The footnotes marked with lower-case letters were originally sidenotes which referred to sentences within the paragraph. I placed them at the end of chapters to avoid confusion with the footnotes marked with numbers, which were footnotes in the original and are at the end of the text.
TWO OLD FAITHS
ESSAYS ON THE RELIGIONS OF THE HINDUS AND THE MOHAMMEDANS
J. MURRAY MITCHELL, M.A., LL.D.
SIR WILLIAM MUIR, LL.D., D.C.L.
NEW YORK CHAUTAUQUA PRESS C.L.S.C. Department, 150 Fifth Avenue 1891
The required books of the C.L.S.C. are recommended by a Council of Six. It must, however, be understood that recommendation does not involve an approval by the Council, or by any member of it, of every principle or doctrine contained in the book recommended.
* * * * *
These essays have been selected from the admirable series of Present Day Tracts, published by the Religious Tract Society, London, and are reprinted with permission.
THE HINDU RELIGION. PAGE
Outline of the Essay 7
The Vedas 12
Philosophy, and Ritualism 31
Reconstruction—Modern Hinduism 43
Contrast with Christianity 58
Hinduism in Contact with Christianity 68
THE RISE AND DECLINE OF ISLAM.
Outline of the Essay 83
The Rapid Spread of Islam 87
Why the Spread of Islam was Stayed 125
Low Position of Islam in the Scale of Civilization 129
THE HINDU RELIGION.
OUTLINE OF THE ESSAY.
The place of Hinduism—which is professed by about a hundred and ninety millions in India—among the religions of the world, and its great antiquity, are pointed out.
The comparative simplicity of the system contained in the Vedas, the oldest sacred books of the Hindus, its almost entire freedom from the use of images, its gradual deterioration in the later hymns, its gradual multiplication of gods, the advance of sacerdotalism, and the increasing complexity of its religious rites are set forth.
The philosophical speculation that was carried on, the different philosophical schools, the Buddhist reaction, its conflict with Brahmanism, its final defeat, and its influence on the victorious system are discussed.
The religious reconstruction represented by the Puranas, their theological character, the modern ritual, the introduction and rise of caste, and the treatment of women are then considered.
A contrast is drawn between the leading characteristics of Hinduism and those of Christianity, and the effect of Christian ideas on modern Hinduism is exhibited. The history of the Brahmo Somaj under Keshub Chunder Sen is given at some length.
THE HINDU RELIGION.
[Sidenote: Hinduism deserving of study. Its antiquity.] The system of religious belief which is generally called Hinduism is, on many accounts, eminently deserving of study. If we desire to trace the history of the ancient religions of the widely extended Aryan or Indo-European race, to which we ourselves belong, we shall find in the earlier writings of the Hindus an exhibition of it decidedly more archaic even than that which is presented in the Homeric poems. Then, the growth—the historical development—of Hinduism is not less worthy of attention than its earlier phases. It has endured for upward of three thousand years, no doubt undergoing very important changes, yet in many things retaining its original spirit. The progress of the system has not been lawless; and it is exceedingly instructive to note the development, and, if possible, explain it.
We are, then, to endeavor to study Hinduism chronologically. Unless he does so almost every man who tries to comprehend it is, at first, overwhelmed with a feeling of utter confusion and bewilderment. Hinduism spreads out before him as a vast river, or even what seems at first
"a dark Illimitable ocean, without bound, Without dimension, where length, breadth, and height, And time, and place are lost."
[Sidenote: The discussion chronological.] But matters begin to clear up when he begins at the beginning, and notes how one thing succeeded another. It may not be possible as yet to trace all the windings of the stream or to show at what precise points in its long course it was joined by such and such a tributary; yet much is known regarding the mighty river which every intelligent man will find it profitable to note and understand.
[Sidenote: The Christian's duty in relation to the subject.] The Christian ought not to rest satisfied with the vague general idea that Hinduism is a form of heathenism with which he has nothing to do, save to help in destroying it. Let him try to realize the ideas of the Hindu regarding God, and the soul, and sin, and salvation, and heaven, and hell, and the many sore trials of this mortal life. He will then certainly have a much more vivid perception of the divine origin and transcendent importance of his own religion. Farther, he will then extend a helping hand to his Eastern brother with far more of sensibility and tenderness; and in proportion to the measure of his loving sympathy will doubtless be the measure of his success. A yearning heart will accomplish more than the most cogent argument.
[Sidenote: The purpose of the Tract.] In this Tract we confine ourselves to the laying down of great leading facts and principles; but these will be dwelt upon at sufficient length to give the reader, we trust, an accurate conception of the general character and history of Hinduism. We shall also briefly contrast the system with Christianity.
The history of Hinduism may be divided into three great periods, each embracing, in round numbers, about a thousand years.
[Sidenote: The most ancient writings of India.] Regarding the earliest form of Hinduism we must draw our conceptions from the Veda, or, to speak more accurately, the four Vedas. The most important of these is the Rig Veda; and internal evidence proves it to be the most ancient. It contains above a thousand hymns; the earliest of which may date from about the year 1500 B.C. The Hindus, or, as they call themselves, the Aryas, had by that time entered India, and were dwelling in the north-western portion, the Panjab. The hymns, we may say, are racy of the soil. There is no reference to the life led by the people before they crossed the Himalaya Mountains or entered by some of the passes of Afghanistan.
It would be very interesting if we could discover the pre-Vedic form of the religion. Inferentially this may, to some extent, be done by comparing the teachings of the Vedas with those contained in the books of other branches of the great Aryan family—such as the Greeks, the Romans, and, above all, the Iranians (ancient Persians).
The ancient Hindus were a highly gifted, energetic race; civilized to a considerable extent; not nomadic; chiefly shepherds and herdsmen, but also acquainted with agriculture. Commerce was not unknown; the river Indus formed a highway to the Indian Ocean, and at least the Phenicians availed themselves of it from perhaps the seventeenth century B.C., or even earlier.
[Sidenote: The hymns are strongly religious. They are a selection. Pre-eminently sacerdotal. Present the religious thought of the ancient Hindus.] As soon as we begin to study the hymns of the Veda we are struck by their strongly religious character. Tacitly assuming that the book contains the whole of the early literature of India, many writers have expressed themselves in strong terms regarding the primitive Hindus as religious above all other races. But as we read on we become convinced that these poems are a selection, rather than a collection, of the literature; and the conviction grows that the selection has been made by priestly hands for priestly purposes. An acute critic has affirmed that the Vedic poems are "pre-eminently sacerdotal, and in no sense popular." We can thus explain a pervading characteristic of the book which has taken most readers by surprise. There is a want of simplicity in the Veda. It is often most elaborate, artificial, overrefined—one might even say, affected. How could these be the thoughts, or those the expressions, of the imperfectly civilized shepherds of the Panjab? But if it be only a hymn-book, with its materials arranged for liturgical purposes, the difficulty vanishes. We shall accordingly take it for granted that the Veda presents only the religious thought of the ancient Hindus—and not the whole of the religious thought, but only that of a very influential portion of the race. With all the qualifications now stated, the Veda must retain a position of high importance for all who study Indian thought and life. The religious stamp which the compilers of the Veda impressed so widely and so deeply has not been obliterated in the course of thirty centuries.
[Sidenote: Their religion is Nature-worship.] The prevailing aspect of the religion presented in the Vedic hymns may be broadly designated as Nature-worship.
[Sidenote: Physical phenomena in India. Their effect on the religion.] All physical phenomena in India are invested with a grandeur which they do not possess in northern or even southern Europe. Sunlight, moonlight, starlight, the clouds purpled with the beam of morning or flaming in the west like fiery chariots of heaven; to behold these things in their full magnificence one ought to see them in the East. Even so the sterner phenomena of nature—whirlwind and tempest, lightning and thunder, flood and storm-wave, plague, pestilence, and famine; all of these oftentimes assume in the East a character of awful majesty before which man cowers in helplessness and despair. The conceptions and feelings hence arising have from the beginning powerfully affected the religion of the Hindus. Every-where we can trace the impress of the grander manifestations of nature—the impress of their beneficence, their beauty, their might, their mystery, or their terribleness.
[Sidenote: The deities are "the bright ones," according to the language of the sacred books of India.] The Sanskrit word for god is deva, which means bright, shining. Of physical phenomena it was especially those connected with light that enkindled feelings of reverence. The black thunder-cloud that enshrouded nature, in which the demon had bound the life-giving waters, passed away; for the glittering thunder-bolt was launched, and the streams rushed down, exulting in their freedom; and then the heaven shone out again, pure and peaceful as before. But such a wonder as the dawn—with far-streaming radiance, returning from the land of mystery, fresh in eternal youth, and scattering the terrors of the night before her—who could sufficiently admire? And let it be remembered that in the Hindu mind the interval between admiration and adoration is exceedingly small. Yet, while it is the dawn which has evoked the truest poetry, she has not retained the highest place in worship.
