Chips From A German Workshop - Volume I - Essays on the Science of Religion
by Friedrich Max Mueller
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Transcriber's Note:

This book had a number of typesetting errors such as missing text, pages, duplicate pages, and text. The text has been verified with the etext available with the Internet Archives ( and corrected with the addition of missing text and removal of duplicate text. The Internet archive edition is a 1872 edition whereas this is a 1867 edition.

Details of corrections and additions are given at the end of the book.







Essays on the Science of Religion.




* * * * *

To the Memory




et quanto diutius Abes, magis cupio tanto et magis desidero.

* * * * *


More than twenty years have passed since my revered friend Bunsen called me one day into his library at Carlton House Terrace, and announced to me with beaming eyes that the publication of the Rig-veda was secure. He had spent many days in seeing the Directors of the East-India Company, and explaining to them the importance of this work, and the necessity of having it published in England. At last his efforts had been successful, the funds for printing my edition of the text and commentary of the Sacred Hymns of the Brahmans had been granted, and Bunsen was the first to announce to me the happy result of his literary diplomacy. 'Now,' he said, 'you have got a work for life—a large block that will take years to plane and polish.' 'But mind,' he added, 'let us have from time to time some chips from your workshop.'

I have tried to follow the advice of my departed friend, and I have published almost every year a few articles on such subjects as had engaged my attention, while prosecuting at the same time, as far as altered circumstances would allow, my edition of the Rig-veda, and of other Sanskrit works connected with it. These articles were chiefly published in the 'Edinburgh' and 'Quarterly Reviews,' in the 'Oxford Essays,' in 'Macmillan's' and 'Fraser's Magazines,' in the 'Saturday Review,' and in the 'Times.' In writing them my principal endeavour has been to bring out even in the most abstruse subjects the points of real interest that ought to engage the attention of the public at large, and never to leave a dark nook or corner without attempting to sweep away the cobwebs of false learning, and let in the light of real knowledge. Here, too, I owe much to Bunsen's advice, and when last year I saw in Cornwall the large heaps of copper ore piled up around the mines, like so many heaps of rubbish, while the poor people were asking for coppers to buy bread, I frequently thought of Bunsen's words, 'Your work is not finished when you have brought the ore from the mine: it must be sifted, smelted, refined, and coined before it can be of real use, and contribute towards the intellectual food of mankind.' I can hardly hope that in this my endeavour to be clear and plain, to follow the threads of every thought to the very ends, and to place the web of every argument clearly and fully before my readers, I have always been successful. Several of the subjects treated in these essays are, no doubt, obscure and difficult: but there is no subject, I believe, in the whole realm of human knowledge, that cannot be rendered clear and intelligible, if we ourselves have perfectly mastered it. And now while the two last volumes of my edition of the Rig-veda are passing through the press, I thought the time had come for gathering up a few armfulls of these chips and splinters, throwing away what seemed worthless, and putting the rest into some kind of shape, in order to clear my workshop for other work.

The first and second volumes which I am now publishing contain essays on the early thoughts of mankind, whether religious or mythological, and on early traditions and customs. There is to my mind no subject more absorbing than the tracing the origin and first growth of human thought;—not theoretically, or in accordance with the Hegelian laws of thought, or the Comtian epochs; but historically, and like an Indian trapper, spying for every footprint, every layer, every broken blade that might tell and testify of the former presence of man in his early wanderings and searchings after light and truth.

In the languages of mankind, in which everything new is old and everything old is new, an inexhaustible mine has been discovered for researches of this kind. Language still bears the impress of the earliest thoughts of man, obliterated, it may be, buried under new thoughts, yet here and there still recoverable in their sharp original outline. The growth of language is continuous, and by continuing our researches backward from the most modern to the most ancient strata, the very elements and roots of human speech have been reached, and with them the elements and roots of human thought. What lies beyond the beginnings of language, however interesting it may be to the physiologist, does not yet belong to the history of man, in the true and original sense of that word. Man means the thinker, and the first manifestation of thought is speech.

But more surprising than the continuity in the growth of language, is the continuity in the growth of religion. Of religion, too, as of language, it may be said that in it everything new is old, and everything old is new, and that there has been no entirely new religion since the beginning of the world. The elements and roots of religion were there, as far back as we can trace the history of man; and the history of religion, like the history of language, shows us throughout a succession of new combinations of the same radical elements. An intuition of God, a sense of human weakness and dependence, a belief in a Divine government of the world, a distinction between good and evil, and a hope of a better life, these are some of the radical elements of all religions. Though sometimes hidden, they rise again and again to the surface. Though frequently distorted, they tend again and again to their perfect form. Unless they had formed part of the original dowry of the human soul, religion itself would have remained an impossibility, and the tongues of angels would have been to human ears but as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. If we once understand this clearly, the words of St. Augustine which have seemed startling to many of his admirers, become perfectly clear and intelligible, when he says:[1] 'What is now called the Christian religion, has existed among the ancients, and was not absent from the beginning of the human race, until Christ came in the flesh: from which time the true religion, which existed already, began to be called Christian.' From this point of view the words of Christ too, which startled the Jews, assume their true meaning, when He said to the centurion of Capernaum: 'Many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.'

[Footnote 1: August. Retr. 1, 13. 'Res ipsa, quae nunc religio Christiana nuncupatur, erat apud antiquos, nec defuit ab initio generis humani, quousque Christus veniret in carnem, unde vera religio, quae jam erat, coepit appellari Christiana.']

During the last fifty years the accumulation of new and authentic materials for the study of the religions of the world, has been most extraordinary; but such are the difficulties in mastering these materials that I doubt whether the time has yet come for attempting to trace, after the model of the Science of Language, the definite outlines of the Science of Religion. By a succession of the most fortunate circumstances, the canonical books of three of the principal religions of the ancient world have lately been recovered, the Veda, the Zend-Avesta, and the Tripitaka. But not only have we thus gained access to the most authentic documents from which to study the ancient religion of the Brahmans, the Zoroastrians, and the Buddhists, but by discovering the real origin of Greek, Roman, and likewise of Teutonic, Slavonic, and Celtic mythology, it has become possible to separate the truly religious elements in the sacred traditions of these nations from the mythological crust by which they are surrounded, and thus to gain a clearer insight into the real faith of the ancient Aryan world.

If we turn to the Semitic world, we find that although no new materials have been discovered from which to study the ancient religion of the Jews, yet a new spirit of inquiry has brought new life into the study of the sacred records of Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets; and the recent researches of Biblical scholars, though starting from the most opposite points, have all helped to bring out the historical interest of the Old Testament, in a manner not dreamt of by former theologians. The same may be said of another Semitic religion, the religion of Mohammed, since the Koran and the literature connected with it were submitted to the searching criticism of real scholars and historians. Some new materials for the study of the Semitic religions have come from the monuments of Babylon and Nineveh. The very images of Bel and Nisroch now stand before our eyes, and the inscriptions on the tablets may hereafter tell us even more of the thoughts of those who bowed their knees before them. The religious worship of the Phenicians and Carthaginians has been illustrated by Movers from the ruins of their ancient temples, and from scattered notices in classical writers; nay, even the religious ideas of the Nomads of the Arabian peninsula, previous to the rise of Mohammedanism, have been brought to light by the patient researches of Oriental scholars.

There is no lack of idols among the ruined and buried temples of Egypt with which to reconstruct the pantheon of that primeval country: nor need we despair of recovering more and more of the thoughts buried under the hieroglyphics of the inscriptions, or preserved in hieratic and demotic MSS., if we watch the brilliant discoveries that have rewarded the patient researches of the disciples of Champollion.

Besides the Aryan and Semitic families of religion, we have in China three recognised forms of public worship, the religion of Confucius, that of Lao-tse, and that of Fo (Buddha); and here, too, recent publications have shed new light, and have rendered an access to the canonical works of these religions, and an understanding of their various purports, more easy, even to those who have not mastered the intricacies of the Chinese language.

Among the Turanian nations, a few only, such as the Finns, and the Mongolians, have preserved some remnants of their ancient worship and mythology, and these too have lately been more carefully collected and explained by d'Ohson, Castren, and others.

In America the religions of Mexico and Peru had long attracted the attention of theologians; and of late years the impulse imparted to ethnological researches has induced travellers and missionaries to record any traces of religious life that could be discovered among the savage inhabitants of Africa, America, and the Polynesian islands.

