India: What can it teach us? - A Course of Lectures Delivered before the University Of Cambridge
by F. Max Mueller
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

What then, you may ask, do we find in that ancient Sanskrit literature and cannot find anywhere else? My answer is: We find there the Aryan man, whom we know in his various characters, as Greek, Roman, German, Celt, and Slave, in an entirely new character. Whereas in his migrations northward his active and political energies are called out and brought to their highest perfection, we find the other side of the human character, the passive and meditative, carried to its fullest growth in India. In some of the hymns of the Rig-Veda we can still watch an earlier phase. We see the Aryan tribes taking possession of the land, and under the guidance of such warlike gods as Indra and the Maruts, defending their new homes against the assaults of the black-skinned aborigines as well as against the inroads of later Aryan colonists. But that period of war soon came to an end, and when the great mass of the people had once settled down in their homesteads, the military and political duties seem to have been monopolized by what we call a caste,[110] that is by a small aristocracy, while the great majority of the people were satisfied with spending their days within the narrow spheres of their villages, little concerned about the outside world, and content with the gifts that nature bestowed on them, without much labor. We read in the Mahabharata (XIII. 22):

"There is fruit on the trees in every forest, which every one who likes may pluck without trouble. There is cool and sweet water in the pure rivers here and there. There is a soft bed made of the twigs of beautiful creepers. And yet wretched people suffer pain at the door of the rich!"

At first sight we may feel inclined to call this quiet enjoyment of life, this mere looking on, a degeneracy rather than a growth. It seems so different from what we think life ought to be. Yet, from a higher point of view it may appear that those Southern Aryans have chosen the good part, or at least the part good for them, while we, Northern Aryans, have been careful and troubled about many things.

It is at all events a problem worth considering whether, as there is in nature a South and a North, there are not two hemispheres also in human nature, both worth developing—the active, combative, and political on one side, the passive, meditative, and philosophical on the other; and for the solution of that problem no literature furnishes such ample materials as that of the Veda, beginning with the Hymns and ending with the Upanishads. We enter into a new world—not always an attractive one, least of all to us; but it possesses one charm, it is real, it is of natural growth, and like everything of natural growth, I believe it had a hidden purpose, and was intended to teach us some kind of lesson that is worth learning, and that certainly we could learn nowhere else. We are not called upon either to admire or to despise that ancient Vedic literature; we have simply to study and to try to understand it.

There have been silly persons who have represented the development of the Indian mind as superior to any other, nay, who would make us go back to the Veda or to the sacred writings of the Buddhists in order to find there a truer religion, a purer morality, and a more sublime philosophy than our own. I shall not even mention the names of these writers or the titles of their works. But I feel equally impatient when I see other scholars criticising the ancient literature of India as if it were the work of the nineteenth century, as if it represented an enemy that must be defeated, and that can claim no mercy at our hands. That the Veda is full of childish, silly, even to our minds monstrous conceptions, who would deny? But even these monstrosities are interesting and instructive; nay, many of them, if we can but make allowance for different ways of thought and language, contain germs of truth and rays of light, all the more striking because breaking upon us through the veil of the darkest night.

Here lies the general, the truly human interest which the ancient literature of India possesses, and which gives it a claim on the attention, not only of Oriental scholars or of students of ancient history, but of every educated man and woman.

There are problems which we may put aside for a time, ay, which we must put aside while engaged each in our own hard struggle for life, but which will recur for all that, and which, whenever they do recur, will stir us more deeply than we like to confess to others, or even to ourselves. It is true that with us one day only out of seven is set apart for rest and meditation, and for the consideration of what the Greeks called [Greek: ta megista]—"the greatest things." It is true that that seventh day also is passed by many of us either in mere church-going routine or in thoughtless rest. But whether on week-days or on Sundays, whether in youth or in old age, there are moments, rare though they be, yet for all that the most critical moments of our life, when the old simple questions of humanity return to us in all their intensity, and we ask ourselves, What are we? What is this life on earth meant for? Are we to have no rest here, but to be always toiling and building up our own happiness out of the ruins of the happiness of our neighbors? And when we have made our home on earth as comfortable as it can be made with steam and gas and electricity, are we really so much happier than the Hindu in his primitive homestead?