[Sidenote: Fire much worshiped.] No divinity has fuller worship paid him than Agni, the Fire (Ignis). More hymns are dedicated to him than to any other being. Astonishment at the properties of fire; a sense of his condescension in that he, a mighty god, resides in their dwellings; his importance as the messenger between heaven and earth, bearing the offerings aloft; his kindness at night in repelling the darkness and the demons which it hides—all these things raised Agni to an exalted place. He is fed with pure clarified butter, and so rises heavenward in his brightness. The physical conception of fire, however, adheres to him, and he never quite ceases to be the earthly flame; yet mystical conceptions thickly gather round this root-idea; he is fire pervading all nature; and he often becomes supreme, a god of gods.
[Sidenote: Soma highly exalted. Soma becomes a very mighty god.] All this seems natural enough; but one is hardly prepared for the high exaltation to which Soma is raised. Soma is properly the juice of a milky plant (asclepias acida, or sarcostemma viminale), which, when fermented, is intoxicating. The simple-minded Aryas were both astonished and delighted at its effects; they liked it themselves; and they knew nothing more precious to present to their gods. Accordingly, all of these rejoice in it. Indra in particular quaffs it "like a thirsty stag;" and under its exhilarating effects he strides victoriously to battle. Soma itself becomes a god, and a very mighty one; he is even the creator and father of the gods; the king of gods and men; all creatures are in his hand. It is surely extraordinary that the Aryas could apply such hyperbolical laudations to the liquor which they had made to trickle into the vat, and which they knew to be the juice of a plant they had cut down on the mountains and pounded in a mortar; and that intoxication should be confounded with inspiration. Yet of such aberrations we know the human mind is perfectly capable.
[Sidenote: Connection with Persian, Greek, and Roman systems. Varuna, the god of heaven. The sublimity of the Vedic description of him.] We have first referred to Agni and Soma, as being the only divinities of highest rank which still retain their physical character. The worship paid to them was of great antiquity; for it is also prescribed in the Persian Avesta, and must have been common to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Aryan race before the Hindus entered India. But we can inferentially go still further back and speak of a deity common to the Greeks, Romans, Persians, and Hindus. This deity is Varuna, the most remarkable personality in the Veda. The name, which is etymologically connected with [Greek: Ouranos], signifies "the encompasser," and is applied to heaven—especially the all-encompassing, extreme vault of heaven—not the nearer sky, which is the region of cloud and storm. It is in describing Varuna that the Veda rises to the greatest sublimity which it ever reaches. A mysterious presence, a mysterious power, a mysterious knowledge amounting almost to omniscience, are ascribed to Varuna. The winkings of men's eyes are numbered by him. He upholds order, both physical and moral, throughout the universe.
[Sidenote: Contrast with the laudations of Agni and Soma. The loftier conceptions of divinity the earlier.] The winds are his breath, the sun his eye, the sky his garment. He rewards the good and punishes the wicked. Yet to the truly penitent he is merciful. It is absolutely confounding to pass from a hymn that celebrates the serene majesty and awful purity of Varuna to one filled with measureless laudations of Soma or Agni. Could conceptions of divinity so incongruous co-exist? That they could not spring up in the same mind, or even in the same age, is abundantly manifest. And, as we have mentioned, the loftier conceptions of divinity are unquestionably the earlier. It is vain to speak, as certain writers do, of religion gradually refining itself, as a muddy stream can run itself pure; Hinduism resembles the Ganges, which, when it breaks forth from its mountain cradle at Hardwar, is comparatively pellucid, but, as it rolls on, becomes more and more muddy, discolored, and unclean.
[Sidenote: Indra. His achievements.] Various scholars affirm that Varuna, in more ancient pre-Vedic times, held a position still higher than the very high one which he still retains. This is probable; indeed, it is certain that, before later divinities had intruded, he held a place of unrivaled majesty. But, in the Vedas, Indra is a more conspicuous figure. He corresponds to the Jupiter Pluvius of the Romans. In north-western India, after the burning heat, the annual return of the rains was hailed with unspeakable joy; it was like life succeeding death. The clouds that floated up from the ocean were at first thin and light; ah! a hostile demon was in them, carrying off the healing waters and not permitting them to fall; but the thunder-bolt of Indra flashed; the demon was driven away howling, and the emancipated streams refreshed the thirsty earth. Varuna was not indeed dethroned, but he was obscured, by the achievements of the warlike Indra; and the supersensuous, moral conceptions that were connected with the former gradually faded from the minds of the people, and Varuna erelong became quite a subordinate figure in the Pantheon.
[Sidenote: Number and relations of deities uncertain.] The deities are generally said in the Veda to be "thrice eleven" in number. We also hear of three thousand three hundred and thirty-nine. There is no system, no fixed order in the hierarchy; a deity who in one hymn is quite subordinate becomes in another supreme; almost every god becomes supreme in turn; in one hymn he is the son of some deity and in another that deity's father, and so (if logic ruled) his own grandfather. Every poet exalts his favorite god, till the mind becomes utterly bewildered in tracing the relationships.
We have already spoken of Agni, Varuna, and Indra, as well as Soma. Next to these in importance may come the deities of light, namely, the sun, the dawn, and the two Asvina or beams that accompany the dawn. The winds come next. The earth is a goddess. The waters are goddesses. It is remarkable that the stars are very little mentioned; and the moon holds no distinguished place.
[Sidenote: Hardly any fetichism in the Rig Veda.] In the religion of the Rig Veda we hardly see fetichism—if by fetichism we mean the worship of small physical objects, such as stones, shells, plants, etc., which are believed to be charged (so to speak) with divinity, though this appears in the fourth Veda—the Atharva. But even in the Rig Veda almost any object that is grand, beneficent, or terrible may be adored; and implements associated with worship are themselves worshiped. Thus, the war-chariot, the plow, the furrow, etc., are prayed to.
[Sidenote: Early tendency toward pantheism.] A pantheistic conception of nature was also present in the Indian mind from very early times, although its development was later. Even in the earliest hymns any portion of nature with which man is brought into close relation may be adored.
[Sidenote: Reverence of the dead.] We must on no account overlook the reverence paid to the dead. The pitris (patres) or fathers are frequently referred to in the Veda. They are clearly distinguished from the devas or gods. In later writings they are also distinguished from men, as having been created separately from them; but this idea does not appear in the Veda. Yama, the first mortal, traveled the road by which none returns, and now drinks the Soma in the innermost of heaven, surrounded by the other fathers. These come also, along with the gods, to the banquets prepared for them on earth, and, sitting on the sacred grass, rejoice in the exhilarating draught.
[Sidenote: The subjects of the hymns of the Rig Veda.] The hymns of the Rig Veda celebrate the power, exploits, or generosity of the deity invoked, and sometimes his personal beauty. The praises lavished on the god not only secured his favor but increased his power to help the worshiper.
[Sidenote: The holiest prayer.] There is one prayer (so called) which is esteemed pre-eminently holy; generally called—from the meter in which it is composed—the Gayatri. It may be rendered thus:
"Let us meditate on that excellent glory of the Divine Son (or Vivifier); may he enlighten our understandings!"
It has always been frequently repeated in important rites.
[Sidenote: Atharva Veda. Inferior morally and spiritually to the Rig Veda. Explanation of deterioration.] So far we have referred almost exclusively to the Rig Veda. The next in importance is the Atharva, sometimes termed the Brahma Veda; which we may render the Veda of incantations. It contains six hundred and seventy hymns. Of these a few are equal to those in the Rig Veda; but, as a whole, the Atharva is far inferior to the other in a moral and spiritual point of view. It abounds in imprecations, charms for the destruction of enemies, and so forth. Talismans, plants, or gems are invoked, as possessed of irresistible might to kill or heal. The deities are often different from those of the Rig Veda. The Atharva manifests a great dread of malignant beings, whose wrath it deprecates. We have thus simple demon-worship. How is this great falling-off to be explained? In one of two ways. Either a considerable time intervened between the composition of the two books, during which the original faith had rapidly degenerated, probably through contact with aboriginal races who worshiped dark and sanguinary deities; or else there had existed from the beginning two forms of the religion—the higher of which is embodied in the hymns of the Rig Veda, and the lower in the Atharva. We believe the latter explanation to be correct, although doubtless the superstitions of the aborigines must all along have exerted an influence on the faith of the invaders.
[Sidenote: The offerings.] The offerings presented to the gods consisted chiefly of clarified butter, curdled milk, rice-cakes, and fermented Soma juice, which was generally mixed with water or milk. All was thrown into the fire, which bore them or their essences to the gods. The Soma was also sprinkled on the sacred grass, which was strewn on the floor, and on which the gods and fathers were invited to come and seat themselves that they might enjoy the cheering beverage. The remainder was drunk by the officiating priests. The offerings were understood to nourish and gratify the gods as corporeal beings.