It will be seen from these few indications, that there is no lack of materials for the student of religion; but we shall also perceive how difficult it is to master such vast materials. To gain a full knowledge of the Veda, or the Zend-Avesta, or the Tripitaka, of the Old Testament, the Koran, or the sacred books of China, is the work of a whole life. How then is one man to survey the whole field of religious thought, to classify the religions of the world according to definite and permanent criteria, and to describe their characteristic features with a sure and discriminating hand?

Nothing is more difficult to seize than the salient features, the traits that constitute the permanent expression and real character of a religion. Religion seems to be the common property of a large community, and yet it not only varies in numerous sects, as language does in its dialects, but it really escapes our firm grasp till we can trace it to its real habitat, the heart of one true believer. We speak glibly of Buddhism and Brahmanism, forgetting that we are generalizing on the most intimate convictions of millions and millions of human souls, divided by half the world and by thousands of years.

It may be said that at all events where a religion possesses canonical books, or a definite number of articles, the task of the student of religion becomes easier, and this, no doubt, is true to a certain extent. But even then we know that the interpretation of these canonical books varies, so much so that sects appealing to the same revealed authorities, as, for instance, the founders of the Vedanta and the Sankhya systems, accuse each other of error, if not of wilful error or heresy. Articles too, though drawn up with a view to define the principal doctrines of a religion, lose much of their historical value by the treatment they receive from subsequent schools; and they are frequently silent on the very points which make religion what it is.

A few instances may serve to show what difficulties the student of religion has to contend with, before he can hope firmly to grasp the facts on which his theories are to be based.

Roman Catholic missionaries who had spent their lives in China, who had every opportunity, while staying at the court of Pekin, of studying in the original the canonical works of Confucius and their commentaries, who could consult the greatest theologians then living, and converse with the crowds that thronged the temples of the capital, differed diametrically in their opinions as to the most vital points in the state religion of China. Lecomte, Fouquet, Premare, and Bouvet thought it undeniable that Confucius, his predecessors and his disciples, had entertained the noblest ideas on the constitution of the universe, and had sacrificed to the true God in the most ancient temple of the earth. According to Maigrot, Navarette, on the contrary, and even according to the Jesuit Longobardi, the adoration of the Chinese was addressed to inanimate tablets, meaningless inscriptions, or, in the best case, to coarse ancestral spirits and beings without intelligence.[2] If we believe the former, the ancient deism of China approached the purity of the Christian religion; if we listen to the latter, the absurd fetichism of the multitude degenerated amongst the educated, into systematic materialism and atheism. In answer to the peremptory texts quoted by one party, the other adduced the glosses of accredited interpreters, and the dispute of the missionaries who had lived in China and knew Chinese, had to be settled in the last instance by a decision of the see of Rome.

[Footnote 2: Abel Remusat, 'Melanges,' p. 162.]

There is hardly any religion that has been studied in its sacred literature, and watched in its external worship with greater care than the modern religion of the Hindus, and yet it would be extremely hard to give a faithful and intelligible description of it. Most people who have lived in India would maintain that the Indian religion, as believed in and practised at present by the mass of the people, is idol worship and nothing else. But let us hear one of the mass of the people, a Hindu of Benares, who in a lecture delivered before an English and native audience defends his faith and the faith of his forefathers against such sweeping accusations. 'If by idolatry,' he says, "is meant a system of worship which confines our ideas of the Deity to a mere image of clay or stone, which prevents our hearts from being expanded and elevated with lofty notions of the attributes of God, if this is what is meant by idolatry, we disclaim idolatry, we abhor idolatry, and deplore the ignorance or uncharitableness of those that charge us with this grovelling system of worship.... But if, firmly believing, as we do, in the omnipresence of God, we behold, by the aid of our imagination, in the form of an image any of his glorious manifestations, ought we to be charged with identifying them with the matter of the image, whilst during those moments of sincere and fervent devotion, we do not even think of matter? If at the sight of a portrait of a beloved and venerated friend no longer existing in this world, our heart is filled with sentiments of love and reverence; if we fancy him present in the picture, still looking upon us with his wonted tenderness and affection, and then indulge our feelings of love and gratitude, should we be charged with offering the grossest insult to him—that of fancying him to be no other than a piece of painted paper?... We really lament the ignorance or uncharitableness of those who confound our representative worship with the Phenician, Grecian, or Roman idolatry as represented by European writers, and then charge us with polytheism in the teeth of thousands of texts in the Puranas declaring in clear and unmistakable terms that there is but one God who manifests Himself as Brahma, Vishnu, and Rudra (Siva), in His functions of creation, preservation, and destruction."[3]

[Footnote 3: The modern pandit's reply to the missionary who accuses him of polytheism is: "O, these are only various manifestations of the one God; the same as, though the sun be one in the heavens, yet he appears in multi-form reflections upon the lake. The various sects are only different entrances to the one city." See W. W. Hunter, Annals of Rural Bengal, p. 116.]

In support of these statements, this eloquent advocate quotes numerous passages from the sacred literature of the Brahmans, and he sums up his view of the three manifestations of the Deity in the words of their great poet Kalidasa, as translated by Mr. Griffith:—

"In those Three Persons the One God was shown: Each First in place, each Last,—not one alone; Of Siva, Vishnu, Brahma, each may be First, second, third, among the Blessed Three."

If such contradictory views can be held and defended with regard to religious systems still prevalent amongst us, where we can cross-examine living witnesses, and appeal to chapter and verse in their sacred writings, what must the difficulty be when we have to deal with the religions of the past? I do not wish to disguise these difficulties which are inherent in a comparative study of the religions of the world. I rather dwell on them strongly, in order to show how much care and caution is required in so difficult a subject, and how much indulgence should be shown in judging of the shortcomings and errors that are unavoidable in so comprehensive a study. It was supposed at one time that a comparative analysis of the languages of mankind must transcend the powers of man: and yet by the combined and well directed efforts of many scholars, great results have here been obtained, and the principles that must guide the student of the Science of Language are now firmly established. It will be the same with the Science of Religion. By a proper division of labor, the materials that are still wanting will be collected and published and translated, and when that is done, surely man will never rest till he has discovered the purpose that runs through the religions of mankind, and till he has reconstructed the true Civitas Dei on foundations as wide as the ends of the world. The Science of Religion may be the last of the sciences which man is destined to elaborate; but when it is elaborated, it will change the aspect of the world, and give a new life to Christianity itself.

The Fathers of the Church, though living in much more dangerous proximity to the ancient religions of the Gentiles, admitted freely that a comparison of Christianity and other religions was useful. "If there is any agreement," Basilius remarked, "between their (the Greeks') doctrines and our own, it may benefit us to know them: if not, then to compare them and to learn how they differ, will help not a little towards confirming that which is the better of the two."[4]

[Footnote 4: Basilius, De legendis Graec. libris, c. v. [Greek: Ei men oun esti tis oikeiotes pros allelous tois logois, prourgou an hemin auton he gnosis genoito. ei de me, alla to ge parallela thentas katamathein to diaphoron, ou mikron eis bebaiosis beltionos.]]

But this is not the only advantage of a comparative study of religions. The Science of Religion will for the first time assign to Christianity its right place among the religions of the world; it will show for the first time fully what was meant by the fulness of time; it will restore to the whole history of the world, in its unconscious progress towards Christianity, its true and sacred character.

Not many years ago great offence was given by an eminent writer who remarked that the time had come when the history of Christianity should be treated in a truly historical spirit, in the same spirit in which we treat the history of other religions, such as Brahmanism, Buddhism, or Mohammedanism. And yet what can be truer? He must be a man of little faith, who would fear to subject his own religion to the same critical tests to which the historian subjects all other religions. We need not surely crave a tender or merciful treatment for that faith which we hold to be the only true one. We should rather challenge for it the severest tests and trials, as the sailor would for the good ship to which he entrusts his own life, and the lives of those who are most dear to him. In the Science of Religion, we can decline no comparisons, nor claim any immunities for Christianity, as little as the missionary can, when wrestling with the subtle Brahman, or the fanatical Mussulman, or the plain speaking Zulu. And if we send out our missionaries to every part of the world to face every kind of religion, to shrink from no contest, to be appalled by no objections, we must not give way at home or within our own hearts to any misgivings, that a comparative study of the religions of the world could shake the firm foundations on which we must stand or fall.

