HINDUISM AND BUDDHISM AN HISTORICAL SKETCH
BY SIR CHARLES ELIOT
In three volumes VOLUME I
ROUTLEDGE & KEGAN PAUL LTD Broadway House, 68-74 Carter Lane, London, E.C.4.
First published 1921 Reprinted 1954 Reprinted 1957 Reprinted 1962
PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY
LUND HUMPHRIES LONDON • BRADFORD
The present work was begun in 1907 and was practically complete when the war broke out, but many circumstances such as the difficulty of returning home, unavoidable delays in printing and correcting proofs, and political duties have deferred its publication until now. In the interval many important books dealing with Hinduism and Buddhism have appeared, but having been resident in the Far East (with one brief exception) since 1912 I have found it exceedingly difficult to keep in touch with recent literature. Much of it has reached me only in the last few months and I have often been compelled to notice new facts and views in footnotes only, though I should have wished to modify the text.
Besides living for some time in the Far East, I have paid many visits to India, some of which were of considerable length, and have travelled in all the countries of which I treat except Tibet. I have however seen something of Lamaism near Darjeeling, in northern China and in Mongolia. But though I have in several places described the beliefs and practices prevalent at the present day, my object is to trace the history and development of religion in India and elsewhere with occasional remarks on its latest phases. I have not attempted to give a general account of contemporary religious thought in India or China and still less to forecast the possible result of present tendencies.
In the following pages I have occasion to transcribe words belonging to many oriental languages in Latin characters. Unfortunately a uniform system of transcription, applicable to all tongues, seems not to be practical at present. It was attempted in the Sacred Books of the East, but that system has fallen into disuse and is liable to be misunderstood. It therefore seems best to use for each language the method of transcription adopted by standard works in English dealing with each, for French and German transcriptions, whatever their merits may be as representations of the original sounds, are often misleading to English readers, especially in Chinese. For Chinese I have adopted Wade's system as used in Giles's Dictionary, for Tibetan the system of Sarat Chandra Das, for Pali that of the Pali Text Society and for Sanskrit that of Monier-Williams's Sanskrit Dictionary, except that I write s instead of s. Indian languages however offer many difficulties: it is often hard to decide whether Sanskrit or vernacular forms are more suitable and in dealing with Buddhist subjects whether Sanskrit or Pali words should be used. I have found it convenient to vary the form of proper names according as my remarks are based on Sanskrit or on Pali literature, but this obliges me to write the same word differently in different places, e.g. sometimes Ajatasatru and sometimes Ajatasattu, just as in a book dealing with Greek and Latin mythology one might employ both Herakles and Hercules. Also many Indian names such as Ramayana, Krishna, nirvana have become Europeanized or at least are familiar to all Europeans interested in Indian literature. It seems pedantic to write them with their full and accurate complement of accents and dots and my general practice is to give such words in their accurate spelling (Ramayana, etc.) when they are first mentioned and also in the notes but usually to print them in their simpler and unaccented forms. I fear however that my practice in this matter is not entirely consistent since different parts of the book were written at different times.
My best thanks are due to Mr R.F. Johnston (author of Chinese Buddhism), to Professor W.J. Hinton of the University of Hong Kong and to Mr H.I. Harding of H.M. Legation at Peking for reading the proofs and correcting many errors: to Sir E. Denison Ross and Professor L. Finot for valuable information: and especially to Professor and Mrs Rhys Davids for much advice, though they are in no way responsible for the views which I have expressed and perhaps do not agree with them. It is superfluous for me to pay a tribute to these eminent scholars whose works are well known to all who are interested in Indian religion, but no one who has studied the early history of Buddhism or the Pali language can refrain from acknowledging a debt of gratitude to those who have made such researches possible by founding and maintaining during nearly forty years the Pali Text Society and rendering many of the texts still more accessible to Europe by their explanations and translations.
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
The following are the principal abbreviations used:
Ep. Ind. Epigraphia India.
E.R.E. Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (edited by Hastings).
I.A. Indian Antiquary.
J.A. Journal Asiatique.
J.A.O.S. Journal of the American Oriental Society.
J.R.A.S. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society.
P.T.S. Pali Text Society.
S.B.E. Sacred Books of the East (Clarendon Press).
1. INFLUENCE OF INDIAN THOUGHT IN EASTERN ASIA xi
2. ORIGIN AND GROWTH OF HINDUISM xiv
3. THE BUDDHA xix
4. ASOKA xxii
5. EXTENSION OF BUDDHISM AND HINDUISM BEYOND INDIA xxiv
6. NEW FORMS OF BUDDHISM xxix
7. REVIVAL OF HINDUISM xxxiii
8. LATER FORMS OF HINDUISM xl
9. EUROPEAN INFLUENCE AND MODERN HINDUISM xlvi
10. CHANGE AND PERMANENCE IN BUDDHISM xlviii
11. REBIRTH AND THE NATURE OF THE SOUL l
12. " " " " lviii
13. " " " " lxii
14. EASTERN PESSIMISM AND RENUNCIATION lxv
15. EASTERN POLYTHEISM lxviii
16. THE EXTRAVAGANCE OF HINDUISM lxx
17. THE HINDU AND BUDDHIST SCRIPTURES lxxii
18. MORALITY AND WILL lxxvi
19. THE ORIGIN OF EVIL lxxix
20. CHURCH AND STATE lxxxi
21. PUBLIC WORSHIP AND CEREMONIAL lxxxiv
22. THE WORSHIP OF THE REPRODUCTIVE FORCES lxxxvi
23. HINDUISM IN PRACTICE lxxxviii
24. BUDDHISM IN PRACTICE xcii
25. INTEREST OF INDIAN THOUGHT FOR EUROPE xcv
EARLY INDIAN RELIGION: A GENERAL VIEW
I. RELIGIONS OF INDIA AND EASTERN ASIA 5
II. HISTORICAL 15
III. GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF INDIAN RELIGION 33
IV. VEDIC DEITIES AND SACRIFICES 50
V. ASCETICISM AND KNOWLEDGE 71
VI. RELIGIOUS LIFE IN PRE-BUDDHIST INDIA 87
VII. THE JAINS 105
VIII. LIFE OF THE BUDDHA 129
IX. THE BUDDHA COMPARED WITH OTHER RELIGIOUS TEACHERS 177
X. THE TEACHING OF THE BUDDHA 185
XI. MONKS AND LAYMEN 237
XII. ASOKA 254
XIII. THE CANON 275
XIV. MEDITATION 302
XV. MYTHOLOGY IN HINDUISM AND BUDDHISM
1. Influence of Indian Thought in Eastern Asia
Probably the first thought which will occur to the reader who is acquainted with the matters treated in this work will be that the subject is too large. A history of Hinduism or Buddhism or even of both within the frontiers of India may be a profitable though arduous task, but to attempt a historical sketch of the two faiths in their whole duration and extension over Eastern Asia is to choose a scene unsuited to any canvas which can be prepared at the present day. Not only is the breadth of the landscape enormous but in some places it is crowded with details which cannot be omitted while in others the principal features are hidden by a mist which obscures the unity and connection of the whole composition. No one can feel these difficulties more than I do myself or approach his work with more diffidence, yet I venture to think that wide surveys may sometimes be useful and are needed in the present state of oriental studies. For the reality of Indian influence in Asia—from Japan to the frontiers of Persia, from Manchuria to Java, from Burma to Mongolia—is undoubted and the influence is one. You cannot separate Hinduism from Buddhism, for without it Hinduism could not have assumed its medieval shape and some forms of Buddhism, such as Lamaism, countenance Brahmanic deities and ceremonies, while in Java and Camboja the two religions were avowedly combined and declared to be the same. Neither is it convenient to separate the fortunes of Buddhism and Hinduism outside India from their history within it, for although the importance of Buddhism depends largely on its foreign conquests, the forms which it assumed in its new territories can be understood only by reference to the religious condition of India at the periods when successive missions were despatched.
This book then is an attempt to give a sketch of Indian thought or Indian religion—for the two terms are nearly equivalent in extent—and of its history and influence in Asia. I will not say in the world, for that sounds too ambitious and really adds little to the more restricted phrase. For ideas, like empires and races, have their natural frontiers. Thus Europe may be said to be non-Mohammedan. Although the essential principles of Mohammedanism seem in harmony with European monotheism, yet it has been deliberately rejected by the continent and often repelled by force. Similarly in the regions west of India, Indian religion is sporadic and exotic. I do not think that it had much influence on ancient Egypt, Babylon and Palestine or that it should be counted among the forces which shaped the character and teaching of Christ, though Christian monasticism and mysticism perhaps owed something to it. The debt of Manichaeism and various Gnostic sects is more certain and more considerable, but these communities have not endured and were regarded as heretical while they lasted. Among the Neoplatonists of Alexandria and the Sufis of Arabia and Persia many seem to have listened to the voice of Hindu mysticism but rather as individuals than as leaders of popular movements.