[Sidenote: Animal victims.] Animal victims are also offered up. We hear of sheep, goats, bulls, cows, and buffaloes being sacrificed, and sometimes in large numbers. But the great offering was the Asvamedha, or sacrifice of the horse. The body of the horse was hacked to pieces; the fragments were dressed—part was boiled, part roasted; some of the flesh was then eaten by the persons present, and the rest was offered to the gods. Tremendous was the potency—at least as stated in later times—of a hundred such sacrifices; it rendered the offerer equal or superior to the gods; even the mighty Indra trembled for his sovereignty and strove to hinder the consummation of the awful rite.
[Sidenote: Human sacrifice.] Human sacrifice was not unknown, though there are very few allusions to it in the earlier hymns.
[Sidenote: Sacrifice deemed of very high importance.] Even from the first, however, the rite of sacrifice occupies a very high place, and allusions to it are exceedingly frequent. The observances connected with it are said to be the "first religious rites." Sacrifice was early believed to be expiatory; it removed sin. It was substitutionary; the victim stood in place of the offerer. All order in the universe depends upon it; it is "the nave of the world-wheel." Sometimes Vishnu is said to be the sacrifice; sometimes even the Supreme Being himself is so. Elaborated ideas and a complex ritual, which we could have expected to grow up only in the course of ages, appear from very early times. We seem compelled to draw the inference that sacrifice formed an essential and very important part of the pre-Vedic faith.
In the Veda worship is a kind of barter. In exchange for praises and offerings the deity is asked to bestow favors. Temporal blessings are implored, such as food, wealth, life, children, cows, horses, success in battle, the destruction of enemies, and so forth. Not much is said regarding sin and the need of forgiveness. A distinguished scholar has said that "the religious notion of sin is wanting altogether;" but this affirmation is decidedly too sweeping.
[Sidenote: No image-worship. No public worship.] The worship exemplified in the Veda is not image-worship. Images of the fire, or the winds, or the waters could hardly be required, and while the original nature-worship lasted, idols must have been nearly unknown. Yet the description of various deities is so precise and full that it seems to be probably drawn from visible representations of them. Worship was personal and domestic, not in any way public. Indeed, two men praying at the same time had to pray quite apart, so that neither might disturb the other. Each dealt with heaven, so to speak, solely on his own behalf.
[Sidenote: No temples.] We hear of no places set apart as temples in Vedic times.
[Sidenote: The treatises on ritual.] A Veda consists of two parts called Mantra or Sanhita, and Brahmana. The first is composed of hymns. The second is a statement of ritual, and is generally in prose. The existing Brahmanas are several centuries later than the great body of the hymns, and were probably composed when the Hindus had crossed the Indus, and were advancing along the Gangetic valley. The oldest may be about the date of 800 or 700 B.C.
[Sidenote: Growth of priestly power. Schools for the study of sacred books, rites, and traditions.] The Brahmanas are very poor, both in thought and expression. They have hardly their match in any literature for "pedantry and downright absurdity." Poetical feeling and even religious feeling seem gone; all is dead and dry as dust. By this time the Sanskrit language had ceased to be generally understood. The original texts could hardly receive accessions; the most learned man could do little more than interpret, or perhaps misinterpret, them. The worshiper looked on; he worshiped now by proxy. Thus the priest had risen greatly in importance. He alone knew the sacred verses and the sacred rites. An error in the pronunciation of the mystic text might bring destruction on the worshiper; what could he do but lean upon the priest? The latter could say the prayers if he could not pray. All this worked powerfully for the elevation of the Brahmans, the "men of prayer;" they steadily grew into a class, a caste; and into this no one could enter who was not of priestly descent. Schools were now found necessary for the study of the sacred books, rites, and traditions. The importance which these attach to theology—doctrine—is very small; the externals of religion are all in all. The rites, in fact, now threw the very gods into the shade; every thing depended on their due performance. And thus the Hindu ritual gradually grew up into a stupendous system, the most elaborate, complex, and burdensome which the earth has seen.
[Sidenote: Moral character of the Veda.] It is time, however, to give a brief estimate of the moral character of the Veda. The first thing that strikes us is its inconsistency. Some hymns—especially those addressed to Varuna—rise as high as Gentile conceptions regarding deity ever rose; others—even in the Rig Veda—sink miserably low; and in the Atharva we find, "even in the lowest depth, a lower still."
[Sidenote: Indra supersedes Varuna.] The character of Indra—who has displaced or overshadowed Varuna—has no high attributes. He is "voracious;" his "inebriety is most intense;" he "dances with delight in battle." His worshipers supply him abundantly with the drink he loves; and he supports them against their foes, ninety and more of whose cities he has destroyed. We do not know that these foes, the Dasyus, were morally worse than the intrusive Aryas, but the feelings of the latter toward the former were of unexampled ferocity. Here is one passage out of multitudes similar:
"Hurl thy hottest thunder-bolt upon them! Uproot them! Cleave them asunder! O, Indra, overpower, subdue, slay the demon! Pluck him up! Cut him through the middle! Crush his head!"
[Sidenote: Deterioration begins early.] Indra, if provided with Soma, is always indulgent to his votaries; he supports them per fas et nefas. Varuna, on the other hand, is grave, just, and to wicked men severe. The supersession of Varuna by Indra, then, is easily understood. We see the principle on which it rests stated in the Old Testament. "Ye cannot serve the Lord," said Joshua to the elders of Israel; "for he is a holy God." Even so Jeremiah points sorrowfully to the fact that the pagan nations clung to their false gods, while Israel was faithless to the true. As St. Paul expresses it, "they did not like to retain God in their knowledge." Unless this principle is fully taken into account we cannot understand the historical development of Hinduism.
[Sidenote: Varuna the only divinity possessed of pure and elevated attributes.] The Veda frequently ascribes to the gods, to use the language of Max Mueller, "sentiments and passions unworthy of deity." In truth, except in the case of Varuna, there is not one divinity that is possessed of pure and elevated attributes.
PHILOSOPHY, AND RITUALISM.
[Sidenote: Speculation begins. Rise of asceticism. Upanishads. They are pantheistic.] During the Vedic period—certainly toward its conclusion—a tendency to speculation had begun to appear. Probably it had all along existed in the Hindu mind, but had remained latent during the stirring period when the people were engaged in incessant wars. Climate, also, must have affected the temperament of the race; and, as the Hindus steadily pressed down the valley of the Ganges into warmer regions, their love of repose and contemplative quietism would continually deepen. And when the Brahmans became a fully developed hierarchy, lavishly endowed, with no employment except the performance of religious ceremonies, their minds could avoid stagnation only by having recourse to speculative thought. Again, asceticism has a deep root in human nature; earnest souls, conscious of their own weakness, will fly from the temptations of the world. Various causes thus led numbers of men to seek a life of seclusion; they dwelt chiefly in forests, and there they revolved the everlasting problems of existence, creation, the soul, and God. The lively Greeks, for whom, with all their high intellectual endowments, a happy sensuous existence was nearly all in all, were amazed at the numbers in northern India who appeared weary of the world and indifferent to life itself. By and for these recluses were gradually composed the Aranyakas, or forest treatises; and out of these grew a series of more regular works, called Upanishads. At least two hundred and fifty of these are known to exist. They have been called "guesses at truth;" they are more so than formal solutions of great questions. Many of them are unintelligible rhapsodies; others rise almost to sublimity. They frequently contradict each other; the same writer sometimes contradicts himself. One prevailing characteristic is all-important; their doctrine is pantheism. The pantheism is sometimes not so much a coldly reasoned system as an aspiration, a yearning, a deep-felt need of something better than the mob of gods who came in the train of Indra, and the darker deities who were still crowding in. Even in spite of the counteracting power of the Gospel mysticism has run easily into pantheism in Europe, and orthodox Christians sometimes slide unconsciously into it, or at least into its language. But, as has been already noted, a strain of pantheism existed in the Hindu mind from early times.
Accordingly, these hermit sages, these mystic dreamers, soon came to identify the human soul with God. And the chief end of man was to seek that the stream derived from God should return to its source, and, ceasing to wander through the wilderness of this world, should find repose in the bosom of the illimitable deep, the One, the All. The Brahmans attached the Upanishads to the Veda proper, and they soon came to be regarded as its most sacred part. In this way the influence these treatises have exercised has been immense; more than any other portion of the earlier Hindu writings they have molded the thoughts of succeeding generations. Philosophy had thus begun.
[Sidenote: Six philosophic schools.] The speculations of which we see the commencement and progress in the Upanishads were finally developed and classified in a series of writings called the six Sastras or darsanas. These constitute the regular official philosophy of India. They are without much difficulty reducible to three leading schools of thought—the Nyaya, the Sankhya, and the Vedanta.
