226-227; see also ibid., 212-218. [54] Dreiser, "Prometheus" and "Decadence" in Moods Cadenced and Declaimed (New York, 1928), 278, 338; NOtes on Life, 5. [55] Uncollected Prose, 219, see also Notes on Life, 206-211, and Hey, 207. [56] Hey, 165. [57] A Hoosier Holiday, 225. In this particular list Dreiser includes Christ but not the Buddha, but the omission is probably not deliberate since elsewhere he categorizes him, along with Christ, as a reformer. See, for example, Hey 206-207. In regarding the Buddha as a social reformer, Dreiser was following a misconception widespread in the West. True, by disregarding such traditional measures of worth as sex, caste and wealth, the Buddha helped prepare the way for social reforms Gandhi and others sponsored centuries later. The Buddha's mission, however, was not to improve the social structure, but to offer to individuals the means of transforming themselves from within. Cf. Wright, 95-96. [58] A Hoosier Holiday, 225; Hey, 161, 157-160. [59] Dreiser, The Stoic, (Garden City, 1947), 299. [60] See Dreiser to William C. Lengel, 10 June 1941, in Letters, III, 926-927; Helen Dreiser, My Life with Dreiser (Cleveland, 1951), 241-243; Neda Westlake, "Theodore Dreiser's Notes on Life," Library Chronicle 20 (1954), 69-75; Marguerite Tjader, "Foreword," in Dreiser, Notes on Life, v-ix. [61] Notes on Life, 279, 278.