But in Eastern Asia the influence of India has been notable in extent, strength and duration. Scant justice is done to her position in the world by those histories which recount the exploits of her invaders and leave the impression that her own people were a feeble, dreamy folk, sundered from the rest of mankind by their sea and mountain frontiers. Such a picture takes no account of the intellectual conquests of the Hindus. Even their political conquests were not contemptible and were remarkable for the distance if not for the extent of the territory occupied. For there were Hindu kingdoms in Java and Camboja and settlements in Sumatra and even in Borneo, an island about as far from India as is Persia from Rome. But such military or commercial invasions are insignificant compared with the spread of Indian thought. The south-eastern region of Asia—both mainland and archipelago—owed its civilization almost entirely to India. In Ceylon, Burma, Siam, Camboja, Champa and Java, religion, art, the alphabet, literature, as well as whatever science and political organization existed, were the direct gift of Hindus, whether Brahmans or Buddhists, and much the same may be said of Tibet, whence the wilder Mongols took as much Indian civilization as they could stomach. In Java and other Malay countries this Indian culture has been superseded by Islam, yet even in Java the alphabet and to a large extent the customs of the people are still Indian.
In the countries mentioned Indian influence has been dominant until the present day, or at least until the advent of Islam. In another large area comprising China, Japan, Korea, and Annam it appears as a layer superimposed on Chinese culture, yet not a mere veneer. In these regions Chinese ethics, literature and art form the major part of intellectual life and have an outward and visible sign in the Chinese written characters which have not been ousted by an Indian alphabet. But in all, especially in Japan, the influence of Buddhism has been profound and penetrating. None of these lands can be justly described as Buddhist in the same sense as Burma or Siam but Buddhism gave them a creed acceptable in different forms to superstitious, emotional and metaphysical minds: it provided subjects and models for art, especially for painting, and entered into popular life, thought and language.
But what are Hinduism and Buddhism? What do they teach about gods and men and the destinies of the soul? What ideals do they hold up and is their teaching of value or at least of interest for Europe? I will not at once answer these questions by general statements, because such names as Hinduism and Buddhism have different meanings in different countries and ages, but will rather begin by briefly reviewing the development of the two religions. I hope that the reader will forgive me if in doing so I repeat much that is to be found in the body of this work.
One general observation about India may be made at the outset. Here more than in any other country the national mind finds its favourite occupation and full expression in religion. This quality is geographical rather than racial, for it is possessed by Dravidians as much as by Aryans. From the Raja to the peasant most Hindus have an interest in theology and often a passion for it. Few works of art or literature are purely secular: the intellectual and aesthetic efforts of India, long, continuous and distinguished as they are, are monotonous inasmuch as they are almost all the expression of some religious phase. But the religion itself is extraordinarily full and varied. The love of discussion and speculation creates considerable variety in practice and almost unlimited variety in creed and theory. There are few dogmas known to the theologies of the world which are not held by some of India's multitudinous sects and it is perhaps impossible to make a single general statement about Hinduism, to which some sects would not prove an exception. Any such statements in this book must be understood as referring merely to the great majority of Hindus.
As a form of life and thought Hinduism is definite and unmistakeable. In whatever shape it presents itself it can be recognized at once. But it is so vast and multitudinous that only an encyclopedia could describe it and no formula can summarize it. Essayists flounder among conflicting propositions such as that sectarianism is the essence of Hinduism or that no educated Hindu belongs to a sect. Either can easily be proved, for it may be said of Hinduism, as it has been said of zoology, that you can prove anything if you merely collect facts which support your theory and not those which conflict with it. Hence many distinguished writers err by overestimating the phase which specially interests them. For one the religious life of India is fundamentally monotheistic and Vishnuite: for another philosophic Sivaism is its crown and quintessence: a third maintains with equal truth that all forms of Hinduism are tantric. All these views are tenable because though Hindu life may be cut up into castes and sects, Hindu creeds are not mutually exclusive and repellent. They attract and colour one another.
2. Origin and Growth of Hinduism
The earliest product of Indian literature, the Rig Veda, contains the songs of the Aryan invaders who were beginning to make a home in India. Though no longer nomads, they had little local sentiment. No cities had arisen comparable with Babylon or Thebes and we hear little of ancient kingdoms or dynasties. Many of the gods who occupied so much of their thoughts were personifications of natural forces such as the sun, wind and fire, worshipped without temples or images and hence more indefinite in form, habitation and attributes than the deities of Assyria or Egypt. The idea of a struggle between good and evil was not prominent. In Persia, where the original pantheon was almost the same as that of the Veda, this idea produced monotheism: the minor deities became angels and the chief deity a Lord of hosts who wages a successful struggle against an independent but still inferior spirit of evil. But in India the Spirits of Good and Evil are not thus personified. The world is regarded less as a battlefield of principles than as a theatre for the display of natural forces. No one god assumes lordship over the others but all are seen to be interchangeable—mere names and aspects of something which is greater than any god.
Indian religion is commonly regarded as the offspring of an Aryan religion, brought into India by invaders from the north and modified by contact with Dravidian civilization. The materials at our disposal hardly permit us to take any other point of view, for the literature of the Vedic Aryans is relatively ancient and full and we have no information about the old Dravidians comparable with it. But were our knowledge less one-sided, we might see that it would be more correct to describe Indian religion as Dravidian religion stimulated and modified by the ideas of Aryan invaders. For the greatest deities of Hinduism, Siva, Krishna, Rama, Durga and some of its most essential doctrines such as metempsychosis and divine incarnations, are either totally unknown to the Veda or obscurely adumbrated in it. The chief characteristics of mature Indian religion are characteristics of an area, not of a race, and they are not the characteristics of religion in Persia, Greece or other Aryan lands.
Some writers explain Indian religion as the worship of nature spirits, others as the veneration of the dead. But it is a mistake to see in the religion of any large area only one origin or impulse. The principles which in a learned form are championed to-day by various professors represent thoughts which were creative in early times. In ancient India there were some whose minds turned to their ancestors and dead friends while others saw divinity in the wonders of storm, spring and harvest. Krishna is in the main a product of hero worship, but Siva has no such historical basis. He personifies the powers of birth and death, of change, decay and rebirth—in fact all that we include in the prosaic word nature. Assuredly both these lines of thought—the worship of nature and of the dead—and perhaps many others existed in ancient India.
By the time of the Upanishads, that is about 600 B.C., we trace three clear currents in Indian religion which have persisted until the present day. The first is ritual. This became extraordinarily complicated but retained its primitive and magical character. The object of an ancient Indian sacrifice was partly to please the gods but still more to coerce them by certain acts and formulae. Secondly all Hindus lay stress on asceticism and self-mortification, as a means of purifying the soul and obtaining supernatural powers. They have a conviction that every man who is in earnest about religion and even every student of philosophy must follow a discipline at least to the extent of observing chastity and eating only to support life. Severer austerities give clearer insight into divine mysteries and control over the forces of nature. Europeans are apt to condemn eastern asceticism as a waste of life but it has had an important moral effect. The weakness of Hinduism, though not of Buddhism, is that ethics have so small a place in its fundamental conceptions. Its deities are not identified with the moral law and the saint is above that law. But this dangerous doctrine is corrected by the dogma, which is also a popular conviction, that a saint must be a passionless ascetic. In India no religious teacher can expect a hearing unless he begins by renouncing the world.
Thirdly, the deepest conviction of Hindus in all ages is that salvation and happiness are attainable by knowledge. The corresponding phrases in Sanskrit are perhaps less purely intellectual than our word and contain some idea of effort and emotion. He who knows God attains to God, nay he is God. Rites and self-denial are but necessary preliminaries to such knowledge: he who possesses it stands above them. It is inconceivable to the Hindus that he should care for the things of the world but he cares equally little for creeds and ceremonies. Hence, side by side with irksome codes, complicated ritual and elaborate theology, we find the conviction that all these things are but vanity and weariness, fetters to be shaken off by the free in spirit. Nor do those who hold such views correspond to the anti-clerical and radical parties of Europe. The ascetic sitting in the temple court often holds that the rites performed around him are spiritually useless and the gods of the shrine mere fanciful presentments of that which cannot be depicted or described.
Rather later, but still before the Christian era, another idea makes itself prominent in Indian religion, namely faith or devotion to a particular deity. This idea, which needs no explanation, is pushed on the one hand to every extreme of theory and practice: on the other it rarely abolishes altogether the belief in ritualism, asceticism and knowledge.