Roundly, and speaking generally, we may characterize these systems as theistic, atheistic, and pantheistic respectively.
[Sidenote: The Nyaya.] It is doubtful, however, whether the earlier form of the Nyaya was theistic or not. The later form is so, but it says nothing of the moral attributes of God, nor of his government. The chief end of man, according to the Nyaya, is deliverance from pain; and this is to be attained by cessation from all action, whether good or bad.
[Sidenote: The Sankhya.] The Sankhya declares matter to be self-existent and eternal. Soul is distinct from matter, and also eternal. When it attains true knowledge it is liberated from matter and from pain. The Sankhya holds the existence of God to be without proof.
[Sidenote: The Vedanta.] But the leading philosophy of India is unquestionably the Vedanta. The name means "the end or scope of the Veda;" and if the Upanishads were the Veda, instead of treatises tacked on to it, the name would be correct; for the Vedanta, like the Upanishads, inculcates pantheism.
The form which this philosophy ultimately assumed is well represented in the treatise called the Vedanta Sara, or essence of the Vedanta. A few extracts will suffice to exhibit its character. "The unity of the soul and God—this is the scope of all Vedanta treatises." We have frequent references made to the "great saying," Tat twam—that is, That art thou, or Thou art God; and Aham Brahma, that is, I am God. Again it is said, "The whole universe is God." God is "existence (or more exactly an existent thing), knowledge, and joy." Knowledge, not a knower; joy, not one who rejoices.
[Sidenote: It teaches absolute idealism.] Every thing else has only a seeming existence, which is in consequence of ignorance (or illusion). Ignorance makes the soul think itself different from God; and it also "projects" the appearance of an external world.
"He who knows God becomes God." "When He, the first and last, is discerned, one's own acts are annihilated."
Meditation, without distinction of subject and object, is the highest form of thought. It is a high attainment to say, "I am God;" but the consummation is when thought exists without an object.
There are four states of the soul—waking, dreaming, dreamless sleep, and the "fourth state," or pure intelligence. The working-man is in dense ignorance; in sleep he is freed from part of this ignorance; in dreamless sleep he is freed from still more; but the consummation is when he attains something beyond this, which it seems cannot be explained, and is therefore called the fourth state.
[Sidenote: Doctrine of "the Self." Inconsistent statements.] The name, which in later writings is most frequently given to the "one without a second," is Atman, which properly means self. Much is said of the way in which the self in each man is to recover, or discover, its unity with the supreme or real self. For as the one sun shining in the heavens is reflected, often in distorted images, in multitudes of vessels filled with water, so the one self is present in all human minds. There is not—perhaps there could not be—consistency in the statements of the relation of the seeming to the real. In most of the older books a practical or conventional existence is admitted of the self in each man, but not a real existence. But when the conception is fully formulated the finite world is not admitted to exist save as a mere illusion. All phenomena are a play—a play without plot or purpose, which the absolute plays with itself. This is surely transcendent transcendentalism. One regrets that speculation did not take one step more, and declare that the illusion was itself illusory. Then we should have gone round the circle, and returned to sensus communis. We must be pardoned if we seem to speak disrespectfully of such fantastic speculations; we desire rather to speak regretfully of the many generations of men which successively occupied themselves with such unprofitable dreams; for this kind of thought is traceable even from Vedic days. It is more fully developed in the Upanishads. In them occurs the classical sentence so frequently quoted in later literature, which declares that the absolute being is the "one [thing] without a second."
[Sidenote: The Gita.] The book which perhaps above all others has molded the mind of India in more recent days is the Bhagavad Gita, or Song of the Holy One. It is written in stately and harmonious verse, and has achieved the same task for Indian philosophy as Lucretius did for ancient Epicureanism. It is eclectic, and succeeds, in a sort of way, in forcing the leading systems of Indian thought into seeming harmony.
[Sidenote: Intellectual pride.] Some have thought they could discern in these daring speculations indications of souls groping after God, and saddened because of the difficulty of finding him. Were it so, all our sympathies would at once be called forth. But no; we see in these writings far more of intellectual pride than of spiritual sadness. Those ancient dreamers never learned their own ignorance. They scarcely recognized the limitations of the human mind. And when reason could take them no farther they supplemented it by dreams and ecstasy until, in the Yoga philosophy, they rushed into systematized mysticisms and magic far more extravagant than the wildest theurgy of the degraded Neoplatonism of the Roman Empire.
A learned writer thus expresses himself:
"The only one of the six schools that seem to recognize the doctrine of divine providence is the Yoga. It thus seems that the consistent followers of these systems can have, in their perfected state, no religion, no action, and no moral character."
[Sidenote: Indian philosophy a sad failure.] And now to take a brief review of the whole subject. The Hindu sages were men of acute and patient thought; but their attempt to solve the problem of the divine and human natures, of human destiny and duty, has ended in total failure. Each system baseless, and all mutually conflicting; systems cold and cheerless, that frown on love and virtuous exertion, and speak of annihilation or its equivalent, absorption, as our highest hope: such is the poor result of infinite speculation. "The world by wisdom knew not God." O, that India would learn the much-needed lesson of humility which the experience of ages ought to teach her!
[Sidenote: Sacerdotalism. The tyranny of sacerdotalism.] While speculation was thus busy Sacerdotalism was also continually extending its influence. The Brahman, the man of prayer, had made himself indispensable in all sacred rites. He alone—as we have seen—knew the holy text; he alone could rightly pronounce the words of awful mystery and power on which depended all weal or woe. On all religions occasions the priest must be called in, and, on all occasions, implicitly obeyed. For a considerable time the princes straggled against the encroachments of the priests; but in the end they were completely vanquished. Never was sacerdotal tyranny more absolute; the proudest pope in mediaeval times never lorded it over Western Christendom with such unrelenting rigor as the Brahmans exercised over both princes and people. The feeling of the priests is expressed in a well-known stanza:
"All the world is subject to the gods; the gods are subject to the holy texts; the holy texts are subject to the Brahman; therefore the Brahman is my god."
Yes, the sacred man could breathe the spell which made earth and hell and heaven itself to tremble. He therefore logically called himself an earthly god. Indeed, the Brahman is always logical. He draws conclusions from premises with iron rigor of reasoning; and with side-issues he has nothing to do. He stands upon his rights. Woe to the being—god or man—who comes in conflict with him!
[Sidenote: Ritual becomes extravagant.] The priests naturally multiplied religious ceremonies, and made ritual the soul of worship. Sacrifice especially assumed still more and more exaggerated forms—becoming more protracted, more expensive, more bloody. A hecatomb of victims was but a small offering. More and more awful powers were ascribed to the rite.
[Sidenote: Reaction.] But the tension was too great, and the bow snapped. Buddhism arose. We may call this remarkable system the product of the age—an inevitable rebellion against intolerable sacerdotalism; and yet we must not overlook the importance of the very distinct and lofty personality of Buddha (Sakya Muni) as a power molding it into shape.
[Sidenote: Buddhism. Moral elements of this system. Conflict with Brahmanism. Victory of Brahmanism.] Wherever it extended it effected a vast revolution in Indian thought. Thus in regard to the institution of caste, Buddha did not attack it; he did not, it would appear, even formally renounce it; as a mere social institution he seems to have acknowledged it; but then he held that all the religious were freed from its restrictions. "My law," said he, "is a law of mercy for all;" and forthwith he proceeded to admit men of every caste into the closest fellowship with himself and his followers. Then, he preached—he, though not a Brahman—in the vernacular languages—an immense innovation, which made his teachings popular. He put in the forefront of his system certain great fundamental principles of morality. He made religion consist in duty, not rites. He reduced duty mainly to mercy or kindness toward all living beings—a marvelous generalization. This set aside all slaughter of animals. The mind of the princes and people was weary of priestcraft and ritualism; and the teaching of the great reformer was most timely. Accordingly his doctrine spread with great rapidity, and for a long time it seemed likely to prevail over Brahmanism. But various causes gradually combined against it. Partly, it was overwhelmed by its own luxuriance of growth; partly, Brahmanism, which had all along maintained an intellectual superiority, adopted, either from conviction or policy, most of the principles of Buddhism, and skillfully supplied some of its main deficiencies. Thus the Brahmans retained their position; and, at least nominally, their religion won the day.