With us, as I said just now, in these Northern climates, where life is and always must be a struggle, and a hard struggle too, and where accumulation of wealth has become almost a necessity to guard against the uncertainties of old age or the accidents inevitable in our complicated social life—with us, I say, and in our society, hours of rest and meditation are but few and far between. It was the same as long as we know the history of the Teutonic races; it was the same even with Romans and Greeks. The European climate, with its long cold winters, in many places also the difficulty of cultivating the soil, the conflict of interests between small communities, has developed the instinct of self-preservation (not to say self-indulgence) to such an extent that most of the virtues and most of the vices of European society can be traced back to that source. Our own character was formed under these influences, by inheritance, by education, by necessity. We all lead a fighting-life; our highest ideal of life is a fighting-life. We work till we can work no longer, and are proud, like old horses, to die in harness. We point with inward satisfaction to what we and our ancestors have achieved by hard work, in founding a family or a business, a town or a state. We point to the marvels of what we call civilization—our splendid cities, our high-roads and bridges, our ships, our railways, our telegraphs, our electric light, our pictures, our statues, our music, our theatres. We imagine we have made life on earth quite perfect—in some cases so perfect that we are almost sorry to leave it again. But the lesson which both Brahmans and Buddhists are never tired of teaching is that this life is but a journey from one village to another, and not a resting-place. Thus we read:[111]

"As a man journeying to another village may enjoy a night's rest in the open air, but, after leaving his resting-place, proceeds again on his journey the next day, thus father, mother, wife, and wealth are all but like a night's rest to us—wise people do not cling to them forever."

Instead of simply despising this Indian view of life, might we not pause for a moment and consider whether their philosophy of life is entirely wrong, and ours entirely right; whether this earth was really meant for work only (for with us pleasure also has been changed into work), for constant hurry and flurry; or whether we, sturdy Northern Aryans, might not have been satisfied with a little less of work, and a little less of so-called pleasure, but with a little more of thought and a little more of rest. For, short as our life is, we are not mere may-flies, that are born in the morning to die at night. We have a past to look back to and a future to look forward to, and it may be that some of the riddles of the future find their solution in the wisdom of the past.

Then why should we always fix our eyes on the present only? Why should we always be racing, whether for wealth or for power or for fame? Why should we never rest and be thankful?

I do not deny that the manly vigor, the silent endurance, the public spirit, and the private virtues too, of the citizens of European states represent one side, it may be a very important side, of the destiny which man has to fulfil on earth.

But there is surely another side of our nature, and possibly another destiny open to man in his journey across this life, which should not be entirely ignored. If we turn our eyes to the East, and particularly to India, where life is, or at all events was, no very severe struggle, where the climate was mild, the soil fertile, where vegetable food in small quantities sufficed to keep the body in health and strength, where the simplest hut or cave in a forest was all the shelter required, and where social life never assumed the gigantic, ay monstrous proportions of a London or Paris, but fulfilled itself within the narrow boundaries of village-communities—was it not, I say, natural there, or, if you like, was it not intended there, that another side of human nature should be developed—not the active, the combative, and acquisitive, but the passive, the meditative, and reflective? Can we wonder that the Aryans, who stepped as strangers into some of the happy fields and valleys along the Indus or the Ganges, should have looked upon life as a perpetual Sunday or holiday, or a kind of long vacation, delightful so long as it lasts, but which must come to an end sooner or later? Why should they have accumulated wealth? why should they have built palaces? why should they have toiled day and night? After having provided from day to day for the small necessities of the body, they thought they had the right, it may be the duty, to look round upon this strange exile, to look inward upon themselves, upward to something not themselves, and to see whether they could not understand a little of the true purport of that mystery which we call life on earth.

Of course we should call such notions of life dreamy, unreal, unpractical, but may not they look upon our notions of life as short-sighted, fussy, and, in the end, most unpractical, because involving a sacrifice of life for the sake of life?