To the missionary more particularly a comparative study of the religions of mankind will be, I believe, of the greatest assistance. Missionaries are apt to look upon all other religions as something totally distinct from their own, as formerly they used to describe the languages of barbarous nations as something more like the twittering of birds than the articulate speech of men. The Science of Language has taught us that there is order and wisdom in all languages, and that even the most degraded jargons contain the ruins of former greatness and beauty. The Science of Religion, I hope, will produce a similar change in our views of barbarous forms of faith and worship; and missionaries, instead of looking only for points of difference, will look out more anxiously for any common ground, any spark of the true light that may still be revived, any altar that may be dedicated afresh to the true God.

And even to us at home, a wider view of the religious life of the world may teach many a useful lesson. Immense as is the difference between our own and all other religions of the world—and few can know that difference who have not honestly examined the foundations of their own as well as of other religions—the position which believers and unbelievers occupy with regard to their various forms of faith is very much the same all over the world. The difficulties which trouble us, have troubled the hearts and minds of men as far back as we can trace the beginnings of religious life. The great problems touching the relation of the Finite to the Infinite, of the human mind as the recipient, and of the Divine Spirit as the source of truth, are old problems indeed; and while watching their appearance in different countries, and their treatment under varying circumstances, we shall be able, I believe, to profit ourselves, both by the errors which others committed before us, and by the truth which they discovered. We shall know the rocks that threaten every religion in this changing and shifting world of ours, and having watched many a storm of religious controversy and many a shipwreck in distant seas, we shall face with greater calmness and prudence the troubled waters at home.

If there is one thing which a comparative study of religions places in the clearest light, it is the inevitable decay to which every religion is exposed. It may seem almost like a truism, that no religion can continue to be what it was during the lifetime of its founder and its first apostles. Yet it is but seldom borne in mind that without constant reformation, i. e. without a constant return to its fountain-head, every religion, even the most perfect, nay the most perfect on account of its very perfection, more even than others, suffers from its contact with the world, as the purest air suffers from the mere fact of its being breathed.

Whenever we can trace back a religion to its first beginnings, we find it free from many of the blemishes that offend us in its later phases. The founders of the ancient religions of the world, as far as we can judge, were minds of a high stamp, full of noble aspirations, yearning for truth, devoted to the welfare of their neighbours, examples of purity and unselfishness. What they desired to found upon earth was but seldom realised, and their sayings, if preserved in their original form, offer often a strange contrast to the practice of those who profess to be their disciples. As soon as a religion is established, and more particularly when it has become the religion of a powerful state, the foreign and worldly elements encroach more and more on the original foundation, and human interests mar the simplicity and purity of the plan which the founder had conceived in his own heart, and matured in his communings with his God. Even those who lived with Buddha, misunderstood his words, and at the Great Council which had to settle the Buddhist canon, Asoka, the Indian Constantine, had to remind the assembled priests that 'what had been said by Buddha, that alone was well said;' and that certain works ascribed to Buddha, as, for instance, the instruction given to his son, Rahula, were apocryphal, if not heretical.[5] With every century, Buddhism, when it was accepted by nations, differing as widely as Mongols and Hindus, when its sacred writings were translated into languages as wide apart as Sanskrit and Chinese, assumed widely different aspects, till at last the Buddhism of the Shamans in the steppes of Tatary is as different from the teaching of the original Samana, as the Christianity of the leader of the Chinese rebels is from the teaching of Christ. If missionaries could show to the Brahmans, the Buddhists, the Zoroastrians, nay, even to the Mohammedans, how much their present faith differs from the faith of their forefathers and founders, if they could place into their hands and read with them in a kindly spirit the original documents in which these various religions profess to be founded, and enable them to distinguish between the doctrines of their own sacred books and the additions of later ages, an important advantage would be gained, and the choice between Christ and other Masters would be rendered far more easy to many a truth-seeking soul. But for that purpose it is necessary that we too should see the beam in our own eyes, and learn to distinguish between the Christianity of the nineteenth century and the religion of Christ. If we find that the Christianity of the nineteenth century does not win as many hearts in India and China as it ought, let us remember that it was the Christianity of the first century in all its dogmatic simplicity, but with its overpowering love of God and man, that conquered the world and superseded religions and philosophies, more difficult to conquer than the religious and philosophical systems of Hindus and Buddhists. If we can teach something to the Brahmans in reading with them their sacred hymns, they too can teach us something when reading with us the Gospel of Christ. Never shall I forget the deep despondency of a Hindu convert, a real martyr to his faith, who had pictured to himself from the pages of the New Testament what a Christian country must be, and who when he came to Europe found everything so different from what he had imagined in his lonely meditations at Benares! It was the Bible only that saved him from returning to his old religion, and helped him to discern beneath theological futilities, accumulated during nearly two thousand years, beneath pharisaical hypocrisy, infidelity, and want of charity, the buried, but still living seed, committed to the earth by Christ and his Apostles. How can a missionary in such circumstances meet the surprise and questions of his pupils, unless he may point to that seed, and tell them what Christianity was meant to be; unless he may show that like all other religions, Christianity, too, has had its history; that the Christianity of the nineteenth century is not the Christianity of the Middle Ages, that the Christianity of the Middle Ages was not that of the early Councils, that the Christianity of the early Councils was not that of the Apostles, and 'that what has been said by Christ that alone was well said?'

[Footnote 5: See Burnouf, 'Lotus de la bonne Loi,' Appendice, No. x. Sec. 4.]

The advantages, however, which missionaries and other defenders of the faith will gain from a comparative study of religions, though important hereafter, are not at present the chief object of these researches. In order to maintain their scientific character, they must be independent of all extraneous considerations: they must aim at truth, trusting that even unpalatable truths, like unpalatable medicine, will reinvigorate the system into which they enter. To those, no doubt, who value the tenets of their religion as the miser values his pearls and precious stones, thinking their value lessened if pearls and stones of the same kind are found in other parts of the world, the Science of Religion will bring many a rude shock; but to the true believer, truth, wherever it appears, is welcome, nor will any doctrine seem to be less true or less precious, because it was seen, not only by Moses or Christ, but likewise by Buddha or Lao-tse. Nor should it be forgotten that while a comparison of ancient religions will certainly show that some of the most vital articles of faith are the common property of the whole of mankind, at least of all who seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, the same comparison alone can possibly teach us what is peculiar to Christianity, and what has secured to it that pre-eminent position which now it holds in spite of all obloquy. The gain will be greater than the loss, if loss there be, which I, at least, shall never admit.

There is a strong feeling, I know, in the minds of all people against any attempt to treat their own religion as a member of a class, and, in one sense, that feeling is perfectly justified. To each individual, his own religion, if he really believes in it, is something quite inseparable from himself, something unique, that cannot be compared to anything else, or replaced by anything else. Our own religion is, in that respect, something like our own language. In its form it may be like other languages; in its essence and in its relation to ourselves, it stands alone and admits of no peer or rival.

But in the history of the world, our religion, like our own language, is but one out of many; and in order to understand fully the position of Christianity in the history of the world, and its true place among the religions of mankind, we must compare it, not with Judaeism only, but with the religious aspirations of the whole world, with all, in fact, that Christianity came either to destroy or to fulfil. From this point of view Christianity forms part, no doubt, of what people call profane history, but by that very fact, profane history ceases to be profane, and regains throughout that sacred character of which it had been deprived by a false distinction. The ancient Fathers of the Church spoke on these subjects with far greater freedom than we venture to use in these days. Justin Martyr, in his 'Apology' (A.D 139), has this memorable passage ('Apol.' i. 46): 'One article of our faith then is, that Christ is the first begotten of God, and we have already proved Him to be the very Logos (or universal Reason), of which mankind are all partakers; and therefore those who live according to the Logos are Christians, notwithstanding they may pass with you for Atheists; such among the Greeks were Sokrates and Herakleitos and the like; and such among the Barbarians were Abraham, and Ananias, and Azarias, and Misael, and Elias, and many others, whose actions, nay whose very names, I know, would be tedious to relate, and therefore shall pass them over. So, on the other side, those who have lived in former times in defiance of the Logos or Reason, were evil, and enemies to Christ and murderers of such as lived according to the Logos; but _they who have made or make the Logos or Reason the rule of their actions are Christians_, and men without fear and trembling.'[5_1]

[Footnote 5_1: [Greek: Ton christon prothotokon tou Theou einai edidhachthemen, kai proemenhysamen Lhogon onta, ou pan ghenos anthrhopon methesche kai oi meta Lhogou bihosantes christianohi eisi, kan atheoi enomhisthesan, oion en Ellesi men Sokrhates kai Erhakleitos kai oi homoioi autois, en barbarois de Abraam kai Ananias kai Asarias kai Misael kai Elhias kai alloi polloi, on tas praxets e ta onomata katalegein makron einai epistamenoi, tanyn paraitoymetha. oste kai oi progenomenoi aneu Ldgou bihosantes, acrestoi ka.]]