[Sidenote: Revival, in an altered form, of Hinduism. Only the position of the Brahman and the restrictions of caste retained.] But the Hinduism that grew up, as Buddhism faded from Indian soil, was widely different from the system with which early Buddhism had contended. Hinduism, as it has been developed during the last thousand or twelve hundred years, resembles a stupendous far-extended building, or series of buildings, which is still receiving additions, while portions have crumbled and are crumbling into ruin. Every conceivable style of architecture, from that of the stately palace to the meanest hut, is comprehended in it. On a portion of the structure here or there the eye may rest with pleasure; but as a whole it is an unsightly, almost monstrous, pile. Or, dismissing figures, we must describe it as the most extraordinary creation which the world has seen. A jumble of all things; polytheistic pantheism; much of Buddhism; something apparently of Christianity, but terribly disfigured; a science wholly outrageous; shreds of history twisted into wild mythology; the bold poetry of the older books understood as literal prose; any local deity, any demon of the aborigines, however hideous, identified with some accredited Hindu divinity; any custom, however repugnant to common sense or common decency, accepted and explained—in a word, later Hinduism has been omnivorous; it has partially absorbed and assimilated every system of belief, every form of worship, with which it has come in contact. Only to one or two things has it remained inflexibly true. It has steadily upheld the proudest pretensions of the Brahman; and it has never relaxed the sternest restrictions of caste. We cannot wonder at the severe judgment pronounced on Hinduism by nearly every Western author. According to Macaulay, "all is hideous and grotesque and ignoble;" and the calmer De Tocqueville maintains that "Hinduism is perhaps the only system of belief that is worse than having no religion at all."
When a modern Hindu is asked what are the sacred books of his religion he generally answers: "The Vedas, the Sastras (that is, philosophical systems), and the Puranas." Some authorities add the Tantras.
The modern form of Hinduism is exhibited chiefly in the eighteen Puranas, and an equal number of Upapuranas (minor Puranas).
[Sidenote: The Puranas.] When we compare the religion embodied in the Puranas with that of Vedic times we are startled at the magnitude of the change. The Pantheon is largely new; old deities have been superseded; other deities have taken their place. There has been both accretion from without and evolution from within. The thirty-three gods of the Vedas have been fantastically raised to three hundred and thirty millions. Siva, Durga, Rama, Krishna, Kali—unknown in ancient days—are now mighty divinities; Indra is almost entirely overlooked, and Varuna has been degraded from his lofty throne and turned into a regent of the waters.
[Sidenote: New deities, rites, and customs.] The worship of the Linga (phallus) has been introduced. So has the great dogma of Transmigration, which has stamped a deeper impress on later Hindu mind than almost any other doctrine. Caste is fully established, though in Vedic days scarcely, if at all, recognized. The dreadful practice of widow-burning has been brought in, and this by a most daring perversion of the Vedic texts. Woman, in fact, has fallen far below the position assigned her in early days.
[Sidenote: The Trimurtti, a triad of gods.] One of the notable things in connection with the reconstruction of Hinduism is the position it gives to the Trimurtti, or triad of gods—Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. Something like an anticipation of this has been presented in the later Vedic times: fire, air, and the sun (Agni, Vayu, and Surya) being regarded by the commentator as summing up the divine energies. But in the Vedas the deities often go in pairs; and little stress should be laid on the idea of a Vedic triad. That idea, however, came prominently forward in later days. The worship both of Vishnu and Siva may have existed, from ancient times, as popular rites not acknowledged by the Brahmans; but both of these deities were now fully recognized. The god Brahma was an invention of the Brahmans; he was no real divinity of the people, and had hardly ever been actually worshiped. It is visual to designate Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva as Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer respectively; but the generalization is by no means well maintained in the Hindu books.
[Sidenote: The Avatara.] The Puranas are in general violently sectarian; some being Vishnuite, others Sivite. It is in connection with Vishnu, especially, that the idea of incarnation becomes prominent. The Hindu term is Avatara, literally, descent; the deity is represented as descending from heaven to earth, for vindication of the truth and righteousness, or, to use the words ascribed to Krishna,
For the preservation of the good, and the destruction of the wicked, For the establishment of religion, I am born from age to age.
[Sidenote: The "descents" of Vishnu.] The "descents" of Vishnu are usually reckoned ten. Of these by far the most celebrated are those of Rama and Krishna. The great importance attached to these two deities has been traced to the influence of Buddhism. That system had exerted immense power in consequence of the gentle and attractive character ascribed to Buddha. The older gods were dim, distant, and often stern; some near, intelligible, and loving divinity was longed for. Buddha was a brother-man, and yet a quasi-deity; and hearts longing for sympathy and succor were strongly attracted by such a personality.
[Sidenote: The god Rama.] The character of Rama—or Ramachandra—is possessed of some high qualities. The great poem in which it is described at fullest length—the Ramayana of Valmiki—seems to have been an alteration, made in the interests of Hinduism, of early Buddhist legends; and the Buddhist quality of gentleness has not disappeared in the history. Rama, however, is far from a perfect character. His wife Sita is possessed of much womanly grace and every wifely virtue; and the sorrowful story of the warrior-god and his faithful spouse has appealed to deep sympathies in the human breast. The worship of Rama has seldom, if ever, degenerated into lasciviousness. In spite, however, of the charm thrown around the life of Rama and Sita by the genius of Valmiki and Tulsida, it is Krishna, not Rama, that has attained the greatest popularity among the "descents" of Vishnu.
[Sidenote: Krishna. His early life a travesty of the life of Christ, according to the Gospel of the Infancy.] Very different morally from that of Rama is the character of Krishna. While Rama is but a partial manifestation of divinity Krishna is a full manifestation; yet what a manifestation! He is represented as full of naughty tricks in his youth, although exercising the highest powers of deity; and, when he grows up, his conduct is grossly immoral and disgusting. It is most startling to think that this being is by grave writers—like the authors of the Bhagavad Gita and the Bhagavata Purana—made the highest of the gods, or, indeed, the only real God. Stranger still, if possible, is the probability that the early life of Krishna—in part, at least—is a dreadful travesty of the early life of Christ, as given in the apocryphal gospels, especially the Gospel of the Infancy. The falling off in the apocryphal gospels, when compared with the canonical, is truly sad; but the falling off even from the apocryphal ones, in the Hindu books, is altogether sickening.
A very striking characteristic of modern Hinduism is what is termed bhakti, or devotion. There are three great ways of attaining to salvation: karma marga, or the way of ceremonial works; jnana marga, or the way of knowledge, and bhakti marga, or the way of devotion.
[Sidenote: Doctrine of bhakti introduced. Influence of the system. Mixed with Buddhist elements. Exaltation of the guru.] The notion of trust in the gods was familiar to the mind of India from Vedic days, but the deity was indistinct and unsympathetic, and there could hardly be love and attachment to him. But there now arose the doctrine of bhakti (devotion), which resolved religion into emotion. It came into the Hindu system rather abruptly; and many learned men have traced its origin to the influence of Christianity. This is quite possible; but perhaps the fact is hardly proved. Contact with Christianity, however, probably accelerated a process which had previously begun. At all events, the system of bhakti has had, and still has, great sway in India, particularly in Bengal, among the followers of Chaitanya, and the large body of people in western India who style themselves Vaishnavas or Bhaktas (devotees). The popular poetry of Maharashtra, as exemplified in such poets as Tukarama, is an impassioned inculcation of devotion to Vithoba of Pandharpur, who is a manifestation of Krishna. Into the bhakti system of western India Buddhist elements have entered; and the school of devotees is often denominated Bauddha-Vaishnava. Along with extravagant idolatry it inculcates generally, at least in the Maratha country, a pure morality; and the latter it apparently owes to Buddhism. Yet there are many sad lapses from purity. Almost of necessity the worship of Krishna led to corruption. The hymns became erotic; and movements hopeful at their commencement—like that of Chaitanya of Bengal, in the sixteenth century—soon grievously fell off in character. The attempt to make religion consist of emotion without thought, of bhakti without jnana, had disastrous issues. Coincident with the development of bhakti was the exaltation of the guru, or religious teacher, which soon amounted to deification—a change traceable from about the twelfth century A.D.
[Sidenote: Explanations of Krishna's evil deeds.] When pressed on the subject of Krishna's evil deeds many are anxious to explain them as allegorical representations of the union between the divinity and true worshipers; but some interpret them in the most literal way possible. This is done especially by the followers of Vallabha Acharya. These men attained a most unenviable notoriety about twenty years ago, when a case was tried in the Supreme Court of Bombay, which revealed the practice of the most shameful licentiousness by the religious teachers and their female followers, and this as a part of worship! The disgust excited was so great and general that it was believed the influence of the sect was at an end; but this hope unhappily has not been realized.