No doubt these are both extreme views, and they have hardly ever been held or realized in that extreme form by any nation, whether in the East or in the West. We are not always plodding—we sometimes allow ourselves an hour of rest and peace and thought—nor were the ancient people of India always dreaming and meditating on [Greek: ta megista], on the great problems of life, but, when called upon, we know that they too could fight like heroes, and that, without machinery, they could by patient toil raise even the meanest handiwork into a work of art, a real joy to the maker and to the buyer.

All then that I wish to put clearly before you is this, that the Aryan man, who had to fulfil his mission in India, might naturally be deficient in many of the practical and fighting virtues, which were developed in the Northern Aryans by the very struggle without which they could not have survived, but that his life on earth had not therefore been entirely wasted. His very view of life, though we cannot adopt it in this Northern climate, may yet act as a lesson and a warning to us, not, for the sake of life, to sacrifice the highest objects of life.

The greatest conqueror of antiquity stood in silent wonderment before the Indian Gymnosophists, regretting that he could not communicate with them in their own language, and that their wisdom could not reach him except through the contaminating channels of sundry interpreters.

That need not be so at present. Sanskrit is no longer a difficult language, and I can assure every young Indian civil servant that if he will but go to the fountain-head of Indian wisdom, he will find there, among much that is strange and useless, some lessons of life which are worth learning, and which we in our haste are too apt to forget or to despise.

Let me read you a few sayings only, which you may still hear repeated in India when, after the heat of the day, the old and the young assemble together under the shadow of their village tree—sayings which to them seem truth; to us, I fear, mere truism!

"As all have to sleep together laid low in the earth, why do foolish people wish to injure one another?[112]

"A man seeking for eternal happiness (moksha) might obtain it by a hundredth part of the sufferings which a foolish man endures in the pursuit of riches.[113]

"Poor men eat more excellent bread than the rich: for hunger gives it sweetness.[114]

"Our body is like the foam of the sea, our life like a bird, our company with those whom we love does not last forever; why then sleepest thou, my son?[115]

"As two logs of wood meet upon the ocean and then separate again, thus do living creatures meet.[116]

"Our meeting with wives, relations, and friends occurs on our journey. Let a man therefore see clearly where he is, whither he will go, what he is, why tarrying here, and why grieving for anything.[117]

"Family, wife, children, our very body and our wealth, they all pass away. They do not belong to us. What then is ours? Our good and our evil deeds.[118]

"When thou goest away from here, no one will follow thee. Only thy good and thy evil deeds, they will follow thee wherever thou goest.[119]

"Whatever act, good or bad, a man performs, of that by necessity he receives the recompense.[120]

"According to the Veda[121] the soul (life) is eternal, but the body of all creatures is perishable. When the body is destroyed, the soul departs elsewhere, fettered by the bonds of our works.

"If I know that my own body is not mine, and yet that the whole earth is mine, and again that it is both mine and thine, no harm can happen then.[122]

"As a man puts on new garments in this world, throwing aside those which he formerly wore, even so the Self[123] of man puts on new bodies which are in accordance with his acts.[124]

"No weapons will hurt the Self of man, no fire will burn it, no water moisten it, no wind will dry it up.

"It is not to be hurt, not to be burnt, not to be moistened, not to be dried up. It is imperishable, unchanging, immovable, without beginning.

"It is said to be immaterial, passing all understanding, and unchangeable. If you know the Self of man to be all this, grieve not.

"There is nothing higher than the attainment of the knowledge of the Self.[125]

"All living creatures are the dwelling of the Self who lies enveloped in matter, who is immortal, and spotless. Those who worship the Self, the immovable, living in a movable dwelling, become immortal.

"Despising everything else, a wise man should strive after the knowledge of the Self."

We shall have to return to this subject again, for this knowledge of the Self is really the Vedanta, that is, the end, the highest goal of the Veda. The highest wisdom of Greece was "to know ourselves;" the highest wisdom of India is "to know our Self."