Any attempt to describe Hinduism as one whole leads to startling contrasts. The same religion enjoins self-mortification and orgies: commands human sacrifices and yet counts it a sin to eat meat or crush an insect: has more priests, rites and images than ancient Egypt or medieval Rome and yet out does Quakers in rejecting all externals. These singular features are connected with the ascendancy of the Brahman caste. The Brahmans are an interesting social phenomenon without exact parallel elsewhere. They are not, like the Catholic or Moslem clergy, a priesthood pledged to support certain doctrines but an intellectual, hereditary aristocracy who claim to direct the thought of India whatever forms it may take. All who admit this claim and accord a nominal recognition to the authority of the Veda are within the spacious fold or menagerie. Neither the devil-worshipping aboriginee nor the atheistic philosopher is excommunicated, though neither may be relished by average orthodoxy.
Though Hinduism has no one creed, yet there are at least two doctrines held by nearly all who call themselves Hindus. One may be described as polytheistic pantheism. Most Hindus are apparently polytheists, that is to say they venerate the images of several deities or spirits, yet most are monotheists in the sense that they address their worship to one god. But this monotheism has almost always a pantheistic tinge. The Hindu does not say the gods of the heathen are but idols, but it is the Lord who made the heavens: he says, My Lord (Rama, Krishna or whoever it may be) is all the other gods. Some schools would prefer to say that no human language applied to the Godhead can be correct and that all ideas of a personal ruler of the world are at best but relative truths. This ultimate ineffable Godhead is called Brahman.
The second doctrine is commonly known as metempsychosis, the transmigration of souls or reincarnation, the last name being the most correct. In detail the doctrine assumes various forms since different views are held about the relation of soul to body. But the essence of all is the same, namely that a life does not begin at birth or end at death but is a link in an infinite series of lives, each of which is conditioned and determined by the acts done in previous existences (karma). Animal, human and divine (or at least angelic) existences may all be links in the chain. A man's deeds, if good, may exalt him to the heavens, if evil may degrade him to life as a beast. Since all lives, even in heaven, must come to an end, happiness is not to be sought in heaven or on earth. The common aspiration of the religious Indian is for deliverance, that is release from the round of births and repose in some changeless state called by such names as union with Brahman, nirvana and many others.
3. The Buddha
As observed above, the Brahmans claim to direct the religious life and thought of India and apart from Mohammedanism may be said to have achieved their ambition, though at the price of tolerating much that the majority would wish to suppress. But in earlier ages their influence was less extensive and there were other currents of religious activity, some hostile and some simply independent. The most formidable of these found expression in Jainism and Buddhism both of which arose in Bihar in the sixth century B.C. This century was a time of intellectual ferment in many countries. In China it produced Lao-tz[u] and Confucius: in Greece, Parmenides, Empedocles, and the sophists were only a little later. In all these regions we have the same phenomenon of restless, wandering teachers, ready to give advice on politics, religion or philosophy, to any one who would hear them.
At that time the influence of the Brahmans had hardly permeated Bihar, though predominant to the west of it, and speculation there followed lines different from those laid down in the Upanishads, but of some antiquity, for we know that there were Buddhas before Gotama and that Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, reformed the doctrine of an older teacher called Parsva.
In Gotama's youth Bihar was full of wandering philosophers who appear to have been atheistic and disposed to uphold the boldest paradoxes, intellectual and moral. There must however have been constructive elements in their doctrine, for they believed in reincarnation and the periodic appearance of superhuman teachers and in the advantage of following an ascetic discipline. They probably belonged chiefly to the warrior caste as did Gotama, the Buddha known to history. The Pitakas represent him as differing in details from contemporary teachers but as rediscovering the truth taught by his predecessors. They imply that the world is so constituted that there is only one way to emancipation and that from time to time superior minds see this and announce it to others. Still Buddhism does not in practice use such formulae as living in harmony with the laws of nature.
Indian literature is notoriously concerned with ideas rather than facts but the vigorous personality of the Buddha has impressed on it a portrait more distinct than that left by any other teacher or king. His work had a double effect. Firstly it influenced all departments of Hindu religion and thought, even those nominally opposed to it. Secondly it spread not only Buddhism in the strict sense but Indian art and literature beyond the confines of India. The expansion of Hindu culture owes much to the doctrine that the Good Law should be preached to all nations.
The teaching of Gotama was essentially practical. This statement may seem paradoxical to the reader who has some acquaintance with the Buddhist scriptures and he will exclaim that of all religious books they are the least practical and least popular: they set up an anti-social ideal and are mainly occupied with psychological theories. But the Buddha addressed a public such as we now find it hard even to imagine. In those days the intellectual classes of India felt the ordinary activities of life to be unsatisfying: they thought it natural to renounce the world and mortify the flesh: divergent systems of ritual, theology and self-denial promised happiness but all agreed in thinking it normal as well as laudable that a man should devote his life to meditation and study. Compared with this frame of mind the teaching of the Buddha is not unsocial, unpractical and mysterious but human, business-like and clear. We are inclined to see in the monastic life which he recommended little but a useless sacrifice but it is evident that in the opinion of his contemporaries his disciples had an easy time, and that he had no intention of prescribing any cramped or unnatural existence. He accepted the current conviction that those who devote themselves to the things of the mind and spirit should be released from worldly ties and abstain from luxury but he meant his monks to live a life of sustained intellectual activity for themselves and of benevolence for others. His teaching is formulated in severe and technical phraseology, yet the substance of it is so simple that many have criticized it as too obvious and jejune to be the basis of a religion. But when he first enunciated his theses some two thousand five hundred years ago, they were not obvious but revolutionary and little less than paradoxical.
The principal of these propositions are as follows. The existence of everything depends on a cause: hence if the cause of evil or suffering can be detected and removed, evil itself will be removed. That cause is lust and craving for pleasure. Hence all sacrificial and sacramental religions are irrelevant, for the cure which they propose has nothing to do with the disease. The cause of evil or suffering is removed by purifying the heart and by following the moral law which sets high value on sympathy and social duties, but an equally high value on the cultivation of individual character. But training and cultivation imply the possibility of change. Hence it is a fatal mistake in the religious life to hold a view common in India which regards the essence of man as something unchangeable and happy in itself, if it can only be isolated from physical trammels. On the contrary the happy mind is something to be built up by good thoughts, good words and good deeds. In its origin the Buddha's celebrated doctrine that there is no permanent self in persons or things is not a speculative proposition, nor a sentimental lament over the transitoriness of the world, but a basis for religion and morals. You will never be happy unless you realize that you can make and remake your own soul.
These simple principles and the absence of all dogmas as to God or Brahman distinguish the teaching of Gotama from most Indian systems, but he accepted the usual Indian beliefs about Karma and rebirth and with them the usual conclusion that release from the series of rebirths is the summum bonum. This deliverance he called saintship (arahattam) or nirvana of which I shall say something below. In early Buddhism it is primarily a state of happiness to be attained in this life and the Buddha persistently refused to explain what is the nature of a saint after death. The question is unprofitable and perhaps he would have said, had he spoken our language, unmeaning. Later generations did not hesitate to discuss the problem but the Buddha's own teaching is simply that a man can attain before death to a blessed state in which he has nothing to fear from either death or rebirth.
The Buddha attacked both the ritual and the philosophy of the Brahmans. After his time the sacrificial system, though it did not die, never regained its old prestige and he profoundly affected the history of Indian metaphysics. It may be justly said that most of his philosophic as distinguished from his practical teaching was common property before his time, but he transmuted common ideas and gave them a currency and significance which they did not possess before. But he was less destructive as a religious and social reformer than many have supposed. He did not deny the existence nor forbid the worship of the popular gods, but such worship is not Buddhism and the gods are merely angels who may be willing to help good Buddhists but are in no wise guides to religion, since they need instruction themselves. And though he denied that the Brahmans were superior by birth to others, he did not preach against caste, partly because it then existed only in a rudimentary form. But he taught that the road to salvation was one and open to all who were able to walk in it, whether Hindus or foreigners. All may not have the necessary qualifications of intellect and character to become monks but all can be good laymen, for whom the religious life means the observance of morality combined with such simple exercises as reading the scriptures. It is clear that this lay Buddhism had much to do with the spread of the faith. The elemental simplicity of its principles—namely that religion is open to all and identical with morality—made a clean sweep of Brahmanic theology and sacrifices and put in its place something like Confucianism. But the innate Indian love for philosophizing and ritual caused generation after generation to add more and more supplements to the Master's teaching and it is only outside India that it has been preserved in any purity.