'God,' says Clement,[6] 'is the cause of all that is good: only of some good gifts He is the primary cause, as of the Old and New Testaments, of others the secondary, as of (Greek) philosophy. But even philosophy may have been given primarily by Him to the Greeks, before the Lord had called the Greeks also. For that philosophy, like a teacher, has guided the Greeks also, as the Law did the Hebrews, towards Christ. Philosophy, therefore, prepares and opens the way to those who are made perfect by Christ.'

[Footnote 6: Clem. Alex. Strom, lib. I, cap. v, Sec. 28. [Greek: Panton men gar aitios ton kalon d theos, alla ton men kata proegoumenon, hos tes te diathekes tes palaias kai tes neas, ton de kat epakolouthema, hos tes philosophias tacha de kai proegoumenos tois Ellesin edothe tote prin e ton kurion kalesai kai tous Elleuas. Epaidagogei gar kai aute to Ellenikon hos o nomos tous Ebraious eis Christon. proparaskeuixei toinun e philosophia proodopoiousa ton hupo Christou teleioumenon.]]

And again: 'It is clear that the same God to whom we owe the Old and New Testaments, gave also to the Greeks their Greek philosophy by which the Almighty is glorified among the Greeks.'[7]

[Footnote 7: Strom, lib. VI, cap. V, Sec. 42. [Greek: Eros de kai oti o autos theos amphoin tain diathekain choregos, o kai tes Ellenikes philosophias doter tois Ellesin, di es o pantokrator par Ellesi doxazetai, parestesen, delon de kanthede.]]

And Clement was by no means the only one who spoke thus freely and fearlessly, though, no doubt, his knowledge of Greek philosophy qualified him better than many of his contemporaries to speak with authority on such subjects.

St. Augustine writes: 'If the Gentiles also had possibly something divine and true in their doctrines, our Saints did not find fault with it, although for their superstition, idolatry, and pride, and other evil habits, they had to be detested, and, unless they improved, to be punished by divine judgment. For the apostle Paul, when he said something about God among the Athenians, quoted the testimony of some of the Greeks who had said something of the same kind: and this, if they came to Christ, would be acknowledged in them, and not blamed. Saint Cyprian, too, uses such witnesses against the Gentiles. For when he speaks of the Magians, he says that the chief among them, Hostanes, maintains that the true God is invisible, and that true angels sit at His throne; and that Plato agrees with this, and believes in One God, considering the others to be angels or demons; and that Hermes Trismegistus also speaks of One God, and confesses that He is incomprehensible.' (Augustinus, 'De Baptismo contra Donatistas,' lib. VI, cap. xliv.)

Every religion, even the most imperfect and degraded, has something that ought to be sacred to us, for there is in all religions a secret yearning after the true, though unknown, God. Whether we see the Papua squatting in dumb meditation before his fetish, or whether we listen to Firdusi exclaiming: 'The heighth and the depth of the whole world have their centre in Thee, O my God! I do not know Thee what Thou art: but I know that Thou art what Thou alone canst be,'—we ought to feel that the place whereon we stand is holy ground. There are philosophers, no doubt, to whom both Christianity and all other religions are exploded errors, things belonging to the past, and to be replaced by more positive knowledge. To them the study of the religions of the world could only have a pathological interest, and their hearts could never warm at the sparks of truth that light up, like stars, the dark yet glorious night of the ancient world. They tell us that the world has passed through the phases of religious and metaphysical errors, in order to arrive at the safe haven of positive knowledge of facts. But if they would but study positive facts, if they would but read, patiently and thoughtfully, the history of the world, as it is, not as it might have been: they would see that, as in geology, so in the history of human thought, theoretic uniformity does not exist, and that the past is never altogether lost. The oldest formations of thought crop out everywhere, and if we dig but deep enough, we shall find that even the sandy desert in which we are asked to live, rests everywhere on the firm foundation of that primeval, yet indestructible granite of the human soul,—religious faith.

There are other philosophers again who would fain narrow the limits of the Divine government of the world to the history of the Jewish and of the Christian nations, who would grudge the very name of religion to the ancient creeds of the world, and to whom the name of natural religion has almost become a term of reproach. To them, too, I should like to say that if they would but study positive facts, if they would but read their own Bible, they would find that the greatness of Divine Love cannot be measured by human standards, and that God has never forsaken a single human soul that has not first forsaken Him. 'He hath made of one blood all nations of men, for to dwell on all the face of the earth; and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation: that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us,' If they would but dig deep enough, they too would find that what they contemptuously call natural religion, is in reality the greatest gift that God has bestowed on the children of man, and that without it, revealed religion itself would have no firm foundation, no living roots in the heart of man.

If by the essays here collected I should succeed in attracting more general attention towards an independent, yet reverent study of the ancient religions of the world, and in dispelling some of the prejudices with which so many have regarded the yearnings after truth embodied in the sacred writings of the Brahmans, the Zoroastrians, and the Buddhists, in the mythology of the Greeks and Romans, nay, even in the wild traditions and degraded customs of Polynesian savages, I shall consider myself amply rewarded for the labour which they have cost me. That they are not free from errors, in spite of a careful revision to which they have been submitted before I published them in this collection, I am fully aware, and I shall be grateful to any one who will point them out, little concerned whether it is done in a seemly or unseemly manner, as long as some new truth is elicited, or some old error effectually exploded. Though I have thought it right in preparing these essays for publication, to alter what I could no longer defend as true, and also, though rarely, to add some new facts that seemed essential for the purpose of establishing what I wished to prove, yet in the main they have been left as they were originally published. I have added to each the dates when they were written, these dates ranging over the last fifteen years, and I must beg my readers to bear these dates in mind when judging both of the form and the matter of these contributions towards a better knowledge of the creeds and prayers, the legends and customs of the ancient world.

M. M.


October, 1867.

















* * * * *







I have brought with me one volume of my edition of the Veda, and I should not wonder if it were the first copy of the work which has ever reached this busy town of Leeds. Nay, I confess I have some misgivings whether I have not undertaken a hopeless task, and I begin to doubt whether I shall succeed in explaining to you the interest which I feel for this ancient collection of sacred hymns, an interest which has never failed me while devoting to the publication of this voluminous work the best twenty years of my life. Many times have I been asked, But what is the Veda? Why should it be published? What are we likely to learn from a book composed nearly four thousand years ago, and intended from the beginning for an uncultivated race of mere heathens and savages,—a book which the natives of India have never published themselves, although, to the present day, they profess to regard it as the highest authority for their religion, morals, and philosophy? Are we, the people of England or of Europe, in the nineteenth century, likely to gain any new light on religious, moral, or philosophical questions from the old songs of the Brahmans? And is it so very certain that the whole book is not a modern forgery, without any substantial claims to that high antiquity which is ascribed to it by the Hindus, so that all the labour bestowed upon it would not only be labour lost, but throw discredit on our powers of discrimination, and make us a laughing-stock among the shrewd natives of India? These and similar questions I have had to answer many times when asked by others, and some of them when asked by myself, before embarking on so hazardous an undertaking as the publication of the Rig-veda and its ancient commentary. And, I believe, I am not mistaken in supposing that many of those who to-night have honoured me with their presence may have entertained similar doubts and misgivings when invited to listen to a Lecture 'On the Vedas or the Sacred Books of the Brahmans.'

[Footnote 8: Some of the points touched upon in this Lecture have been more fully treated in my 'History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature.' As the second edition of this work has been out of print for several years, I have here quoted a few passages from it in full.]