If I were asked to indicate by one word the distinguishing feature of the Indian character, as I have here tried to sketch it, I should say it was transcendent, using that word, not in its strict technical sense, as fixed by Kant, but in its more general acceptation, as denoting a mind bent on transcending the limits of empirical knowledge. There are minds perfectly satisfied with empirical knowledge, a knowledge of facts, well ascertained, well classified, and well labelled. Such knowledge may assume very vast proportions, and, if knowledge is power, it may impart great power, real intellectual power to the man who can wield and utilize it. Our own age is proud of that kind of knowledge, and to be content with it, and never to attempt to look beyond it, is, I believe, one of the happiest states of mind to be in.[126]

But, for all that, there is a Beyond, and he who has once caught a glance of it, is like a man who has gazed at the sun—wherever he looks, everywhere he sees the image of the sun. Speak to him of finite things, and he will tell you that the Finite is impossible and meaningless without the Infinite. Speak to him of death, and he will call it birth; speak to him of time, and he will call it the mere shadow of eternity. To us the senses seem to be the organs, the tools, the most powerful engines of knowledge; to him they are, if not actually deceivers, at all events heavy fetters, checking the flight of the spirit. To us this earth, this life, all that we see, and hear, and touch is certain. Here, we feel, is our home, here lie our duties, here our pleasures. To him this earth is a thing that once was not, and that again will cease to be; this life is a short dream from which we shall soon awake. Of nothing he professes greater ignorance than of what to others seems to be most certain, namely what we see, and hear, and touch; and as to our home, wherever that may be, he knows that certainly it is not here.

Do not suppose that such men are mere dreamers. Far from it! And if we can only bring ourselves to be quite honest to ourselves, we shall have to confess that at times we all have been visited by these transcendental aspirations, and have been able to understand what Wordsworth meant when he spoke of those

"Obstinate questionings Of sense and outward things, Fallings from us, vanishings; Blank misgivings of a creature Moving about in worlds not realized."

The transcendent temperament acquired no doubt a more complete supremacy in the Indian character than anywhere else; but no nation, and no individual, is entirely without that "yearning beyond;" indeed we all know it under a more familiar name—namely, Religion.

It is necessary, however, to distinguish between religion and a religion, quite as much as in another branch of philosophy we have to distinguish between language and a language or many languages. A man may accept a religion, he may be converted to the Christian religion, and he may change his own particular religion from time to time, just as he may speak different languages. But in order to have a religion, a man must have religion. He must once at least in his life have looked beyond the horizon of this world, and carried away in his mind an impression of the Infinite, which will never leave him again. A being satisfied with the world of sense, unconscious of its finite nature, undisturbed by the limited or negative character of all perceptions of the senses, would be incapable of any religious concepts. Only when the finite character of all human knowledge has been received is it possible for the human mind to conceive that which is beyond the Finite, call it what you like, the Beyond, the Unseen, the Infinite, the Supernatural, or the Divine. That step must have been taken before religion of any kind becomes possible. What kind of religion it will be, depends on the character of the race which elaborates it, its surroundings in nature, and its experience in history.

Now we may seem to know a great many religions—I speak here, of course, of ancient religions only, of what are sometimes called national or autochthonous religions—not of those founded in later times by individual prophets or reformers.

Yet, among those ancient religions we seldom know, what after all is the most important point, their origin and their gradual growth. The Jewish religion is represented to us as perfect and complete from the very first, and it is with great difficulty that we can discover its real beginnings and its historical growth. And take the Greek and the Roman religions, take the religions of the Teutonic, Slavonic, or Celtic tribes, and you will find that their period of growth has always passed, long before we know them, and that from the time we know them, all their changes are purely metamorphic—changes in form of substances ready at hand. Now let us look to the ancient inhabitants of India. With them, first of all, religion was not only one interest by the side of many. It was the all-absorbing interest; it embraced not only worship and prayer, but what we call philosophy, morality, law, and government—all was pervaded by religion. Their whole life was to them a religion—everything else was, as it were, a mere concession made to the ephemeral requirements of this life.

What then can we learn from the ancient religious literature of India, or from the Veda?

It requires no very profound knowledge of Greek religion and Greek language to discover in the Greek deities the original outlines of certain physical phenomena. Every schoolboy knows that in Zeus there is something of the sky, in Poseidon of the sea, in Hades of the lower world, in Apollo of the sun, in Artemis of the moon, in Hephaestos of the fire. But for all that, there is, from a Greek point of view, a very considerable difference between Zeus and the sky, between Poseidon and the sea, between Apollo and the sun, between Artemis and the moon.