Gotama spent his life in preaching and by his personal exertions spread his doctrines over Bihar and Oudh but for two centuries after his death we know little of the history of Buddhism. In the reign of Asoka (273-232 B.C.) its fortunes suddenly changed, for this great Emperor whose dominions comprised nearly all India made it the state religion and also engraved on rocks and pillars a long series of edicts recording his opinions and aspirations. Buddhism is often criticized as a gloomy and unpractical creed, suited at best to stoical and scholarly recluses. But these are certainly not its characteristics when it first appears in political history, just as they are not its characteristics in Burma or Japan to-day. Both by precept and example Asoka was an ardent exponent of the strenuous life. In his first edict he lays down the principle "Let small and great exert themselves" and in subsequent inscriptions he continually harps upon the necessity of energy and exertion. The Law or Religion (Dhamma) which his edicts enjoin is merely human and civic virtue, except that it makes respect for animal life an integral part of morality. In one passage he summarizes it as "Little impiety, many good deeds, compassion, liberality, truthfulness and purity." He makes no reference to a supreme deity, but insists on the reality and importance of the future life. Though he does not use the word Karma this is clearly the conception which dominates his philosophy: those who do good are happy in this world and the next but those who fail in their duty win neither heaven nor the royal favour. The king's creed is remarkable in India for its great simplicity. He deprecates superstitious ceremonies and says nothing of Nirvana but dwells on morality as necessary to happiness in this life and others. This is not the whole of Gotama's teaching but two centuries after his death a powerful and enlightened Buddhist gives it as the gist of Buddhism for laymen.
Asoka wished to make Buddhism the creed not only of India but of the world as known to him and he boasts that he extended his "conquests of religion" to the Hellenistic kingdoms of the west. If the missions which he despatched thither reached their destination, there is little evidence that they bore any fruit, but the conversion of Ceylon and some districts in the Himalayas seems directly due to his initiative.
5. Extension of Buddhism and Hinduism beyond India
This is perhaps a convenient place to review the extension of Buddhism and Hinduism outside India. To do so at this point implies of course an anticipation of chronology, but to delay the survey might blind the reader to the fact that from the time of Asoka onward India was engaged not only in creating but also in exporting new varieties of religious thought.
The countries which have received Indian culture fall into two classes: first those to which it came as a result of religious missions or of peaceful international intercourse, and second those where it was established after conquest or at least colonization. In the first class the religion introduced was Buddhism. If, as in Tibet, it seems to us mixed with Hinduism, yet it was a mixture which at the date of its introduction passed in India for Buddhism. But in the second and smaller class including Java, Camboja and Champa the immigrants brought with them both Hinduism and Buddhism. The two systems were often declared to be the same but the result was Hinduism mixed with some Buddhism, not vice versa.
The countries of the first class comprise Ceylon, Burma and Siam, Central Asia, Nepal, China with Annam, Korea and Japan, Tibet with Mongolia. The Buddhism of the first three countries is a real unity or in European language a church, for though they have no common hierarchy they use the same sacred language, Pali, and have the same canon. Burma and Siam have repeatedly recognized Ceylon as a sort of metropolitan see and on the other hand when religion in Ceylon fell on evil days the clergy were recruited from Burma and Siam. In the other countries Buddhism presents greater differences and divisions. It had no one sacred language and in different regions used either Sanskrit texts or translations into Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian and the languages of Central Asia.
1. Ceylon. There is no reason to doubt that Buddhism was introduced under the auspices of Asoka. Though the invasions and settlements of Tamils have brought Hinduism into Ceylon, yet none of the later and mixed forms of Buddhism, in spite of some attempts to gain a footing, ever flourished there on a large scale. Sinhalese Buddhism had probably a closer connection with southern India than the legend suggests and Conjevaram was long a Buddhist centre which kept up intercourse with both Ceylon and Burma.
2. Burma. The early history of Burmese Buddhism is obscure and its origin probably complex, since at many different periods it may have received teachers from both India and China. The present dominant type (identical with the Buddhism of Ceylon) existed before the sixth century and tradition ascribes its introduction both to the labours of Buddhaghosa and to the missionaries of Asoka. There was probably a connection between Pegu and Conjevaram. In the eleventh century Burmese Buddhism had become extremely corrupt except in Pegu but King Anawrata conquered Pegu and spread a purer form throughout his dominions.
3. Siam. The Thai race, who starting from somewhere in the Chinese province of Yuennan began to settle in what is now called Siam about the beginning of the twelfth century, probably brought with them some form of Buddhism. About 1300 the possessions of Rama Komheng, King of Siam, included Pegu and Pali Buddhism prevailed among his subjects. Somewhat later, in 1361, a high ecclesiastic was summoned from Ceylon to arrange the affairs of the church but not, it would seem, to introduce any new doctrine. Pegu was the centre from which Pali Buddhism spread to upper Burma in the eleventh century and it probably performed the same service for Siam later. The modern Buddhism of Camboja is simply Siamese Buddhism which filtered into the country from about 1250 onwards. The older Buddhism of Camboja, for which see below, was quite different.
At the courts of Siam and Camboja, as formerly in Burma, there are Brahmans who perform state ceremonies and act as astrologers. Though they have little to do with the religion of the people, their presence explains the predominance of Indian rather than Chinese influence in these countries.
4. Tradition says that Indian colonists settled in Khotan during the reign of Asoka, but no precise date can at present be fixed for the introduction of Buddhism into the Tarim basin and other regions commonly called Central Asia. But it must have been flourishing there about the time of the Christian era, since it spread thence to China not later than the middle of the first century. There were two schools representing two distinct currents from India. First the Sarvastivadin school, prevalent in Badakshan, Kashgar and Kucha, secondly the Mahayana in Khotan and Yarkand. The spread of the former was no doubt connected with the growth of the Kushan Empire but may be anterior to the conversion of Kanishka, for though he gave a great impetus to the propagation of the faith, it is probable that, like most royal converts, he favoured an already popular religion. The Mahayana subsequently won much territory from the other school.
5. As in other countries, so in China Buddhism entered by more than one road. It came first by land from Central Asia. The official date for its introduction by this route is 62 A.D. but it was probably known within the Chinese frontier before that time, though not recognized by the state. Secondly when Buddhism was established, there arose a desire for accurate knowledge of the true Indian doctrine. Chinese pilgrims went to India and Indian teachers came to China. After the fourth century many of these religious journeys were made by sea and it was thus that Bodhidharma landed at Canton in 520. A third stream of Buddhism, namely Lamaism, came into China from Tibet under the Mongol dynasty (1280). Khubilai considered this the best religion for his Mongols and numerous Lamaist temples and convents were established and still exist in northern China. Lamaism has not perhaps been a great religious or intellectual force there, but its political importance was considerable, for the Ming and Manchu dynasties who wished to assert their rule over the Tibetans and Mongols by peaceful methods, consistently strove to win the goodwill of the Lamaist clergy.
The Buddhism of Korea, Japan and Annam is directly derived from the earlier forms of Chinese Buddhism but was not affected by the later influx of Lamaism. Buddhism passed from China into Korea in the fourth century and thence to Japan in the sixth. In the latter country it was stimulated by frequent contact with China and the repeated introduction of new Chinese sects but was not appreciably influenced by direct intercourse with Hindus or other foreign Buddhists. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Japanese Buddhism showed great vitality, transforming old sects and creating new ones.
In the south, Chinese Buddhism spread into Annam rather late: according to native tradition in the tenth century. This region was a battlefield of two cultures. Chinese influence descending southwards from Canton proved predominant and, after the triumph of Annam over Champa, extended to the borders of Camboja. But so long as the kingdom of Champa existed, Indian culture and Hinduism maintained themselves at least as far north as Hue.
6. The Buddhism of Tibet is a late and startling transformation of Gotama's teaching, but the transformation is due rather to the change and degeneration of that teaching in Bengal than to the admixture of Tibetan ideas. Such admixture however was not absent and a series of reformers endeavoured to bring the church back to what they considered the true standard. The first introduction is said to have occurred in 630 but probably the arrival of Padma Sambhava from India in 747 marks the real foundation of the Lamaist church. It was reformed by the Hindu Atisa in 1038 and again by the Tibetan Tsong-kha-pa about 1400.
The Grand Lama is the head of the church as reorganized by Tsong-kha-pa. In Tibet the priesthood attained to temporal power comparable with the Papacy. The disintegration of the government divided the whole land into small principalities and among these the great monasteries were as important as any temporal lord. The abbots of the Sakya monastery were the practical rulers of Tibet for seventy years (1270-1340). Another period of disintegration followed but after 1630 the Grand Lamas of Lhasa were able to claim and maintain a similar position.
Mongolian Buddhism is a branch of Lamaism distinguished by no special doctrines. The Mongols were partially converted in the time of Khubilai and a second time and more thoroughly in 1570 by the third Grand Lama.
7. Nepal exhibits another phase of degeneration. In Tibet Indian Buddhism passed into the hands of a vigorous national priesthood and was not exposed to the assimilative influence of Hinduism. In Nepal it had not the same defence. It probably existed there since the time of Asoka and underwent the same phases of decay and corruption as in Bengal. But whereas the last great monasteries in Bengal were shattered by the Mohammedan invasion of 1193, the secluded valley of Nepal was protected against such violence and Buddhism continued to exist there in name. It has preserved a good deal of Sanskrit Buddhist literature but has become little more than a sect of Hinduism.
