Wednesday, March 3, 2021
In Hoc Signo Vinces
I will try to sum up in a single image the two attitudes I have sought to represent, in order to show where understanding is really needed between East and West. To do so, I should like to recall that, at a time when the physical and sensuous world, and human existence also, was already felt as maya in the East, he who is called the Buddha encountered in his wanderings the most varied manifestations of human suffering on earth. Among these manifestations was a corpse; death confronted the Buddha, and through contemplation of death he reached his conclusion: Life is Suffering.
This was the tenor of Oriental civilization six hundred years before the establishment of Christianity. Six hundred years later, Christianity was founded, and henceforward we have a significant symbol: the crucifix, the raised cross with the Redeemer, the human body on it. In the West, countless men look at this body, at the image of it; just as countless men, who have become disciples of Buddha, have looked at the body from which Buddha drew his teaching. The East acknowledged: Life is suffering, we long for redemption. Western men, in looking at the image of the dead body, however, did not simply say: Life is suffering! For them, the sight of death became a symbol of resurrection, resurrection of the spirit through inner human power. It became a symbol of the fact that suffering can be redeemed by overcoming the physical; that it is overcome, not by turning away from it in asceticism, but by keeping it in full view, not regarding it as maya, and overcoming it through work, activity, and the vigour of the will. Out of the introspective life of the East arose a contemplation of the dead body, with the conclusion: Life is suffering, man must be redeemed from life. Out of the life of the West, attempting always activity, there arose, at the sight of the body, the view: Life must develop power within itself, so that even the forces of death can be overcome, and human work can do its task in the development of the world.