Now what do we find in the Veda? No doubt here and there a few philosophical hymns which have been quoted so often that people have begun to imagine that the Veda is a kind of collection of Orphic hymns. We also find some purely mythological hymns, in which the Devas or gods have assumed nearly as much dramatic personality as in the Homeric hymns.

But the great majority of Vedic hymns consists in simple invocations of the fire, the water, the sky, the sun, and the storms, often under the same names which afterward became the proper names of Hindu deities, but as yet nearly free from all that can be called irrational or mythological. There is nothing irrational, nothing I mean we cannot enter into or sympathize with, in people imploring the storms to cease, or the sky to rain, or the sun to shine. I say there is nothing irrational in it, though perhaps it might be more accurate to say that there is nothing in it that would surprise anybody who is acquainted with the growth of human reason, or at all events, of childish reason. It does not matter how we call the tendency of the childish mind to confound the manifestation with that which manifests itself, effect with cause, act with agent. Call it Animism, Personification, Metaphor, or Poetry, we all know what is meant by it, in the most general sense of all these names; we all know that it exists, and the youngest child who beats the chair against which he has fallen, or who scolds his dog, or who sings: "Rain, rain, go to Spain," can teach us that, however irrational all this may seem to us, it is perfectly rational, natural, ay inevitable in the first periods, or the childish age of the human mind.

Now it is exactly this period in the growth of ancient religion, which was always presupposed or postulated, but was absent everywhere else, that is clearly put before us in the hymns of the Rig-Veda. It is this ancient chapter in the history of the human mind which has been preserved to us in Indian literature, while we look for it in vain in Greece or Rome or elsewhere.

It has been a favorite idea of those who call themselves "students of man," or anthropologists, that in order to know the earliest or so-called prehistoric phases in the growth of man, we should study the life of savage nations, as we may watch it still in some parts of Asia, Africa, Polynesia, and America.

There is much truth in this, and nothing can be more useful than the observations which we find collected in the works of such students as Waitz, Tylor, Lubbock, and many others. But let us be honest, and confess, first of all, that the materials on which we have here to depend are often extremely untrustworthy.

Nor is this all. What do we know of savage tribes beyond the last chapter of their history? Do we ever get an insight into their antecedents? Can we understand, what after all is everywhere the most important and the most instructive lesson to learn, how they have come to be what they are? There is indeed their language, and in it we see traces of growth that point to distant ages, quite as much as the Greek of Homer or the Sanskrit of the Vedas. Their language proves indeed that these so-called heathens, with their complicated systems of mythology, their artificial customs, their unintelligible whims and savageries, are not the creatures of to-day or yesterday. Unless we admit a special creation for these savages, they must be as old as the Hindus, the Greeks and Romans, as old as we ourselves. We may assume, of course, if we like, that their life has been stationary, and that they are to-day what the Hindus were no longer 3000 years ago. But that is a mere guess, and is contradicted by the facts of their language. They may have passed through ever so many vicissitudes, and what we consider as primitive may be, for all we know, a relapse into savagery, or a corruption of something that was more rational and intelligible in former stages. Think only of the rules that determine marriage among the lowest of savage tribes. Their complication passes all understanding, all seems a chaos of prejudice, superstition, pride, vanity, and stupidity. And yet we catch a glimpse here and there that there was some reason in most of that unreason; we see how sense dwindled away into nonsense, custom into ceremony, ceremony into farce. Why then should this surface of savage life represent to us the lowest stratum of human life, the very beginnings of civilization, simply because we cannot dig beyond that surface?

Now, I do not wish to be misunderstood. I do not claim for the ancient Indian literature any more than I should willingly concede to the fables and traditions and songs of savage nations, such as we can study at present in what we call a state of nature. Both are important documents to the student of the Science of Man. I simply say that in the Veda we have a nearer approach to a beginning, and an intelligible beginning, than in the wild invocations of Hottentots or Bushmen. But when I speak of a beginning, I do not mean an absolute beginning, a beginning of all things. Again and again the question has been asked whether we could bring ourselves to believe that man, as soon as he could stand on his legs, instead of crawling on all fours, as he is supposed to have done, burst forth into singing Vedic hymns? But who has ever maintained this? Surely whoever has eyes to see can see in every Vedic hymn, ay, in every Vedic word, as many rings within rings as are in the oldest tree that was ever hewn down in the forest.