Nepal ought perhaps to be classed in our second division, that is those countries where Indian culture was introduced not by missionaries but by the settlement of Indian conquerors or immigrants. To this class belong the Hindu civilizations of Indo-China and the Archipelago. In all of these Hinduism and Mahayanist Buddhism are found mixed together, Hinduism being the stronger element. The earliest Sanskrit inscription in these regions is that of Vochan in Champa which is apparently Buddhist. It is not later than the third century and refers to an earlier king, so that an Indian dynasty probably existed there about 150-200 A.D. Though the presence of Indian culture is beyond dispute, it is not clear whether the Chams were civilized in Champa by Hindu invaders or whether they were hinduized Malays who invaded Champa from elsewhere.
8. In Camboja a Hindu dynasty was founded by invaders and the Brahmans who accompanied them established a counterpart to it in a powerful hierarchy, Sanskrit becoming the language of religion. It is clear that these invaders came ultimately from India but they may have halted in Java or the Malay Peninsula for an unknown period. The Brahmanic hierarchy began to fail about the fourteenth century and was supplanted by Siamese Buddhism. Before that time the state religion of both Champa and Camboja was the worship of Siva, especially in the form called Mukhalinga. Mahayanist Buddhism, tending to identify Buddha with Siva, also existed but enjoyed less of the royal patronage.
9. Religious conditions were similar in Java but politically there was this difference, that there was no one continuous and paramount kingdom. A considerable number of Hindus must have settled in the island to produce such an effect on its language and architecture but the rulers of the states known to us were hinduized Javanese rather than true Hindus and the language of literature and of most inscriptions was Old Javanese, not Sanskrit, though most of the works written in it were translations or adaptations of Sanskrit originals. As in Camboja, Sivaism and Buddhism both flourished without mutual hostility and there was less difference in the status of the two creeds.
In all these countries religion seems to have been connected with politics more closely than in India. The chief shrine was a national cathedral, the living king was semi-divine and dead kings were represented by statues bearing the attributes of their favourite gods.
6. New Forms of Buddhism
In the three or four centuries following Asoka a surprising change came over Indian Buddhism, but though the facts are clear it is hard to connect them with dates and persons. But the change was clearly posterior to Asoka for though his edicts show a spirit of wide charity it is not crystallized in the form of certain doctrines which subsequently became prominent.
The first of these holds up as the moral ideal not personal perfection or individual salvation but the happiness of all living creatures. The good man who strives for this should boldly aspire to become a Buddha in some future birth and such aspirants are called Bodhisattvas. Secondly Buddhas and some Bodhisattvas come to be considered as supernatural beings and practically deities. The human life of Gotama, though not denied, is regarded as the manifestation of a cosmic force which also reveals itself in countless other Buddhas who are not merely his predecessors or destined successors but the rulers of paradises in other worlds. Faith in a Buddha, especially in Amitabha, can secure rebirth in his paradise. The great Bodhisattvas, such as Avalokita and Manjusri, are splendid angels of mercy and knowledge who are theoretically distinguished from Buddhas because they have indefinitely postponed their entry into nirvana in order to alleviate the sufferings of the world. These new tenets are accompanied by a remarkable development of art and of idealist metaphysics.
This new form of Buddhism is called Mahayana, or the Great Vehicle, as opposed to the Small Vehicle or Hinayana, a somewhat contemptuous name given to the older school. The idea underlying these phrases is that sects are merely coaches, all travelling on the same road to salvation though some may be quicker than others. The Mahayana did not suppress the Hinayana but it gradually absorbed the traffic.
The causes of this transformation were two-fold, internal or Indian and external. Buddhism was a living, that is changing, stream of thought and the Hindus as a nation have an exceptional taste and capacity for metaphysics. This taste was not destroyed by Gotama's dicta as to the limits of profitable knowledge nor did new deities arouse hostility because they were not mentioned in the ancient scriptures. The development of Brahmanism and Buddhism was parallel: if an attractive novelty appeared in one, something like it was soon provided by the other. Thus the Bhagavad-gita contains the ideas of the Mahayana in substance, though in a different setting: it praises disinterested activity and insists on faith. It is clear that at this period all Indian thought and not merely Buddhism was vivified and transmuted by two great currents of feeling demanding, the one a more emotional morality the other more personal and more sympathetic deities.
I shall show in more detail below that most Mahayanist doctrines, though apparently new, have their roots in old Indian ideas. But the presence of foreign influences is not to be disputed and there is no difficulty in accounting for them. Gandhara was a Persian province from 530 to 330 B.C. and in the succeeding centuries the north-western parts of India experienced the invasions and settlements of numerous aliens, such as Greeks from the Hellenistic kingdoms which arose after Alexander's expedition, Parthians, Sakas and Kushans. Such immigrants, even if they had no culture of their own, at least transported culture, just as the Turks introduced Islam into Europe. Thus whatever ideas were prevalent in Persia, in the Hellenistic kingdoms, or in Central Asia may also have been prevalent in north-western India, where was situated the university town of Taxila frequently mentioned in the Jatakas as a seat of Buddhist learning. The foreigners who entered India adopted Indian religions and probably Buddhism more often than Hinduism, for it was at that time predominant and disposed to evangelize without raising difficulties as to caste.
Foreign influences stimulated mythology and imagery. In the reliefs of Asoka's time, the image of the Buddha never appears, and, as in the earliest Christian art, the intention of the sculptors is to illustrate an edifying narrative rather than to provide an object of worship. But in the Gandharan sculptures, which are a branch of Graeco-Roman art, he is habitually represented by a figure modelled on the conventional type of Apollo. The gods of India were not derived from Greece but they were stereotyped under the influence of western art to this extent that familiarity with such figures as Apollo and Pallas encouraged the Hindus to represent their gods and heroes in human or quasi-human shapes. The influence of Greece on Indian religion was not profound: it did not affect the architecture or ritual of temples and still less thought or doctrine. But when Indian religion and especially Buddhism passed into the hands of men accustomed to Greek statuary, the inclination to venerate definite personalities having definite shapes was strengthened.
Persian influence was stronger than Greek. To it are probably due the many radiant deities who shed their beneficent glory over the Mahayanist pantheon, as well as the doctrine that Bodhisattvas are emanations of Buddhas. The discoveries of Stein, Pelliot and others have shown that this influence extended across Central Asia to China and one of the most important turns in the fortunes of Buddhism was its association with a Central Asian tribe analogous to the Turks and called Kushans or Yueeh-chih, whose territories lay without as well as within the frontiers of modern India and who borrowed much of their culture from Persia and some from the Greeks. Their great king Kanishka is a figure in Buddhist annals second only to Asoka. Unfortunately his date is still a matter of discussion. The majority of scholars place his accession about 78 A.D. but some put it rather later. The evidence of numismatics and of art indicates that he came towards the end of his dynasty rather than at the beginning and the tradition which makes Asvaghosha his contemporary is compatible with the later date.
Some writers describe Kanishka as the special patron of Mahayanism. But the description is of doubtful accuracy. The style of religious art known as Gandharan flourished in his reign and he convened a council which fixed the canon of the Sarvastivadins. This school was reckoned as Hinayanist and though Asvaghosha enjoys general fame in the Far East as a Mahayanist doctor, yet his undoubted writings are not Mahayanist in the strict sense of the word. But a more ornate and mythological form of religion was becoming prevalent and perhaps Kanishka's Council arranged some compromise between the old and the new.
After Asvaghosha comes Nagarjuna who may have flourished any time between 125 and 200 A.D. A legend which makes him live for 300 years is not without significance, for he represents a movement and a school as much as a personality and if he taught in the second century A.D. he cannot have been the founder of Mahayanism. Yet he seems to be the first great name definitely connected with it and the ascription to him of numerous later treatises, though unwarrantable, shows that his authority was sufficient to stamp a work or a doctrine as orthodox Mahayanism. His biographies connect him with the system of idealist or nihilistic metaphysics expounded in the literature (for it is more than a single work) called Prajnaparamita, with magical practices (by which the power of summoning Bodhisattvas or deities is specially meant) and with the worship of Amitabha. His teacher Saraha, a foreigner, is said to have been the first who taught this worship in India. In this there may be a kernel of truth but otherwise the extant accounts of Nagarjuna are too legendary to permit of historical deductions. He was perhaps the first eminent exponent of Mahayanist metaphysics, but the train of thought was not new: it was the result of applying to the external world the same destructive logic which Gotama applied to the soul and the result had considerable analogies to Sankara's version of the Vedanta. Whether in the second century A.D. the leaders of Buddhism already identified themselves with the sorcery which demoralized late Indian Mahayanism may be doubted, but tradition certainly ascribes to Nagarjuna this corrupting mixture of metaphysics and magic.