[Sidenote: Reforms attempted. Kabir. Nanak. Failure of all reforms.] Reformers have arisen from time to time in India; men who saw the deplorable corruption of religion, and strove to restore it to what they considered purity. Next to Buddha we may mention Kabir, to whom are ascribed many verses still popular. Probably the doctrine of the unity of God, as maintained by the Mohammedans, had impressed him. He opposed idolatry, caste, and Brahmanical assumption. Yet his monotheism was a kind of pantheism. His date may be the beginning of the fifteenth century. Nanak followed and founded the religion of the Sikhs. His sacred book, the Granth, is mainly pantheistic; it dwells earnestly on devotion, especially devotion to the guru. The Sikhs now seem slowly relapsing into idolatry. In truth, the history of all attempts at reformation in India has been most discouraging. Sect after sect has successively risen to some elevation above the prevalent idolatry; and then gradually, as by some irresistible gravitation, it has sunk back into the mare magnum of Hinduism. If we regard experience, purification from within is hopeless; the struggle for it is only a repetition of the toil of Sisyphus, and always with the same sad issue. Deliverance must come from without—from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
[Sidenote: Influence of the Tantras. Worship of the Sakti.] We mentioned the Tantras as exerting great influence in later days. In these the worship of Siva, and, still more, that of his wife, is predominant. The deity is now supposed to possess a double nature—one quiescent, one active; the latter being regarded as the Sakti or energy of the god, otherwise called his wife. The origin of the system is not fully explained; nor is the date of its rise ascertained. The worship assumes wild, extravagant forms, generally obscene, sometimes bloody. It is divided into two schools—that of the right hand and that of the left. The former runs into mysticism and magic in complicated observances, and the latter into the most appalling licentiousness. The worship of the Sakti, or female principle, has become a most elaborate system. The beings adored are "the most outrageous divinities which man has ever conceived." Sorcery began early in India; but it is in connection with this system that it attains to full development. Human sacrifices are a normal part of the worship when fully performed. We cannot go farther into detail. It is profoundly saddening to think that such abominations are committed; it is still more saddening to think that they are performed as a part of divine worship. Conscience, however, is so far alive that these detestable rites are practiced only in secret, and few, if any, are willing to confess that they have been initiated as worshipers.
[Sidenote: Modern ritual.] We have not yet said much about the ritual of modern days. It is exceedingly complicated. In the case of the god Siva the rites are as follows, when performed by a priest in the temple:
[Sidenote: Worship of Siva.] The Brahman first bathes, then enters the temple and bows to the god. He anoints the image with clarified butter or boiled oil; pours pure water over it; and then wipes it dry. He grinds some white powder, mixing it with water; dips the ends of his three forefingers in it and draws them across the image. He sits down; meditates; places rice and durwa grass on the image—places a flower on his own head, and then on the top of the image; then another flower on the image, and another, and another—accompanying each act with the recitation of sacred spells; places white powder, flowers, bilva-leaves, incense, meat-offerings, rice, plantains, and a lamp before the image; repeats the name of Siva, with praises, then prostrates himself before the image. In the evening he returns, washes his feet, prostrates himself before the door, opens the door, places a lamp within, offers milk, sweet-meats, and fruits to the image, prostrates himself before it, locks the door, and departs.
Very similar is the worship paid to Vishnu:
[Sidenote: Worship of Vishnu.] The priest bathes, and then awakes the sleeping god by blowing a shell and ringing a bell. More abundant offerings are made than to Siva. About noon, fruits, roots, soaked peas, sweet-meats, etc., are presented. Then, later, boiled rice, fried herbs, and spices; but no flesh, fish, nor fowl. After dinner, betel-nut. The god is then left to sleep, and the temple is shut up for some hours. Toward evening curds, butter, sweet-meats, fruits, are presented. At sunset a lamp is brought, and fresh offerings made. Lights are waved before the image; a small bell is rung; water is presented for washing the mouth, face, and feet, with a towel to dry them. In a few minutes the offerings and the lamp are removed; and the god is left to sleep in the dark.
The prescribed worship is not always fully performed. Still, sixteen things are essential, of which the following are the most important:
"Preparing a seat for the god; invoking his presence; bathing the image; clothing it; putting the string round it; offering perfumes; flowers; incense; lamps; offerings of fruits and prepared eatables; betel-nut; prayers; circumambulation. An ordinary worshiper presents some of the offerings, mutters a short prayer or two, when circumambulating the image, the rest being done by the priest."
We give one additional specimen of the ritual:
"As an atonement for unwarily eating or drinking what is forbidden eight hundred repetitions of the Gayatri prayer should be preceded by three suppressions of the breath, water being touched during the recital of the following text: 'The bull roars; he has four horns, three feet, two heads, seven hands, and is bound by a three-fold cord; he is the mighty, resplendent being, and pervades mortal men.'"
The bull is understood to be justice personified. All Brahmanical ceremonies exhibit, we may say, ritualism and symbolism run mad.
[Sidenote: Caste.] The most prominent and characteristic institution of Hinduism is caste. The power of caste is as irrational as it is unbounded; and it works almost unmixed evil. The touch—even the shadow—of a low caste man pollutes. The scriptural precept, "Honor all men," appears to a true Hindu infinitely absurd. He honors and worships a cow; but he shrinks with horror from the touch of a Mhar or Mang. Even Brahmans, if they come from different provinces, will not eat together. Thus Hinduism separates man from man; it goes on dividing and still dividing; and new fences to guard imaginary purity are continually added.
[Sidenote: Treatment of women. Widows.] The whole treatment of women has gradually become most tyrannical and unjust. In very ancient days they were held in considerable respect; but, for ages past, the idea of woman has been steadily sinking lower and lower, and her rights have been more and more assailed. The burning of widows has been prohibited by enactment; but the awful rite would in many places be restored were it not for the strong hand of the British government. The practice of marrying women in childhood is still generally—all but universally—prevalent; and when, owing to the zeal of reformers, a case of widow-marriage occurs, its rarity makes it be hailed as a signal triumph. Multitudes of the so-called widows were never really wives, their husbands (so-called) having died in childhood. Widows are subjected to treatment which they deem worse than death; and yet their number, it is calculated, amounts to about twenty-one millions! More cruel and demoralizing customs than exist in India in regard to women can hardly be found among the lowest barbarians. We are glad to escape from dwelling on points so exceedingly painful.
CONTRAST WITH CHRISTIANITY.
The immense difference between the Hindu and Christian religions has doubtless already frequently suggested itself to the reader. It will not be necessary, therefore, to dwell on this topic at very great length. The contrast forces itself upon us at every point.
[Sidenote: The Aryas and Israelites—their probable future, about 1500 B.C. Contrast of their after-history.] When, about fifteen centuries B.C., the Aryas were victoriously occupying the Panjab, and the Israelites were escaping from the "iron furnace" of Egypt, if one had been asked which of the two races would probably rise to the highest conception of the divine, and contribute most largely to the well-being of mankind, the answer, quite possibly, might have been, the Aryas. Egypt, with its brutish idolatries, had corrupted the faith of the Israelites, and slavery had crushed all manliness out of them. Yet how wonderful has been their after-history! Among ancient religions that of the Old Testament stands absolutely unique, and in the fullness of time it blossomed into Christianity. How is the marvel to be explained? We cannot account for it except by ascribing it to a divine election of the Israelites and a providential training intended to fit them to become the teachers of the world. "Salvation is of the Jews."
The contrast between the teachings of the Bible and those of the Hindu books is simply infinite.
[Sidenote: Hindu theology compared with Christian.] The conception of a purely immaterial Being, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, which is that of the Bible regarding God, is entirely foreign to the Hindu books. Their doctrine is various, but, in every case, erroneous. It is absolute pantheism, or polytheism, or an inconsistent blending of polytheism and pantheism, or atheism.
Equally striking is the contrast between Christianity and Hinduism as to the attributes of God. According to the former, he is omnipresent; omnipotent; possessed of every excellence—holiness, justice, goodness, truth. According to the chief Hindu philosophy, the Supreme is devoid of attributes—devoid of consciousness. According to the popular conception, when the Supreme becomes conscious he is developed into three gods, who possess respectively the qualities of truth, passion, and darkness.
[Sidenote: Conception of God.] "God is a Spirit." "God is light." "God is love." These sublime declarations have no counterparts in Hindustan.
He is "the Father of spirits," according to the Bible. According to Hinduism, the individual spirit is a portion of the divine. Even the common people firmly believe this.
Every thing is referred by Hinduism to God as its immediate cause. A Christian is continually shocked by the Hindus ascribing all sin to God as its source.
[Sidenote: The object of worship.] The adoration of God as a Being possessed of every glorious excellence is earnestly commanded in the Bible. "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God; and him only shalt thou serve." In India the Supreme is never worshiped; but any one of the multitudinous gods may be so; and, in fact, every thing can be worshiped except God. A maxim in the mouth of every Hindu is the following: "Where there is faith, there is God." Believe the stone a god and it is so.
[Sidenote: The sense of sin.] Every sin being traced to God as its ultimate source, the sense of personal guilt is very slight among Hindus. Where it exists it is generally connected with ceremonial defilement or the breach of some one of the innumerable and meaningless rites of the religion. How unlike in all this is the Gospel! The Bible dwells with all possible earnestness on the evil of sin, not of ceremonial but moral defilement—the transgression of the divine law, the eternal law of right.