I shall say even more, and I have said it before, namely, that supposing that the Vedic hymns were composed between 1500 and 1000 B.C., we can hardly understand how, at so early a date, the Indians had developed ideas which to us sound decidedly modern. I should give anything if I could escape from the conclusion that the collection of the Vedic Hymns, a collection in ten books, existed at least 1000 B.C., that is, about 500 years before the rise of Buddhism. I do not mean to say that something may not be discovered hereafter to enable us to refer that collection to a later date. All I say is that, so far as we know at present, so far as all honest Sanskrit scholars know at present, we cannot well bring our pre-Buddhistic literature into narrower limits than five hundred years.

What then is to be done? We must simply keep our preconceived notions of what people call primitive humanity in abeyance for a time, and if we find that people three thousand years ago were familiar with ideas that seem novel and nineteenth-century-like to us, well, we must somewhat modify our conceptions of the primitive savage, and remember that things hid from the wise and prudent have sometimes been revealed to babes.

I maintain then that for a study of man, or, if you like, for a study of Aryan humanity, there is nothing in the world equal in importance with the Veda. I maintain that to everybody who cares for himself, for his ancestors, for his history, or for his intellectual development, a study of Vedic literature is indispensable; and that, as an element of liberal education, it is far more important and far more improving than the reigns of Babylonian and Persian kings.

It is curious to observe the reluctance with which these facts are accepted, particularly by those to whom they ought to be most welcome, I mean the students of anthropology. Instead of devoting all their energy to the study of these documents, which have come upon us like a miracle, they seem only bent on inventing excuses why they need not be studied. Let it not be supposed that, because there are several translations of the Rig-Veda in English, French and German, therefore all that the Veda can teach us has been learned. Far from it. Every one of these translations has been put forward as tentative only. I myself, though during the last thirty years I have given translations of a number of the more important hymns, have only ventured to publish a specimen of what I think a translation of the Veda ought to be; and that translation, that traduction raisonnee as I ventured to call it, of twelve hymns only, fills a whole volume. We are still on the mere surface of Vedic literature, and yet our critics are ready with ever so many arguments why the Veda can teach us nothing as to a primitive state of man. If they mean by primitive that which came absolutely first, then they ask for something which they will never get, not even if they discovered the private correspondence of Adam and Eve, or of the first Homo and Femina sapiens. We mean by primitive the earliest state of man of which, from the nature of the case, we can hope to gain any knowledge; and here, next to the archives hidden away in the secret drawers of language, in the treasury of words common to all the Aryan tribes, and in the radical elements of which each word is compounded, there is no literary relic more full of lessons to the true anthropologist, to the true student of mankind, than the Rig-Veda.


[Footnote 89: See Cunningham, "Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum," vol. i., 1877.]

[Footnote 90: Kulavagga V. 33, 1. The expression used is Khandaso aropema'ti.]

[Footnote 91: See Rhys Davids, Buddhist Suttas, "Sacred Books of the East," vol. xi., p. 142.]

[Footnote 92: The Brahmo-Samaj, a theistic school.—A. W.]

[Footnote 93: The Liberal, March 12, 1882.]

[Footnote 94: See R. G. Bhandarkar, Consideration of the date of the Mahabharata, Journal of the R. A. S. of Bombay, 1872; Talboys Wheeler, "History of India," ii. 365, 572; Holtzmann, "Ueber das alte indische Epos," 1881, p. 1; Phear, "The Aryan Village in India and Ceylon," p. 19. That the Mahabharata was publicly read in the seventh century A.D., we learn from Bana; see Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Bombay, vol. x., p. 87, note.—A. W.]

[Footnote 95: "Hibbert Lectures," p. 157.]