The third century offers a strange blank in Indian history. Little can be said except that the power of the Kushans decayed and that northern India was probably invaded by Persians and Central Asian tribes. The same trouble did not affect southern India and it may be that religion and speculation flourished there and spread northwards, as certainly happened in later times. Many of the greatest Hindu teachers were Dravidians and at the present day it is in the Dravidian regions that the temples are most splendid, the Brahmans strictest and most respected. It may be that this Dravidian influence affected even Buddhism in the third century A.D., for Aryadeva the successor of Nagarjuna was a southerner and the legends told of him recall certain Dravidian myths. Bodhidharma too came from the South and imported into China a form of Buddhism which has left no record in India.
7. Revival of Hinduism
In 320 a native Indian dynasty, the Guptas, came to the throne and inaugurated a revival of Hinduism, to which religion we must now turn. To speak of the revival of Hinduism does not mean that in the previous period it had been dead or torpid. Indeed we know that there was a Hindu reaction against the Buddhism of Asoka about 150 B.C. But, on the whole, from the time of Asoka onwards Buddhism had been the principal religion of India, and before the Gupta era there are hardly any records of donations made to Brahmans. Yet during these centuries they were not despised or oppressed. They produced much literature: their schools of philosophy and ritual did not decay and they gradually made good their claim to be the priests of India's gods, whoever those gods might be. The difference between the old religion and the new lies in this. The Brahmanas and Upanishads describe practices and doctrines of considerable variety but still all the property of a privileged class in a special region. They do not represent popular religion nor the religion of India as a whole. But in the Gupta period Hinduism began to do this. It is not a system like Islam or even Buddhism but a parliament of religions, of which every Indian creed can become a member on condition of observing some simple rules of the house, such as respect for Brahmans and theoretical acceptance of the Veda. Nothing is abolished: the ancient rites and texts preserve their mysterious power and kings perform the horse-sacrifice. But side by side with this, deities unknown to the Veda rise to the first rank and it is frankly admitted that new revelations more suited to the age have been given to mankind.
Art too enters on a new phase. In the early Indian sculptures deities are mostly portrayed in human form, but in about the first century of our era there is seen a tendency to depict them with many heads and limbs and this tendency grows stronger until in mediaeval times it is predominant. It has its origin in symbolism. The deity is thought of as carrying many insignia, as performing more actions than two hands can indicate; the worshipper is taught to think of him as appearing in this shape and the artist does not hesitate to represent it in paint and stone.
As we have seen, the change which came over Buddhism was partly due to foreign influences and no doubt they affected most Indian creeds. But the prodigious amplification of Hinduism was mainly due to the absorption of beliefs prevalent in Indian districts other than the homes of the ancient Brahmans. Thus south Indian religion is characterized when we first know it by its emotional tone and it resulted in the mediaeval Sivaism of the Tamil country. In another region, probably in the west, grew up the monotheism of the Bhagavatas, which was the parent of Vishnuism.
Hinduism may be said to fall into four principal divisions which are really different religions: the Smartas or traditionalists, the Sivaites, the Vishnuites and the Saktas. The first, who are still numerous, represent the pre-buddhist Brahmans. They follow, so far as modern circumstances permit, the ancient ritual and are apparent polytheists while accepting pantheism as the higher truth. Vishnuites and Sivaites however are monotheists in the sense that their minor deities are not essentially different from the saints of Roman and Eastern Christianity but their monotheism has a pantheistic tinge. Neither sect denies the existence of the rival god, but each makes its own deity God, not only in the theistic but in the pantheistic sense and regards the other deity as merely an influential angel. From time to time the impropriety of thus specially deifying one aspect of the universal spirit made itself felt and then Vishnu and Siva were adored in a composite dual form or, with the addition of Brahma, as a trinity. But this triad had not great importance and it is a mistake to compare it with the Christian trinity. Strong as was the tendency to combine and amalgamate deities, it was mastered in these religions by the desire to have one definite God, personal inasmuch as he can receive and return love, although the Indian feeling that God must be all and in all continually causes the conceptions called Vishnu and Siva to transcend the limits of personality. This feeling is specially clear in the growth of Rama and Krishna worship. Both of these deities were originally ancient heroes, and stories of love and battle cling to them in their later phases. Yet for their respective devotees each becomes God in every sense, God as lover of the soul, God as ruler of the universe and the God of pantheism who is all that exists and can exist.
For some time before and after the beginning of our era, north-western India witnessed a great fusion of ideas and Indian, Persian and Greek religion must have been in contact at the university town of Taxila and many other places. Kashmir too, if somewhat too secluded to be a meeting-place of nations, was a considerable intellectual centre. We have not yet sufficient documents to enable us to trace the history and especially the chronology of thought in these regions but we can say that certain forms of Vishnuism, Sivaism and Buddhism were all evolved there and often show features in common. Thus in all we find the idea that the divine nature is manifested in four forms or five, if we count the Absolute Godhead as one of them.
I shall consider at length below this worship of Vishnu and Siva and here will merely point out that it differs from the polytheism of the Smartas. In their higher phases all Hindu religions agree in teaching some form of pantheism, some laying more and some less stress on the personal aspect which the deity can assume. But whereas the pantheism of the Smartas grew out of the feeling that the many gods of tradition must all be one, the pantheism of the Vishnuites was not evolved out of pre-buddhist Brahmanism and is due to the conviction that the one God must be everything. It is Indian but it grew up in some region outside Brahmanic influence and was accepted by the Brahmans as a permissible creed, but many legends in the Epics and Puranas indicate that there was hostility between the old-fashioned Brahmans and the worshippers of Rama, Krishna and Siva before the alliance was made.
Saktism also was not evolved from ancient Brahmanism but is different in tone from Vishnuism and Sivaism. Whereas they start from a movement of thought and spiritual feeling, Saktism has for its basis certain ancient popular worships. With these it has combined much philosophy and has attempted to bring its teaching into conformity with Brahmanism, but yet remains somewhat apart. It worships a goddess of many names and forms, who is adored with sexual rites and the sacrifice of animals, or, when the law permits, of men. It asserts even more plainly than Vishnuism that the teaching of the Vedas is too difficult for these latter days and even useless, and it offers to its followers new scriptures called Tantras and new ceremonies as all-sufficient. It is true that many Hindus object to this sect, which may be compared with the Mormons in America or the Skoptsy in Russia, and it is numerous only in certain parts of India (especially Bengal and Assam) but since a section of Brahmans patronize it, it must be reckoned as a phase of Hinduism and even at the present day it is an important phase.
There are many cults prevalent in India, though not recognized as sects, in which the worship of some aboriginal deity is accepted in all its crudeness without much admixture of philosophy, the only change being that the deity is described as a form, incarnation or servant of some well-known god and that Brahmans are connected with this worship. This habit of absorbing aboriginal superstitions materially lowers the average level of creed and ritual. An educated Brahman would laugh at the idea that village superstitions can be taken seriously as religion but he does not condemn them and, as superstitions, he does not disbelieve in them. It is chiefly owing to this habit that Hinduism has spread all over India and its treatment of men and gods is curiously parallel. Princes like the Manipuris of Assam came under Hindu influence and were finally recognized as Kshattiyas with an imaginary pedigree, and on the same principle their deities are recognized as forms of Siva or Durga. And Siva and Durga themselves were built up in past ages out of aboriginal beliefs, though the cement holding their figures together is Indian thought and philosophy, which are able to see in grotesque rustic godlings an expression of cosmic forces.
Though this is the principal method by which Hinduism has been propagated, direct missionary effort has not been wanting. For instance a large part of Assam was converted by the preaching of Vishnuite teachers in the sixteenth century and the process still continues. But on the whole the missionary spirit characterizes Buddhism rather than Hinduism. Buddhist missionaries preached their faith, without any political motive, wherever they could penetrate. But in such countries as Camboja, Hinduism was primarily the religion of the foreign settlers and when the political power of the Brahmans began to wane, the people embraced Buddhism. Outside India it was perhaps only in Java and the neighbouring islands that Hinduism (with an admixture of Buddhism) became the religion of the natives.
Many features of Hinduism, its steady though slow conquest of India, its extraordinary vitality and tenacity in resisting the attacks of Mohammedanism, and its small power of expansion beyond the seas are explained by the fact that it is a mode of life as much as a faith. To be a Hindu it is not sufficient to hold the doctrine of the Upanishads or any other scriptures: it is necessary to be a member of a Hindu caste and observe its regulations. It is not quite correct to say that one must be born a Hindu, since Hinduism has grown by gradually hinduizing the wilder tribes of India and the process still continues. But a convert cannot enter the fold by any simple ceremony like baptism. The community to which he belongs must adopt Hindu usages and then it will be recognized as a caste, at first of very low standing but in a few generations it may rise in the general esteem. A Hindu is bound to his religion by almost the same ties that bind him to his family. Hence the strength of Hinduism in India. But such ties are hard to knit and Hinduism has no chance of spreading abroad unless there is a large colony of Hindus surrounded by an appreciative and imitative population.