[Sidenote: Atonement.] How important a place in the Christian system is held by atonement, the great atonement made by Christ, it is unnecessary to say. Nor need we enlarge on the extraordinary power it exercises over the human heart, at once filling it with contrition, hatred of sin, and overflowing joy. We turn to Hinduism. Alas! we find that the earnest questionings and higher views of the ancient thinkers have in a great degree been ignored in later times. Sacrifice in its original form has passed away. Atonement is often spoken of; but it is only some paltry device or other, such as eating the five products of the cow, going on pilgrimage to some sacred shrine, paying money to the priests, or, it may be, some form of bodily penance. Such expedients leave no impression on the heart as to the true nature and essential evil of sin.
[Sidenote: Salvation. Sanctification.] Salvation, in the Christian system, denotes deliverance, not only from the punishment of sin, but from its power, implying a renovation of the moral nature. The entire man is to be rectified in heart, speech, and behavior. The perfection of the individual, and, through that, the perfection of society, are the objects aimed at; and the consummation desired is the doing of the will of God on earth as it is done in heaven. Now, of all this, surely a magnificent ideal, we find in Hinduism no trace whatever.
[Sidenote: Views of life. The great tenet of Hinduism.] Christianity is emphatically a religion of hope; Hinduism may be designated a religion of despair. The trials of life are many and great. Christianity bids us regard them as discipline from a Father's hand, and tells us that affliction rightly borne yields "the peaceable fruits of righteousness." To death the Christian looks forward without fear; to him it is a quiet sleep, and the resurrection draws nigh. Then comes the beatific vision of God. Glorified in soul and body, the companion of angels and saints, strong in immortal youth, he will serve without let or hinderance the God and Saviour whom he loves. To the Hindu the trials of life are penal, not remedial. At death his soul passes into another body. Rightly, every human soul animates in succession eighty-four lacs (8,400,000) of bodies—the body of a human being, or a beast, or a bird, or a fish, or a plant, or a stone, according to desert. This weary, all but endless, round of births fills the mind of a Hindu with the greatest horror. At last the soul is lost in God as a drop mingles with the ocean. Individual existence and consciousness then cease. The thought is profoundly sorrowful that this is the cheerless faith of countless multitudes. No wonder, though, the great tenet of Hinduism is this—Existence is misery.
[Sidenote: The future of the race. The struggle between good and evil.] So much for the future of the individual. Regarding the future of the race Hinduism speaks in equally cheerless terms. Its golden age lies in the immeasurably distant past; and the further we recede from it the deeper must we plunge into sin and wretchedness. True, ages and ages hence the "age of truth" returns, but it returns only to pass away again and torment us with the memory of lost purity and joy. The experience of the universe is thus an eternal renovation of hope and disappointment. In the struggle between good and evil there is no final triumph for the good. We tread a fated, eternal round from which there is no escape; and alike the hero fights and the martyr dies in vain.
It is remarkable that acute intellectual men, as many of the Hindu poets were, should never have grappled with the problem of the divine government of the world.
[Sidenote: The future of the Aryan race.] Equally notable is the unconcern of the Veda as to the welfare and the future of even the Aryan race. But how sublime is the promise given to Abraham that in him and his seed all nations of the earth should be blessed! Renan has pointed with admiration to the confidence entertained at all times by the Jew in a brilliant and happy future for mankind. The ancient Hindu cared not about the future of his neighbors, and doubtless even the expression "human race" would have been unintelligible to him. Nor is there any pathos in the Veda. There is no deep sense of the sorrows of life. Max Mueller has affixed the epithet "transcendent" to the Hindu mind. Its bent was much more toward the metaphysical, the mystical, the incomprehensible than toward the moral and the practical. Hence endless subtleties, more meaningless and unprofitable than ever occupied the mind of Talmudist or schoolman of the Middle Ages.
[Sidenote: The words of St. Paul illustrated by Hinduism.] But finally, on this part of the subject, the development of Indian religion supplies a striking comment on the words of St. Paul:
"The invisible things of God are clearly seen, being understood from the things that are made. But when they knew God they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened."
[Sidenote: Moral power.] Hinduism is deplorably deficient in power to raise and purify the human soul, from having no high example of moral excellence. Its renowned sages were noted for irritability and selfishness—great men at cursing; and the gods for the most part were worse. Need we say how gloriously rich the Gospel is in having in the character of Christ the realized ideal of every possible excellence?
[Sidenote: Ethical effect of Hinduism. The people better than their religion.] Summa religionis est imitari quem colis: "It is the sum of religion to imitate the being worshiped;" or, as the Hindus express it: "As is the deity such is the devotee." Worship the God revealed in the Bible, and you become god-like. The soul strives, with divine aid, to "purify itself even as God is pure." But apply the principle to Hinduism. Alas! the Pantheon is almost a pandemonium. Krishna, who in these days is the chief deity to at least a hundred millions of people, does not possess one elevated attribute. If, in the circumstances, society does not become a moral pesthouse it is only because the people continue better than their religion. The human heart, though fallen, is not fiendish. It has still its purer instincts; and, when the legends about abominable gods and goddesses are falling like mildew, these are still to some extent kept alive by the sweet influences of earth and sky and by the charities of family life. When the heart of woman is about to be swept into the abyss her infant's smile restores her to her better self. Thus family life does not go to ruin; and so long as that anchor holds society will not drift on the rocks that stand so perilously near. Still, the state of things is deplorably distressing.
[Sidenote: The doctrine of incarnation.] The doctrine of the incarnation is of fundamental importance in Christianity. It seems almost profanation to compare it with the Hindu teaching regarding the Avataras, or descents of Vishnu. It is difficult to extract any meaning out of the three first manifestations, when the god became in succession a fish, a boar, and a tortoise. Of the great "descents" in Rama and Krishna we have already spoken. The ninth Avatara was that of Buddha, in which the deity descended for the purpose of deceiving men, making them deny the gods, and leading them to destruction. So blasphemous an idea may seem hardly possible, even for the bewildered mind of India; but this is doubtless the Brahmanical explanation of the rise and progress of Buddhism. It was fatal error, but inculcated by a divine being. Even the sickening tales of Krishna and his amours are less shocking than this. When we turn from such representations of divinity to "the Word made flesh" we seem to have escaped from the pestilential air of a charnel-house to the sweet, pure breath of heaven.
HINDUISM IN CONTACT WITH CHRISTIANITY.
[Sidenote: Attempted reforms.] We have used the word reformer in this Tract. We formerly noted that, in India, there have arisen from time to time men who saw and sorrowed over the erroneous doctrines and degrading rites of the popular system.
In quite recent times they have had successors. Some account of their work may form a fitting conclusion to our discussion.
[Sidenote: Advance of Christianity in India.] With the large influx into India of Christian ideas it was to be expected that some impression would be made on Hinduism. We do not refer to conversion—the full acceptance of the Christian faith. Christianity has advanced and is advancing in India more rapidly than is generally supposed; but far beyond the circle of those who "come out and are separate" its mighty power is telling on Hinduism. The great fundamental truths of the Gospel, when once uttered and understood, can hardly be forgotten. Disliked and denied they may be; but forgotten? No. Thus they gradually win their way, and multitudes who have no thought of becoming Christians are ready to admit that they are beautiful and true; for belief and practice are often widely separated in Hindu minds.
[Sidenote: The Brahma Samaj.] But it was to be expected that the new ideas pouring into India—and among these we include not only distinctively Christian ideas, but Western thought generally—would manifest their presence and activity in concrete forms, in attempted reconstructions of religion. The most remarkable example of such a reconstruction is exhibited in the Brahmo Somaj (more correctly Brahma Samaj)—which may be rendered the "Church of God."
[Sidenote: Rammohun Roy. Effect of Christianity upon him.] It is traceable to the efforts of a truly distinguished man, Rammohun Roy. He was a person of studious habits, intelligent, acute, and deeply in earnest on the subject of religion. He studied not only Hinduism in its various forms, but Buddhism, Mohammedanism, and Christianity. He was naturally an eclectic, gathering truth from all quarters where he thought he could find it. A specially deep impression was made on his mind by Christianity; and in 1820 he published a book with the remarkable title, The Precepts of Jesus the Guide to Peace and Happiness. Very frequently he gave expression to the sentiment that the teachings of Christ were the truest and deepest that he knew. Still, he did not believe in Christ's divinity.