I shall endeavour, therefore, as far as this is possible within the limits of one Lecture, to answer some of these questions, and to remove some of these doubts, by explaining to you, first, what the Veda really is, and, secondly, what importance it possesses, not only to the people of India, but to ourselves in Europe,—and here again, not only to the student of Oriental languages, but to every student of history, religion, or philosophy; to every man who has once felt the charm of tracing that mighty stream of human thought on which we ourselves are floating onward, back to its distant mountain-sources; to every one who has a heart for whatever has once filled the hearts of millions of human beings with their noblest hopes, and fears, and aspirations;—to every student of mankind in the fullest sense of that full and weighty word. Whoever claims that noble title must not forget, whether he examines the highest achievements of mankind in our own age, or the miserable failures of former ages, what man is, and in whose image and after whose likeness man was made. Whether listening to the shrieks of the Shaman sorcerers of Tatary, or to the odes of Pindar, or to the sacred songs of Paul Gerhard: whether looking at the pagodas of China, or the Parthenon of Athens, or the cathedral of Cologne: whether reading the sacred books of the Buddhists, of the Jews, or of those who worship God in spirit and in truth, we ought to be able to say, like the Emperor Maximilian, 'Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto,' or, translating his words somewhat freely, 'I am a man, nothing pertaining to man I deem foreign to myself.' Yes, we must learn to read in the history of the whole human race something of our own history; and as in looking back on the story of our own life, we all dwell with a peculiar delight on the earliest chapters of our childhood, and try to find there the key to many of the riddles of our later life, it is but natural that the historian, too, should ponder with most intense interest over the few relics that have been preserved to him of the childhood of the human race. These relics are few indeed, and therefore very precious, and this I may venture to say, at the outset and without fear of contradiction, that there exists no literary relic that carries us back to a more primitive, or, if you like, more child-like state in the history of man[9] than the Veda. As the language of the Veda, the Sanskrit, is the most ancient type of the English of the present day, (Sanskrit and English are but varieties of one and the same language,) so its thoughts and feelings contain in reality the first roots and germs of that intellectual growth which by an unbroken chain connects our own generation with the ancestors of the Aryan race,—with those very people who at the rising and setting of the sun listened with trembling hearts to the songs of the Veda, that told them of bright powers above, and of a life to come after the sun of their own lives had set in the clouds of the evening. Those men were the true ancestors of our race; and the Veda is the oldest book we have in which to study the first beginnings of our language, and of all that is embodied in language. We are by nature Aryan, Indo-European, not Semitic: our spiritual kith and kin are to be found in India, Persia, Greece, Italy, Germany; not in Mesopotamia, Egypt, or Palestine. This is a fact that ought to be clearly perceived, and constantly kept in view, in order to understand the importance which the Veda has for us, after the lapse of more than three thousand years, and after ever so many changes in our language, thought, and religion.

[Footnote 9: 'In the sciences of law and society, old means not old in chronology, but in structure: that is most archaic which lies nearest to the beginning of human progress considered as a development, and that is most modern which is farthest removed from that beginning.'—J. F. McLennan, 'Primitive Marriage,' p. 8.]

Whatever the intrinsic value of the Veda, if it simply contained the names of kings, the description of battles, the dates of famines, it would still be, by its age alone, the most venerable of books. Do we ever find much beyond such matters in Egyptian hieroglyphics, or in Cuneiform inscriptions? In fact, what does the ancient history of the world before Cyrus, before 500 B.C., consist of, but meagre lists of Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian dynasties? What do the tablets of Karnak, the palaces of Nineveh, and the cylinders of Babylon tell us about the thoughts of men? All is dead and barren, nowhere a sigh, nowhere a jest, nowhere a glimpse of humanity. There has been but one oasis in that vast desert of ancient Asiatic history, the history of the Jews. Another such oasis is the Veda. Here, too, we come to a stratum of ancient thought, of ancient feelings, hopes, joys, and fears,—of ancient religion. There is perhaps too little of kings and battles in the Veda, and scarcely anything of the chronological framework of history. But poets surely are better than kings, hymns and prayers are more worth listening to than the agonies of butchered armies, and guesses at truth more valuable than unmeaning titles of Egyptian or Babylonian despots. It will be difficult to settle whether the Veda is 'the oldest of books,' and whether some of the portions of the Old Testament may not be traced back to the same or even an earlier date than the oldest hymns of the Veda. But, in the Aryan world, the Veda is certainly the oldest book, and its preservation amounts almost to a marvel.

It is nearly twenty years ago that my attention was first drawn to the Veda, while attending, in the years 1846 and 1847, the lectures of Eugene Burnouf at the College de France. I was then looking out, like most young men at that time of life, for some great work, and without weighing long the difficulties which had hitherto prevented the publication of the Veda, I determined to devote all my time to the collection of the materials necessary for such an undertaking. I had read the principal works of the later Sanskrit literature, but had found little there that seemed to be more than curious. But to publish the Veda, a work that had never before been published in India or in Europe, that occupied in the history of Sanskrit literature the same position which the Old Testament occupies in the history of the Jews, the New Testament in the history of modern Europe, the Koran in the history of Mohammedanism,—a work which fills a gap in the history of the human mind, and promises to bring us nearer than any other work to the first beginnings of Aryan language and Aryan thought,—this seemed to me an undertaking not altogether unworthy a man's life. What added to the charm of it was that it had once before been undertaken by Frederick Rosen, a young German scholar, who died in England before he had finished the first book, and that after his death no one seemed willing to carry on his work. What I had to do, first of all, was to copy not only the text, but the commentary of the Rig-veda, a work which when finished will fill six of these large volumes. The author or rather the compiler of this commentary, Sayana Akarya, lived about 1400 after Christ, that is to say, about as many centuries after, as the poets of the Veda lived before, the beginning of our era. Yet through the 3000 years which separate the original poetry of the Veda from the latest commentary, there runs an almost continuous stream of tradition, and it is from it, rather than from his own brain, that Sayana draws his explanations of the sacred texts. Numerous MSS., more or less complete, more or less inaccurate, of Sayana's classical work, existed in the then Royal Library at Paris, in the Library of the East-India House, then in Leadenhall Street, and in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. But to copy and collate these MSS. was by no means all. A number of other works were constantly quoted in Sayana's commentary, and these quotations had all to be verified. It was necessary first to copy these works, and to make indexes to all of them, in order to be able to find any passage that might be referred to in the larger commentary. Many of these works have since been published in Germany and France, but they were not to be procured twenty years ago. The work, of course, proceeded but slowly, and many times I doubted whether I should be able to carry it through. Lastly came the difficulty,—and by no means the smallest,—who was to publish a work that would occupy about six thousand pages in quarto, all in Sanskrit, and of which probably not a hundred copies would ever be sold. Well, I came to England in order to collect more materials at the East-India House and at the Bodleian Library, and thanks to the exertions of my generous friend Baron Bunsen, and of the late Professor Wilson, the Board of Directors of the East-India Company decided to defray the expenses of a work which, as they stated in their letter, 'is in a peculiar manner deserving of the patronage of the East-India Company, connected as it is with the early religion, history, and language of the great body of their Indian subjects.' It thus became necessary for me to take up my abode in England, which has since become my second home. The first volume was published in 1849, the second in 1853, the third in 1856, the fourth in 1862. The materials for the remaining volumes are ready, so that, if I can but make leisure, there is little doubt that before long the whole work will be complete.

Now, first, as to the name. Veda means originally knowing or knowledge, and this name is given by the Brahmans not to one work, but to the whole body of their most ancient sacred literature. Veda is the same word which appears in the Greek [Greek: oida], I know, and in the English wise, wisdom, to wit.[10] The name of Veda is commonly given to four collections of hymns, which are respectively known by the names of Rig-veda, Yagur-veda, Sama-veda, and Atharva-veda; but for our own purposes, namely for tracing the earliest growth of religious ideas in India, the only important, the only real Veda, is the Rig-veda.

[Footnote 10:

Sanskrit Greek Gothic Anglo-Saxon German

veda [Greek: oida] vait wat ich weiss vettha [Greek: oistha] vaist wast du weisst veda [Greek: oide] vait wat er weiss vidva — vitu — — vidathuh [Greek: iston] vituts — — vidatuh [Greek: iston] — — — vidma [Greek: ismen] vitum witon wir wissen vida [Greek: iste] vituth wite ihr wisset viduh [Greek: isasi] vitun witan sie wissen. ]

The other so-called Vedas, which deserve the name of Veda no more than the Talmud deserves the name of Bible, contain chiefly extracts from the Rig-veda, together with sacrificial formulas, charms, and incantations, many of them, no doubt, extremely curious, but never likely to interest any one except the Sanskrit scholar by profession.