In the contest between Hinduism and Buddhism the former owed the victory which it obtained in India, though not in other lands, to this assimilative social influence. The struggle continued from the fourth to the ninth century, after which Buddhism was clearly defeated and survived only in special localities. Its final disappearance was due to the destruction of its remaining monasteries by Moslem invaders but this blow was fatal only because Buddhism was concentrated in its monkhood. Innumerable Hindu temples were destroyed, yet Hinduism was at no time in danger of extinction.
The Hindu reaction against Buddhism became apparent under the Gupta dynasty but Mahayanism in its use of Sanskrit and its worship of Bodhisattvas shows the beginnings of the same movement. The danger for Buddhism was not persecution but tolerance and obliteration of differences. The Guptas were not bigots. It was probably in their time that the oldest Puranas, the laws of Manu and the Mahabharata received their final form. These are on the whole text-books of Smarta Hinduism and two Gupta monarchs celebrated the horse sacrifice. But the Mahabharata contains several episodes which justify the exclusive worship of either Vishnu or Siva, and the architecture of the Guptas suggests that they were Vishnuites. They also bestowed favours on Buddhism which was not yet decadent, for Vasubandhu and Asanga, who probably lived in the fourth century, were constructive thinkers. It is true that their additions were of the dangerous kind which render an edifice top-heavy but their works show vitality and had a wide influence. The very name of Asanga's philosophy—Yogacarya—indicates its affinity to Brahmanic thought, as do his doctrines of Alayavijnana and Bodhi, which permit him to express in Buddhist language the idea that the soul may be illumined by the deity. In some cases Hinduism, in others Buddhism, may have played the receptive part but the general result—namely the diminution of differences between the two—was always the same.
The Hun invasions were unfavourable to religious and intellectual activity in the north and, just as in the time of Moslim inroads, their ravages had more serious consequences for Buddhism than for Hinduism. The great Emperor Harsha (†647), of whom we know something from Bana and Hsuean Chuang, became at the end of his life a zealous but eclectic Buddhist. Yet it is plain from Hsiian Chuang's account that at this time Buddhism was decadent in most districts both of the north and south.
This decadence was hastened by an unfortunate alliance with those forms of magic and erotic mysticism which are called Saktism. It is difficult to estimate the extent of the corruption, for the singularity of the evil, a combination of the austere and ethical teaching of Gotama with the most fantastic form of Hinduism, arrests attention and perhaps European scholars have written more about it than it deserves. It did not touch the Hinayanist churches nor appreciably infect the Buddhism of the Far East, nor even (it would seem) Indian Buddhism outside Bengal and Orissa. Unfortunately Magadha, which was both the home and last asylum of the faith, was also very near the regions where Saktism most flourished. It is, as I have often noticed in these pages, a peculiarity of all Indian sects that in matters of belief they are not exclusive nor hostile to novelties. When a new idea wins converts it is the instinct of the older sects to declare that it is compatible with their teaching or that they have something similar and just as good. It was in this fashion that the Buddhists of Magadha accepted Saktist and tantric ideas. If Hinduism could summon gods and goddesses by magical methods, they could summon Bodhisattvas, male and female, in the same way, and these spirits were as good as the gods. In justice it must be said that despite distortions and monstrous accretions the real teaching of Gotama did not entirely disappear even in Magadha and Tibet.
8. Later Forms of Hinduism
In the eighth and ninth centuries this degenerate Buddhism was exposed to the attacks of the great Hindu champions Kumarila and Sankara, though it probably endured little persecution in our sense of the word. Both of them were Smartas or traditionalists and laboured in the cause not of Vishnuism or Sivaism but of the ancient Brahmanic religion, amplified by many changes which the ages had brought but holding up as the religious ideal a manhood occupied with ritual observances, followed by an old age devoted to philosophy. Sankara was the greater of the two and would have a higher place among the famous names of the world had not his respect for tradition prevented him from asserting the originality which he undoubtedly possessed. Yet many remarkable features of his life work, both practical and intellectual, are due to imitation of the Buddhists and illustrate the dictum that Buddhism did not disappear from India until Hinduism had absorbed from it all the good that it had to offer. Sankara took Buddhist institutions as his model in rearranging the ascetic orders of Hinduism, and his philosophy, a rigorously consistent pantheism which ascribed all apparent multiplicity and difference to illusion, is indebted to Mahayanist speculation. It is remarkable that his opponents stigmatized him as a Buddhist in disguise and his system, though it is one of the most influential lines of thought among educated Hindus, is anathematized by some theistic sects.
Sankara was a native of southern India. It is not easy to combine in one picture the progress of thought in the north and south, and for the earlier centuries our information as to the Dravidian countries is meagre. Yet they cannot be omitted, for their influence on the whole of India was great. Greeks, Kushans, Huns, and Mohammedans penetrated into the north but, until after the fall of Vijayanagar in 1565, no invader professing a foreign religion entered the country of the Tamils. Left in peace they elaborated their own version of current theological problems and the result spread over India. Buddhism and Jainism also flourished in the south. The former was introduced under Asoka but apparently ceased to be the dominant religion (if it ever was so) in the early centuries of our era. Still even in the eleventh century monasteries were built in Mysore. Jainism had a distinguished but chequered career in the south. It was powerful in the seventh century but subsequently endured considerable persecution. It still exists and possesses remarkable monuments at Sravana Belgola and elsewhere.
But the characteristic form of Dravidian religion is an emotional theism, running in the parallel channels of Vishnuism and Sivaism and accompanied by humbler but vigorous popular superstitions, which reveal the origin of its special temperament. For the frenzied ecstasies of devil dancers (to use a current though inaccurate phrase) are a primitive expression of the same sentiment which sees in the whole world the exulting energy and rhythmic force of Siva. And though the most rigid Brahmanism still flourishes in the Madras Presidency there is audible in the Dravidian hymns a distinct note of anti-sacerdotalism and of belief that every man by his own efforts can come into immediate contact with the Great Being whom he worships.
The Vishnuism and Sivaism of the south go back to the early centuries of our era, but the chronology is difficult. In both there is a line of poet-saints followed by philosophers and teachers and in both a considerable collection of Tamil hymns esteemed as equivalent to the Veda. Perhaps Sivaism was dominant first and Vishnuism somewhat later but at no epoch did either extinguish the other. It was the object of Sankara to bring these valuable but dangerous forces, as well as much Buddhist doctrine and practice, into harmony with Brahmanism.
Islam first entered India in 712 but it was some time before it passed beyond the frontier provinces and for many centuries it was too hostile and aggressive to invite imitation, but the spectacle of a strong community pledged to the worship of a single personal God produced an effect. In the period extending from the eighth to the twelfth centuries, in which Buddhism practically disappeared and Islam came to the front as a formidable though not irresistible antagonist, the dominant form of Hinduism was that which finds expression in the older Puranas, in the temples of Orissa and Khajarao and the Kailasa at Ellora. It is the worship of one god, either Siva or Vishnu, but a monotheism adorned with a luxuriant mythology and delighting in the manifold shapes which the one deity assumes. It freely used the terminology of the Sankhya but the first place in philosophy belonged to the severe pantheism of Sankara which, in contrast to this riotous exuberance of legend and sculpture, sees the highest truth in one Being to whom no epithets can be applied.
In the next epoch, say the twelfth to the seventeenth centuries, Indian thought clearly hankers after theism in the western sense and yet never completely acquiesces in it. Mythology, if still rampant according to our taste, at least becomes subsidiary and more detachable from the supreme deity, and this deity, if less anthropomorphic than Allah or Jehovah, is still a being who loves and helps souls, and these souls are explained in varying formulae as being identical with him and yet distinct.
It can hardly be by chance that as the Hindus became more familiar with Islam their sects grew more definite in doctrine and organization especially among the Vishnuites who showed a greater disposition to form sects than the Sivaites, partly because the incarnations of Vishnu offer an obvious ground for diversity. About 1100 A.D. the first great Vaishnava sect was founded by Ramanuja. He was a native of the Madras country and claimed to be the spiritual descendant of the early Tamil saints. In doctrine he expressly accepted the views of the ancient Bhagavatas, which had been condemned by Sankara, and he affirmed the existence of one personal deity commonly spoken of as Narayana or Vasudeva.
From the time of Sankara onwards nearly all Hindu theologians of the first rank expounded their views by writing a commentary on the Brahma Sutras, an authoritative but singularly enigmatic digest of the Upanishads. Sankara's doctrine may be summarized as absolute monism which holds that nothing really exists but Brahman and that Brahman is identical with the soul. All apparent plurality is due to illusion. He draws a distinction between the lower and higher Brahman which perhaps may be rendered by God and the Godhead. In the same sense in which individual souls and matter exist, a personal God also exists, but the higher truth is that individuality, personality and matter are all illusion. But the teaching of Ramanuja rejects the doctrines that the world is an illusion and that there is a distinction between the lower and higher Brahman and it affirms that the soul, though of the same substance as God and emitted from him rather than created, can obtain bliss not in absorption but in existence near him.