[Sidenote: Debendernath Tagore. Keshub Chunder Sen. Formation of a new Samaj.] In January, 1830, a place of worship was opened by Rammohun Roy and his friends. It was intended for the worship of one God, without idolatrous rites of any kind. This was undoubtedly a very important event, and great was the interest aroused in connection with it. Rammohun Roy, however, visited Britain in 1831, and died at Bristol in 1833; and the cause for which he had so earnestly labored in India languished for a time. But in the year 1841 Debendernath Tagore, a man of character and wealth, joined the Brahmo Somaj, and gave a kind of constitution to it. It was fully organized by 1844. No definite declaration, however, had been made as to the authority of the Vedas; but, after a lengthened period of inquiry and discussion, a majority of the Somaj rejected the doctrine of their infallibility by 1850. "The rock of intuition" now began to be spoken of; man's reason was his sufficient guide. Still, great respect was cherished for the ancient belief and customs of the land. But in 1858 a new champion appeared on the scene, in the well-known Keshub Chunder Sen. Ardent, impetuous, ambitions—full of ideas derived from Christian sources—he could not brook the slow movements of the Somaj in the path of reform. Important changes, both religious and social, were pressed by him; and the more conservative Debendernath somewhat reluctantly consented to their introduction. Matters were, however, brought to a crisis by the marriage of two persons of different castes in 1864. In February, 1865, the progressive party formally severed their connection with the original Somaj; and in August, 1869, they opened a new place of worship of their own. Since this time the original or Adi Somaj has been little heard of, and its movement—if it has moved at all—has been retrogressive. The new Somaj—the Brahmo Somaj of India, as it called itself—under the guidance of Mr. Sen became very active. A missionary institute was set up, and preachers were sent over a great part of India. Much was accomplished on behalf of women; and in 1872 a Marriage Act for members of the Somaj was passed by the Indian legislature, which legalized union between people of different castes, and fixed on fourteen as the lowest age for the marriage of females. These were important reforms.
Mr. Sen's influence was naturally and necessarily great; but in opposing the venerable leader of the original Somaj he had set an example which others were quite willing to copy.
[Sidenote: Discontent growing.] Several of his followers began to demand more radical reforms than he was willing to grant. The autocracy exercised by Mr. Sen was strongly objected to, and a constitution of the Somaj was demanded. Mr. Sen openly maintained that heaven from time to time raises up men endowed with special powers, and commissioned to introduce new forms or "dispensations" of religion; and his conduct fully proved that he regarded himself as far above his followers. Complaints became louder; and although the eloquence and genius of Keshub were able to keep the rebellious elements from exploding it was evident, as early as 1873, that a crisis was approaching. This came in 1878, when Mr. Sen's daughter was married to the Maharaja of Kuch Behar. The bride was not fourteen, and the bridegroom was sixteen. Now, Mr. Sen had been earnest and successful in getting the Brahmo Marriage Act passed, which ruled that the lowest marriageable age for a woman was fourteen, and for a man eighteen. Here was gross inconsistency. What could explain it? "Ambition," exclaimed great numbers; "the wish to exalt himself and his daughter by alliance with a prince." But Mr. Sen declared that he had consented to the marriage in consequence of an express intimation that such was the will of heaven. Mr. Sen denied miracles, but believed in inspiration; and of his own inspiration he seems to have entertained no doubt. We thus obtain a glimpse into the peculiar working of his mind. Every full conviction, every strong wish of his own he ascribed to divine suggestion. This put him in a position of extreme peril. It was clear that an enthusiastic, imaginative, self-reliant nature like his might thus be borne on to any extent of fanaticism.
[Sidenote: Revolt; a third Samaj. "New Dispensation."] A great revolt from Mr. Sen's authority now took place, and the Sadharan Samaj was organized in May, 1878. An appeal had been made to the members generally, and no fewer than twenty-one provincial Samajes, with more than four hundred members, male and female, joined the new society. This number amounted to about two thirds of the whole body. Keshub and his friends denounced the rebels in very bitter language; and yet, in one point of view, their secession was a relief. Men of abilities equal, and education superior, to his own had hitherto acted as a drag on his movements; he was now delivered from their interference and could deal with the admiring and submissive remnant as he pleased. Ideas that had been working in his mind now attained rapid development. Within two years the flag of the "New Dispensation" was raised; and of that dispensation Mr. Sen was the undoubted head. Very daring was the language Mr. Sen used in a public lecture regarding this new creation. He claimed equality for it with the Jewish and Christian dispensations, and for himself "singular" authority and a divine commission.
[Sidenote: Its creed.] In the Creed of the New Dispensation the name of Christ does not occur. The articles were as follows:
a. One God, one Scripture, one Church. b. Eternal progress of the soul. c. Communion of prophets and saints. d. Fatherhood and motherhood of God. e. Brotherhood of man and sisterhood of woman. f. Harmony of knowledge and holiness, love and work, yoga and asceticism in their highest development. g. Loyalty to sovereign.
[Sidenote: Omission of Christ's name.] The omission of Christ's name is the more remarkable because Mr. Sen spoke much of him in his public lectures. He had said in May, 1879, "None but Jesus, none but Jesus, none but Jesus ever deserved this precious diadem, India; and Jesus shall have it." But he clearly indicated that the Christ he sought was an Indian Christ; one who was "a Hindu in faith," and who would help the Hindus to "realize their national idea of a yogi" (ascetic).
[Sidenote: "Motherhood of God."] Let it be noted that, from the beginning of his career, Mr. Sen had spoken earnestly of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man—though, these great conceptions are not of Hindu origin. It is difficult to see why, in later days, he insisted so much on the "motherhood of God." Perhaps it was a repetition—he probably would have called it an exaltation—of the old Hindu idea, prevalent especially among the worshipers of Siva, that there is a female counterpart—a Sakti—of every divinity. Or, possibly, it may have been to conciliate the worshipers of Durga and Kali, those great goddesses of Bengal.
[Sidenote: Public proclamation said to be from God.] A public proclamation was soon issued, purporting to be from God himself, as India's mother. The whole thing was very startling; many, even of Keshub's friends, declared it blasphemous. Next, in the "Flag Ceremony," the flag or banner of the New Dispensation received a homage scarcely distinguishable from worship. Then—as if in strict imitation of the ancient adoration of Agni, or Fire—a pile of wood was lighted, clarified butter poured on it, and prayers addressed to it, ending thus—"O, brilliant Fire! in thee we behold our resplendent Lord." This was, at least, symbolism run wild; and every one, except those who were prepared to follow their leader to all lengths, saw that in a land like India, wedded to idolatry, it was fearfully perilous.
[Sidenote: "Apostolic Durbar."] In March, 1881, Mr. Sen and his friends introduced celebrations which, to Christian minds, seemed a distressing caricature of the Christian sacraments. Other institutions followed; an Apostolic Durbar (Court of Apostles), for instance, was established. There was no end to Mr. Sen's inventiveness.
In a public lecture delivered in January, 1883, on "Asia's message to Europe," he elaborately expounded the idea that all the great religions are of Asiatic origin, and that all of them are true, and that the one thing required to constitute the faith of the future—the religion of humanity—is the blending of all these varied Oriental systems into one.
[Sidenote: Inconsistencies between Mr. Sen's public and private utterances. Mr. Sen's policy of reserve.] It was not easy to reconcile Mr. Sen's public utterances with his private ones—though far be it from us to tax him with insincerity. Thus, in an interview extending over two hours, which the writer and two missionary friends had with him a week or so before the lecture now referred to, he said he accepted as true and vital all the leading doctrines of the Christian faith, with the exception of the resurrection of Christ. But another fundamental difference remained—he avowedly dissented from the orthodox creed in rejecting the miraculous element in Scripture. At an interview I had with him some time before he earnestly disclaimed all intention to put Christ on a level with Buddha or Mohammed. "I am educating my friends," he said, "to understand and approve of Christianity; I have not yet said my last word about Christ." It is a solemn question, Had he said it when his career was ended? If so, it was far from a satisfactory word. His policy of reserve and adaptation had probably kept him from uttering all that was in his heart; but it was a sorely mistaken policy. Had he temporized less he would have accomplished more.
Since the death of Mr. Sen there has been a violent dispute between his family and the "Apostolic Durbar," on one side, and one of his ablest followers, on the other; and the New Dispensation will probably split in two, if it does not perish altogether.
[Sidenote: The Sadharan Samaj.] In the meantime, the Sadharan Samaj, which broke off from Keshub's party in 1878, has been going on with no small vigor. Vagaries, either in doctrine or rites, have been carefully shunned; its partisans profess a pure Theistic creed and labor diligently in the cause of social reform. Their position is nearly that of Unitarian Christianity, and we fear they are not at present approximating to the full belief of the Church Catholic.
[Sidenote: Movements in western India. Tenets of the Prarthana Sabha.] Very similar in character to the Brahmo Somaj is the Prarthana Somaj in western India. As far back as 1850, or a little earlier, there was formed a society called the Prarthana Sabha (Prayer-meeting). Its leading tenets were as follows:
1. I believe in one God. 2. I renounce idol-worship. 3. I will do my best to lead a moral life. 4. If I commit any sin through the weakness of my moral nature I will repent of it and ask the pardon of God.
The society, after some time, began to languish; but in 1867 it was revived under the name of Prarthana Somaj. Its chief branches are in Bombay, Poona, Ahmedabad, and Surat.