The Yagur-veda and Sama-veda may be described as prayer-books, arranged according to the order of certain sacrifices, and intended to be used by certain classes of priests.

Four classes of priests were required in India at the most solemn sacrifices:

1. The officiating priests, manual labourers, and acolytes; who have chiefly to prepare the sacrificial ground, to dress the altar, slay the victims, and pour out the libations.

2. The choristers, who chant the sacred hymns.

3. The reciters or readers, who repeat certain hymns.

4. The overseers or bishops, who watch and superintend the proceedings of the other priests, and ought to be familiar with all the Vedas.

The formulas and verses to be muttered by the first class are contained in the Yagur-veda-sanhita. The hymns to be sung by the second class are in the Sama-veda-sanhita.

The Atharva-veda is said to be intended for the Brahman or overseer, who is to watch the proceedings of the sacrifice, and to remedy any mistake that may occur.[11]

[Footnote 11: 'History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature,' p. 449.]

Fortunately, the hymns to be recited by the third class were not arranged in a sacrificial prayer-book, but were preserved in an old collection of hymns, containing all that had been saved of ancient, sacred, and popular poetry, more like the Psalms than like a ritual; a collection made for its own sake, and not for the sake of any sacrificial performances.

I shall, therefore, confine my remarks to the Rig-veda, which in the eyes of the historical student is the Veda par excellence. Now Rig-veda means the Veda of hymns of praise, for Rich, which before the initial soft letter of Veda is changed to Rig, is derived from a root which in Sanskrit means to celebrate.

In the Rig-veda we must distinguish again between the original collection of the hymns or Mantras, called the Sanhita or the collection, being entirely metrical and poetical, and a number of prose works, called Brahmanas and Sutras, written in prose, and giving information on the proper use of the hymns at sacrifices, on their sacred meaning, on their supposed authors, and similar topics. These works, too, go by the name of Rig-veda: but though very curious in themselves, they are evidently of a much later period, and of little help to us in tracing the beginnings of religious life in India. For that purpose we must depend entirely on the hymns, such as we find them in the Sanhita or the collection of the Rig-veda.

Now this collection consists of ten books, and contains altogether 1028 hymns. As early as about 600 B.C. we find that in the theological schools of India every verse, every word, every syllable of the Veda had been carefully counted. The number of verses as computed in treatises of that date, varies from 10,402 to 10,622; that of the words is 153,826, that of the syllables 432,000.[12] With these numbers, and with the description given in these early treatises of each hymn, of its metre, its deity, its number of verses, our modern MSS. of the Veda correspond as closely as could be expected.

[Footnote 12: 'History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature,' second edition, p. 219 seq.]

I say, our modern MSS., for all our MSS. are modern, and very modern. Few Sanskrit MSS. are more than four or five hundred years old, the fact being that in the damp climate of India no paper will last for more than a few centuries. How then, you will naturally ask, can it be proved that the original hymns were composed between 1200 and 1500 before the Christian era, if our MSS. only carry us back to about the same date after the Christian era? It is not very easy to bridge over this gulf of nearly three thousand years, but all I can say is that, after carefully examining every possible objection that can be made against the date of the Vedic hymns, their claim to that high antiquity which is ascribed to them, has not, as far as I can judge, been shaken. I shall try to explain on what kind of evidence these claims rest.

You know that we possess no MS. of the Old Testament in Hebrew older than about the tenth century after the Christian era; yet the Septuagint translation by itself would be sufficient to prove that the Old Testament, such as we now read it, existed in MS. previous, at least, to the third century before our era. By a similar train of argument, the works to which I referred before, in which we find every hymn, every verse, every word and syllable of the Veda accurately counted by native scholars about five or six hundred years before Christ, guarantee the existence of the Veda, such as we now read it, as far back at least as five or six hundred years before Christ. Now in the works of that period, the Veda is already considered, not only as an ancient, but as a sacred book; and, more than this, its language had ceased to be generally intelligible. The language of India had changed since the Veda was composed, and learned commentaries were necessary in order to explain to the people, then living, the true purport, nay, the proper pronunciation, of their sacred hymns. But more than this. In certain exegetical compositions, which are generally comprised under the name of Sutras, and which are contemporary with, or even anterior to, the treatises on the theological statistics just mentioned, not only are the ancient hymns represented as invested with sacred authority, but that other class of writings, the Brahmanas, standing half-way between the hymns and the Sutras, have likewise been raised to the dignity of a revealed literature. These Brahmanas, you will remember, are prose treatises, written in illustration of the ancient sacrifices and of the hymns employed at them. Such treatises would only spring up when some kind of explanation began to be wanted both for the ceremonial and for the hymns to be recited at certain sacrifices, and we find, in consequence, that in many cases the authors of the Brahmanas had already lost the power of understanding the text of the ancient hymns in its natural and grammatical meaning, and that they suggested the most absurd explanations of the various sacrificial acts, most of which, we may charitably suppose, had originally some rational purpose. Thus it becomes evident that the period during which the hymns were composed must have been separated by some centuries, at least, from the period that gave birth to the Brahmanas, in order to allow time for the hymns growing unintelligible and becoming invested with a sacred character. Secondly, the period during which the Brahmanas were composed must be separated by some centuries from the authors of the Sutras, in order to allow time for further changes in the language, and more particularly for the growth of a new theology, which ascribed to the Brahmanas the same exceptional and revealed character which the Brahmanas themselves ascribed to the hymns. So that we want previously to 600 B.C., when every syllable of the Veda was counted, at least two strata of intellectual and literary growth, of two or three centuries each; and are thus brought to 1100 or 1200 B.C. as the earliest time when we may suppose the collection of the Vedic hymns to have been finished. This collection of hymns again contains, by its own showing, ancient and modern hymns, the hymns of the sons together with the hymns of their fathers and earlier ancestors; so that we cannot well assign a date more recent than 1200 to 1500 before our era, for the original composition of those simple hymns which up to the present day are regarded by the Brahmans with the same feelings with which a Mohammedan regards the Koran, a Jew the Old Testament, a Christian his Gospel.

That the Veda is not quite a modern forgery can be proved, however, by more tangible evidence. Hiouen-thsang, a Buddhist pilgrim, who travelled from China to India in the years 629-645, and who, in his diary translated from Chinese into French by M. Stanislas Julien, gives the names of the four Vedas, mentions some grammatical forms peculiar to the Vedic Sanskrit, and states that at his time young Brahmans spent all their time, from the seventh to the thirtieth year of their age, in learning these sacred texts. At the time when Hiouen-thsang was travelling in India, Buddhism was clearly on the decline. But Buddhism was originally a reaction against Brahmanism, and chiefly against the exclusive privileges which the Brahmans claimed, and which from the beginning were represented by them as based on their revealed writings, the Vedas, and hence beyond the reach of human attacks. Buddhism, whatever the date of its founder, became the state religion of India under Asoka, the Constantine of India, in the middle of the third century B.C. This Asoka was the third king of a new dynasty founded by Kandragupta, the well-known contemporary of Alexander and Seleucus, about 315 B.C. The preceding dynasty was that of the Nandas, and it is under this dynasty that the traditions of the Brahmans place a number of distinguished scholars whose treatises on the Veda we still possess, such as Saunaka, Katyayana, Asvalayana, and others. Their works, and others written with a similar object and in the same style, carry us back to about 600 B.C. This period of literature, which is called the Sutra period, was preceded, as we saw, by another class of writings, the Brahmanas, composed in a very prolix and tedious style, and containing lengthy lucubrations on the sacrifices and on the duties of the different classes of priests. Each of the three or four Vedas, or each of the three or four classes of priests, has its own Brahmanas and its own Sutras; and as the Brahmanas are presupposed by the Sutras, while no Sutra is ever quoted by the Brahmanas, it is clear that the period of the Brahmana literature must have preceded the period of the Sutra literature. There are, however, old and new Brahmanas, and there are in the Brahmanas themselves long lists of teachers who handed down old Brahmanas or composed new ones, so that it seems impossible to accommodate the whole of that literature in less than two centuries, from about 800 to 600 B.C. Before, however, a single Brahmana could have been composed, it was not only necessary that there should have been one collection of ancient hymns, like that contained in the ten books of the Rig-veda, but the three or four classes of priests must have been established, the officiating priests and the choristers must have had their special prayer-books, nay, these prayer-books must have undergone certain changes, because the Brahmanas presuppose different texts, called sakhas, of each of these prayer-books, which are called the Yagur-veda-sanhita, the Sama-veda-sanhita, and the Atharva-veda-sanhita. The work of collecting the prayers for the different classes of priests, and of adding new hymns and formulas for purely sacrificial purposes, belonged probably to the tenth century B.C., and three generations more would, at least, be required to account for the various readings adopted in the prayer-books by different sects, and invested with a kind of sacred authority, long before the composition of even the earliest among the Brahmanas. If, therefore, the years from about 1000 to 800 B.C. are assigned to this collecting age, the time before 1000 B.C. must be set apart for the free and natural growth of what was then national and religious, but not yet sacred and sacrificial poetry. How far back this period extends it is impossible to tell; it is enough if the hymns of the Rig-veda can be traced to a period anterior to 1000 B.C.