It is round these problems that Hindu theology turns. The innumerable solutions lack neither boldness nor variety but they all try to satisfy both the philosopher and the saint and none achieve both tasks. The system of Sankara is a masterpiece of intellect, despite his disparagement of reasoning in theology, and could inspire a fine piety, as when on his deathbed he asked forgiveness for having frequented temples, since by so doing he had seemed to deny that God is everywhere. But piety of this kind is unfavourable to public worship and even to those religious experiences in which the soul seems to have direct contact with God in return for its tribute of faith and love. In fact the Advaita philosophy countenances emotional theism only as an imperfect creed and not as the highest truth. But the existence of all sects and priesthoods depends on their power to satisfy the religious instinct with ceremonial or some better method of putting the soul in communication with the divine. On the other hand pantheism in India is not a philosophical speculation, it is a habit of mind: it is not enough for the Hindu that his God is lord of all things: he must be all things and the soul in its endeavour to reach God must obtain deliverance from the fetters not only of matter but of individuality. Hence Hindu theology is in a perpetual oscillation illustrated by the discrepant statements found side by side in the Bhagavad-gita and other works. Indian temperament and Indian logic want a pantheistic God and a soul which can transcend personality, but religious thought and practice imply personality both in the soul and in God. All varieties of Vishnuism show an effort to reconcile these double aspirations and theories. The theistic view is popular, for without it what would become of temples, worshippers and priests? But I think that the pantheistic view is the real basis of Indian religious thought.
The qualified monism of Ramanuja (as his system is sometimes called) led to more uncompromising treatment of the question and to the affirmation of dualism, not the dualism of God and the Devil but the distinctness of the soul and of matter from God. This is the doctrine of Madhva, another southern teacher who lived about a century after Ramanuja and was perhaps directly influenced by Islam. But though the logical outcome of his teaching may appear to be simple theism analogous to Islam or Judaism, it does not in practice lead to this result but rather to the worship of Krishna. Madhva's sect is still important but even more important is another branch of the spiritual family of Ramanuja, starting from Ramanand who probably flourished in the fourteenth century.
Ramanuja, while in some ways accepting innovations, insisted on the strict observance of caste. Ramanand abandoned this, separated from his sect and removed to Benares. His teaching marks a turning-point in the history of modern Hinduism. Firstly he held that caste need not prevent a man from rightly worshipping God and he admitted even Moslims as members of his community. To this liberality are directly traceable the numerous sects combining Hindu with Mohammedan doctrines, among which the Kabir Panthis and the Sikhs are the most conspicuous. But it is a singular testimony to the tenacity of Hindu ideas that though many teachers holding most diverse opinions have declared there is no caste before God, yet caste has generally reasserted itself among their followers as a social if not as a religious institution. The second important point in Ramanand's teaching was the use of the vernacular for religious literature. Dravidian scriptures had already been recognized in the south but it is from this time that there begins to flow in the north that great stream of sacred poetry in Hindi and Bengali which waters the roots of modern popular Hinduism. Among many eminent names which have contributed to it, the greatest is Tulsi Das who retold the Ramayana in Hindi and thus wrote a poem which is little less than a Bible for millions in the Ganges valley.
The sects which derive from the teaching of Ramanand mostly worship the Supreme Being under the name of Rama. Even more numerous, especially in the north, are those who use the name of Krishna, the other great incarnation of Vishnu. This worship was organized and extended by the preaching of Vallabha and Caitanya (c. 1500) in the valley of the Ganges and Bengal, but was not new. I shall discuss in some detail below the many elements combined in the complex figure of Krishna but in one way or another he was connected with the earliest forms of Vishnuite monotheism and is the chief figure in the Bhagavad-gita, its earliest text-book. Legend connects him partly with Muttra and partly with western India but, though by no means ignored in southern India, he does not receive there such definite and exclusive adoration as in the north. The Krishnaite sects are emotional, and their favourite doctrine that the relation between God and the soul is typified by passionate love has led to dubious moral results.
This Krishnaite propaganda, which coincided with the Reformation in Europe, was the last great religious movement in India. Since that time there has been considerable activity of a minor kind. Protests have been raised against abuses and existing communities have undergone changes, such as may be seen in the growth of the Sikhs, but there has been no general or original movement. The absence of such can be easily explained by the persecutions of Aurungzeb and by the invasions and internal struggles of the eighteenth century. At the end of that century Hinduism was at its lowest but its productive power was not destroyed. The decennial census never fails to record the rise of new sects and the sudden growth of others which had been obscure and minute.
Any historical treatment of Hinduism inevitably makes Vishnuism seem more prominent than other sects, for it offers more events to record. But though Sivaism has undergone fewer changes and produced fewer great names, it must not be thought of as lifeless or decadent. The lingam is worshipped all over India and many of the most celebrated shrines, such as Benares and Bhubaneshwar, are dedicated to the Lord of life and death. The Sivaism of the Tamil country is one of the most energetic and progressive forms of modern Hinduism, but in doctrine it hardly varies from the ancient standard of the Tiruvacagam.
9. European Influence and Modern Hinduism
The small effect of European religion on Hinduism is remarkable. Islam, though aggressively hostile, yet fused with it in some sects, for instance the Sikhs, but such fusions of Indian religion and Christianity as have been noted are microscopic curiosities. European free thought and Deism have not fared better, for the Brahmo Samaj which was founded under their inspiration has only 5504 adherents. In social life there has been some change: caste restrictions, though not abolished, are evaded by ingenious subterfuges and there is a growing feeling against child-marriage. Yet were the laws against sati and human sacrifice repealed, there are many districts in which such practices would not be forbidden by popular sentiment.
It is easy to explain the insensibility of Hinduism to European contact: even Islam had little effect on its stubborn vitality, though Islam brought with it settlers and resident rulers, ready to make converts by force. But the British have shown perfect toleration and are merely sojourners in the land who spend their youth and age elsewhere. European exclusiveness and Indian ideas about caste alike made it natural to regard them as an isolated class charged with the business of Government but divorced from the intellectual and religious life of other classes. Previous experience of Moslims and other invaders disposed the Brahmans to accept foreigners as rulers without admitting that their creeds and customs were in the least worthy of imitation. European methods of organization and advertisement have not however been disdained.
The last half century has witnessed a remarkable revival of Hinduism. In the previous decades the most conspicuous force in India, although numerically weak, was the already mentioned Brahmo Samaj, founded by Ram Mohun Roy in 1828. But it was colourless and wanting in constructive power. Educated opinion, at least in Bengal, seemed to be tending towards agnosticism and social revolution. This tendency was checked by a conservative and nationalist movement, which in all its varied phases gave support to Indian religion and was intolerant of European ideas. It had a political side but there was nothing disloyal in its main idea, namely, that in the intellectual and religious sphere, where Indian life is most intense, Indian ideas must not decay. No one who has known India during the last thirty years can have failed to notice how many new temples have been built and how many old ones repaired. Almost all the principal sects have founded associations to protect and extend their interests by such means as financial and administrative organization, the publication of periodicals and other literature, annual conferences, lectures and the foundation of religious houses or quasi-monastic orders. Several societies have been founded not restricted to any particular sect but with the avowed object of defending and promoting strict Hinduism. Among such the most important are, first the Bharat Dharma Mahamandala, under the distinguished presidency of the Maharaja of Darbhanga: secondly the movement started by Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda and adorned by the beautiful life and writings of Sister Nivedita (Miss Noble) and thirdly the Theosophical Society under the leadership of Mrs Besant. It is remarkable that Europeans, both men and women, have played a considerable part in this revival. All these organizations are influential: the two latter have done great service in defending and encouraging Hinduism, but I am less sure of their success in mingling Eastern and Western ideas or in popularizing Hinduism among Europeans.
Somewhat different, but described by the Census of 1911 as "the greatest religious movement in India of the past half century" is the Arya Samaj, founded in 1875 by Swami Dayanand. Whereas the movements mentioned above support Sanatana Dharma or Orthodox Hinduism in all its shapes, the Arya Samaj aims at reform. Its original programme was a revival of the ancient Vedic religion but it has since been perceptibly modified and tends towards conciliating contemporary orthodoxy, for it now prohibits the slaughter of cattle, accords a partial recognition to caste, affirms its belief in karma and apparently approves a form of the Yoga philosophy. Though it is not yet accepted as a form of orthodox Hinduism, it seems probable that concessions on both sides will produce this result before long. It numbers at present only about a quarter of a million but is said to be rapidly increasing, especially in the United Provinces and Panjab, and to be remarkable for the completeness and efficiency of its organization. It maintains missionary colleges, orphanages and schools. Affiliated to it is a society for the purification (shuddhi) of Mohammedans, Christians and outcasts, that is for turning them into Hindus and giving them some kind of caste. It would appear that those who undergo this purification do not always become members of the Samaj but are merged in the ordinary Hindu community where they are accepted without opposition if also without enthusiasm.