Much in the chronological arrangement of the three periods of Vedic literature that are supposed to have followed the period of the original growth of the hymns, must of necessity be hypothetical, and has been put forward rather to invite than to silence criticism. In order to discover truth, we must be truthful ourselves, and must welcome those who point out our errors as heartily as those who approve and confirm our discoveries. What seems, however, to speak strongly in favour of the historical character of the three periods of Vedic literature is the uniformity of style which marks the productions of each. In modern literature we find, at one and the same time, different styles of prose and poetry cultivated by one and the same author. A Goethe writes tragedy, comedy, satire, lyrical poetry, and scientific prose; but we find nothing like this in primitive literature. The individual is there much less prominent, and the poet's character disappears in the general character of the layer of literature to which he belongs. It is the discovery of such large layers of literature following each other in regular succession which inspires the critical historian with confidence in the truly historical character of the successive literary productions of ancient India. As in Greece there is an epic age of literature, where we should look in vain for prose or dramatic poetry; as in that country we never meet with real elegiac poetry before the end of the eighth century, nor with iambics before the same date; as even in more modern times rhymed heroic poetry appears in England with the Norman conquest, and in Germany the Minnesaenger rise and set with the Swabian dynasty—so, only in a much more decided manner, we see in the ancient and spontaneous literature of India, an age of poets followed by an age of collectors and imitators, that age to be succeeded by an age of theological prose writers, and this last by an age of writers of scientific manuals. New wants produced new supplies, and nothing sprang up or was allowed to live, in prose or poetry, except what was really wanted. If the works of poets, collectors, imitators, theologians, and teachers were all mixed up together—if the Brahmanas quoted the Sutras, and the hymns alluded to the Brahmanas—an historical restoration of the Vedic literature of India would be almost an impossibility. We should suspect artificial influences, and look with small confidence on the historical character of such a literary agglomerate. But he who would question the antiquity of the Veda must explain how the layers of literature were formed that are super-imposed over the original stratum of the poetry of the Rishis; he who would suspect a literary forgery must show how, when, and for what purpose the 1000 hymns of the Rig-veda could have been forged, and have become the basis of the religious, moral, political, and literary life of the ancient inhabitants of India.

The idea of revelation, and I mean more particularly book-revelation, is not a modern idea, nor is it an idea peculiar to Christianity. Though we look for it in vain in the literature of Greece and Rome, we find the literature of India saturated with this idea from beginning to end. In no country, I believe, has the theory of revelation been so minutely elaborated as in India. The name for revelation in Sanskrit is Sruti, which means hearing; and this title distinguishes the Vedic hymns and, at a later time, the Brahmanas also, from all other works, which, however sacred, and authoritative to the Hindu mind, are admitted to have been composed by human authors. The Laws of Manu, for instance, according to the Brahmanic theology, are not revelation; they are not Sruti, but only Smriti, which means recollection or tradition. If these laws or any other work of authority can be proved on any point to be at variance with a single passage of the Veda, their authority is at once overruled. According to the orthodox views of Indian theologians, not a single line of the Veda was the work of human authors. The whole Veda is in some way or other the work of the Deity; and even those who received the revelation, or, as they express it, those who saw it, were not supposed to be ordinary mortals, but beings raised above the level of common humanity, and less liable therefore to error in the reception of revealed truth. The views entertained of revelation by the orthodox theologians of India are far more minute and elaborate than those of the most extreme advocates of verbal inspiration in Europe. The human element, called paurusheyatva in Sanskrit, is driven out of every corner or hiding-place, and as the Veda is held to have existed in the mind of the Deity before the beginning of time, every allusion to historical events, of which there are not a few, is explained away with a zeal and ingenuity worthy of a better cause.

But let me state at once that there is nothing in the hymns themselves to warrant such extravagant theories. In many a hymn the author says plainly that he or his friends made it to please the gods; that he made it, as a carpenter makes a chariot (Rv. I. 130, 6; V. 2, 11), or like a beautiful vesture (Rv. V. 29, 15); that he fashioned it in his heart and kept it in his mind (Rv. I. 171, 2); that he expects, as his reward, the favour of the god whom he celebrates (Rv. IV. 6, 21). But though the poets of the Veda know nothing of the artificial theories of verbal inspiration, they were not altogether unconscious of higher influences: nay, they speak of their hymns as god-given ('devattam,' Rv. III. 37, 4). One poets says (Rv. VI. 47, 10): 'O god (Indra) have mercy, give me my daily bread! Sharpen my mind, like the edge of iron. Whatever I now may utter, longing for thee, do thou accept it; make me possessed of God!' Another utters for the first time the famous hymn, the Gayatri, which now for more than three thousand years has been the daily prayer of every Brahman, and is still repeated every morning by millions of pious worshippers: 'Let us meditate on the adorable light of the divine Creator: may he rouse our minds.'[13] This consciousness of higher influences, or of divine help in those who uttered for the first time the simple words of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, is very different, however, from the artificial theories of verbal inspiration which we find in the later theological writings; it is indeed but another expression of that deepfelt dependence on the Deity, of that surrender and denial of all that seems to be self, which was felt more or less by every nation, but by none, I believe, more strongly, more constantly, than by the Indian. "It is He that has made it,"—namely, the prayer in which the soul of the poet has thrown off her burden,—is but a variation of, "It is He that has made us," which is the key-note of all religion, whether ancient or modern, whether natural or revealed.

I must say no more to-night of what the Veda is, for I am very anxious to explain to you, as far as it is possible, what I consider to be the real importance of the Veda to the student of history, to the student of religion, to the student of mankind.

[Footnote 13: 'Tat Savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi, dhiyo yo nah prakodayat.'—Colebrooke, 'Miscellaneous Essays,' i. 30. Many passages bearing on this subject have been collected by Dr. Muir in the third volume of his 'Sanskrit Texts,' p. 114 seq.]

In the study of mankind there can hardly be a subject more deeply interesting than the study of the different forms of religion; and much as I value the Science of Language for the aid which it lends us in unraveling some of the most complicated tissues of the human intellect, I confess that to my mind there is no study more absorbing than that of the Religions of the World,—the study, if I may so call it, of the various languages in which man has spoken to his Maker, and of that language in which his Maker "at sundry times and in divers manners" spake to man.

To my mind the great epochs in the world's history are marked not by the foundation or the destruction of empires, by the migrations of races, or by French revolutions. All this is outward history, made up of events that seem gigantic and overpowering to those only who cannot see beyond and beneath. The real history of man is the history of religion—the wonderful ways by which the different families of the human race advanced towards a truer knowledge and a deeper love of God. This is the foundation that underlies all profane history: it is the light, the soul, and life of history, and without it all history would indeed be profane.

On this subject there are some excellent works in English, such as Mr. Maurice's "Lectures on the Religions of the World," or Mr. Hardwick's "Christ and other Masters;" in German, I need only mention Hegel's "Philosophy of Religion," out of many other learned treatises on the different systems of religion in the East and the West. But in all these works religions are treated very much as languages were treated during the last century. They are rudely classed, either according to the different localities in which they prevailed, just as in Adelung's "Mithridates" you find the languages of the world classified as European, African, American, Asiatic, etc.; or according to their age, as formerly languages used to be divided into ancient and modern; or according to their respective dignity, as languages used to be treated as sacred or profane, as classical or illiterate. Now you know that the Science of Language has sanctioned a totally different system of classification; and that the Comparative Philologist ignores altogether the division of languages according to their locality, or according to their age, or according to their classical or illiterate character. Languages are now classified genealogically, i. e. according to their real relationship; and the most important languages of Asia, Europe, and Africa,—that is to say, of that part of the world on which what we call the history of man has been acted,—have been grouped together into three great divisions, the Aryan or Indo-European Family, the Semitic Family, and the Turanian Class. According to that division you are aware that English, together with all the Teutonic languages of the Continent, Celtic, Slavonic, Greek, Latin with its modern offshoots, such as French and Italian, Persian, and Sanskrit, are so many varieties of one common type of speech: that Sanskrit, the ancient language of the Veda, is no more distinct from the Greek of Homer, or from the Gothic of Ulfilas, or from the Anglo-Saxon of Alfred, than French is from Italian. All these languages together form one family, one whole, in which every member shares certain features in common with all the rest, and is at the same time distinguished from the rest by certain features peculiarly its own. The the world on which what we call the history of man has been acted, have been grouped together into three great divisions, the Aryan or Indo-European Family, the Semitic Family, and the Turanian Class. According to that division you are aware that English together with all the Teutonic languages of the Continent, Celtic, Slavonic, Greek, Latin with its modern offshoots, such as French and Italian, Persian, and Sanskrit, are so many varieties of one common type of speech: that Sanskrit, the ancient language of the Veda, is no more distinct from the Greek of Homer, or from the Gothic of Ulfilas, or from the Anglo-Saxon of Alfred, than French is from Italian. All these languages together form one family, one whole, in which every member shares certain features in common with all the rest, and is at the same time distinguished from the rest by certain features peculiarly its own. The same applies to the Semitic Family, which comprises, as its most important members, the Hebrew of the Old Testament, the Arabic of the Koran, and the ancient languages on the monuments of Phenicia and Carthage, of Babylon and Assyria. These languages, again, form a compact family, and differ entirely from the other family, which we called Aryan or Indo-European. The third group of languages, for we can hardly call it a family, comprises most of the remaining languages of Asia, and counts among its principal members the Tungusic, Mongolic, Turkic, Samoyedic, and Finnic, together with the languages of Siam, the Malay islands, Tibet, and Southern India. Lastly, the Chinese language stands by itself, as monosyllabic, the only remnant of the earliest formation of human speech.

Now I believe that the same division which has introduced a new and natural order into the history of languages, and has enabled us to understand the growth of human speech in a manner never dreamt of in former days, will be found applicable to a scientific study of religions. I shall say nothing to-night of the Semitic or Turanian or Chinese religions, but confine my remarks to the religions of the Aryan family. These religions, though more important in the ancient history of the world, as the religions of the Greeks and Romans, of our own Teutonic ancestors, and of the Celtic and Slavonic races, are nevertheless of great importance even at the present day. For although there are no longer any worshippers of Zeus, or Jupiter, of Wodan, Esus,[14] or Perkunas,[15] the two religions of Aryan origin which still survive, Brahmanism and Buddhism, claim together a decided majority among the inhabitants of the globe. Out of the whole population of the world,

31.2 per cent are Buddhists, 13.4 per cent are Brahmanists, —— 44.6

which together gives us 44 per cent for what may be called living Aryan religions. Of the remaining 56 per cent, 15.7 are Mohammedans, 8.7 per cent non-descript Heathens, 30.7 per cent Christians, and only O.3 per cent Jews.

[Footnote 14: Mommsen, 'Inscriptiones Helveticae,' 40. Becker, 'Die inschriftlichen Ueberreste der Keltischen Sprache,' in 'Beitraege zur Vergleichenden Sprachforschung,' vol. iii. p. 341. Lucau, Phars. 1, 445, 'horrensque feris altaribus Hesus.']

[Footnote 15: Cf. G. Buehler, 'Ueber Parjanya,' in Benfey's 'Orient und Occident,' vol. i. p. 214.]

Now, as a scientific study of the Aryan languages became possible only after the discovery of Sanskrit, a scientific study of the Aryan religion dates really from the discovery of the Veda. The study of Sanskrit brought to light the original documents of three religions, the Sacred Books of the Brahmans, the Sacred Books of the Magians, the followers of Zoroaster, and the Sacred Books of the Buddhists. Fifty years ago, these three collections of sacred writings were all but unknown, their very existence was doubted, and there was not a single scholar who could have translated a line of the Veda, a line of the Zend-Avesta, or a line of the Buddhist Tripitaka. At present large portions of these, the canonical writings of the most ancient and most important religions of the Aryan race, are published and deciphered, and we begin to see a natural progress, and almost a logical necessity, in the growth of these three systems of worship. The oldest, most primitive, most simple form of Aryan faith finds its expression in the Veda. The Zend-Avesta represents in its language, as well as in its thoughts, a branching off from that more primitive stem; a more or less conscious opposition to the worship of the gods of nature, as adored in the Veda, and a striving after a more spiritual, supreme, moral deity, such as Zoroaster proclaimed under the name of Ahura mazda, or Ormuzd. Buddhism, lastly, marks a decided schism, a decided antagonism against the established religion of the Brahmans, a denial of the true divinity of the Vedic gods, and a proclamation of new philosophical and social doctrines.

Without the Veda, therefore, neither the reforms of Zoroaster nor the new teaching of Buddha would have been intelligible: we should not know what was behind them, or what forces impelled Zoroaster and Buddha to the founding of new religions; how much they received, how much they destroyed, how much they created. Take but one word in the religious phraseology of these three systems. In the Veda the gods are called Deva. This word in Sanskrit means bright,—brightness or light being one of the most general attributes shared by the various manifestations of the Deity, invoked in the Veda, as Sun, or Sky, or Fire, or Dawn, or Storm. We can see, in fact, how in the minds of the poets of the Veda, deva from meaning bright, came gradually to mean divine. In the Zend-Avesta the same word daeva means evil spirit. Many of the Vedic gods, with Indra at their head, have been degraded to the position of daevas, in order to make room for Ahura mazda, the Wise Spirit, as the supreme deity of the Zoroastrians. In his confession of faith the follower of Zoroaster declares: 'I cease to be a worshipper of the daevas.' In Buddhism, again, we find these ancient Devas, Indra and the rest, as merely legendary beings, carried about at shows, as servants of Buddha, as goblins or fabulous heroes; but no longer either worshipped or even feared by those with whom the name of Deva had lost every trace of its original meaning. Thus this one word Deva marks the mutual relations of these three religions. But more than this. The same word deva is the Latin deus, thus pointing to that common source of language and religion, far beyond the heights of the Vedic Olympus, from which the Romans, as well as the Hindus, draw the names of their deities, and the elements of their language as well as of their religion.

The Veda, by its language and its thoughts, supplies that distant background in the history of all the religions of the Aryan race, which was missed indeed by every careful observer, but which formerly could be supplied by guess-work only. How the Persians came to worship Ormuzd, how the Buddhists came to protest against temples and sacrifices, how Zeus and the Olympian gods came to be what they are in the mind of Homer, or how such beings as Jupiter and Mars came to be worshipped by the Italian peasant:—all these questions, which used to yield material for endless and baseless speculations, can now be answered by a simple reference to the hymns of the Veda. The religion of the Veda is not the source of all the other religions of the Aryan world, nor is Sanskrit the mother of all the Aryan languages. Sanskrit, as compared to Greek and Latin, is an elder sister, not a parent: Sanskrit is the earliest deposit of Aryan speech, as the Veda is the earliest deposit of Aryan faith. But the religion and incipient mythology of the Veda possess the same simplicity and transparency which distinguish the grammar of Sanskrit from Greek, Latin, or German grammar. We can watch in the Veda ideas and their names growing, which in Persia, Greece, and Rome we meet with only as full-grown or as fast decaying. We get one step nearer to that distant source of religious thought and language which has fed the different national streams of Persia, Greece, Rome, and Germany; and we begin to see clearly, what ought never to have been doubted, that there is no religion without God, or, as St. Augustine expressed, that 'there is no false religion which does not contain some elements of truth.'

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