[Footnote 96: "Every person acquainted with the spoken speech of India knows perfectly well that its elevation to the dignity and usefulness of written speech has depended, and must still depend, upon its borrowing largely from its parent or kindred source; that no man who is ignorant of Arabic or Sanskrit can write Hindustani or Bengali with elegance, or purity, or precision, and that the condemnation of the classical languages to oblivion would consign the dialects to utter helplessness and irretrievable barbarism."—H. H. Wilson, Asiatic Journal, Jan., 1836; vol xix., p. 15.]

[Footnote 97: It would be a most useful work for any young scholar to draw up a list of Sanskrit books which are quoted by later writers, but have not yet been met with in Indian libraries.]

[Footnote 98: "Hibbert Lectures," p. 133.]

[Footnote 99: This vague term, Turanian, so much used in the Parsi Scriptures, is used here in the sense of unclassified ethnically.—A. W.]

[Footnote 100: "Recherches sur les langues Tartares," 1820, vol. i., p. 327; "Lassen," I. A., vol. ii., p. 359.]

[Footnote 101: Lassen, who at first rejected the identification of Gats and Yueh-chi, was afterward inclined to accept it.]

[Footnote 102: The Yueh-chi appear to have begun their invasion about 130 B.C. At this period the Grecian kingdom of Bactria, after a brilliant existence of a century, had fallen before the Tochari, a Scythian people. The new invaders, called [Greek: Ephthalitai] by the Greeks, had been driven out of their old abodes and now occupied the country lying between Parthia at the west, the Oxus and Surkhab, and extending into Little Thibet. They were herdsmen and nomads. At this time India was governed by the descendants of Asoka, the great propagandist of Buddhism. About twenty years before the Christian era, or probably earlier, the Yueh-chi, under Karranos, crossed the Indus and conquered the country, which remained subject to them for three centuries. The Chinese historians Sze-ma Tsien and Han-yo, give these accounts, which are however confirmed by numismatic and other evidence.—A. W.]

[Footnote 103: "Hibbert Lectures," p. 154, note.]

[Footnote 104: In June, 1882, a Conference on Buddhism was held at Sion College, to discuss the real or apparent coincidences between the religions of Buddha and Christ. Professor Mueller addressed two letters to the secretary, which were afterward published, declaring such a discussion in general terms almost an impossibility. "The name of Buddhism," he says, "is applied to religious opinions, not only of the most varying, but of a decidedly opposite character, held by people on the highest and lowest stages of civilization, divided into endless sects, nay, founded on two distinct codes of canonical writings." Two Buddhist priests who were reading Sanskrit with him would hardly recognize the Buddhism now practiced in Ceylon as their own religion.

He also acknowledged the startling coincidences between Buddhism and Christianity, and that Buddhism existed at least 400 years before Christianity. He would go farther, and feel extremely grateful if anybody would point out to him the historical channels through which Buddhism had influenced early Christianity. "I have been looking for such channels all my life," says he, "but hitherto I have found none. What I have found is that for some of the most startling coincidences there are historical antecedents on both sides; and if we knew these antecedents, the coincidences become far less startling. If I do find in certain Buddhist works doctrines identically the same as in Christianity, so far from being frightened, I feel delighted, for surely truth is not the less true because it is believed by the majority of the human race.

"I believe we have made some progress during the last thirty years. I still remember the time when all heathen religions were looked upon as the work of the devil.(A1) We know now that they are stages in a growth, and in a growth not determined by an accidental environment only, but by an original purpose, a purpose to be realized in the history of the human race as a whole. Even missionaries have begun to approach the heathen in a new and better spirit. They look for what may safely be preserved in the religion of their pupils, and on that common ground they try to erect a purer faith and a better worship, instead of attempting to destroy the sacred foundations of religion, which, I believe, exist, or at least, existed, in every human heart."

He also states that the publishing of the "Rig-Veda and Commentary," his life-work, had produced a complete revolution both in our views of ancient religions and in the religious life of the Hindus themselves; and this not so much on the surface as in its deepest foundations.—A. W.

A1: We have no knowledge of such a belief. The common Christian theory is that Christianity is as old as the garden of Eden, and that truth in other religions is the result of contact, somewhere, at some time, with Christianity.—AM. PUBS.]

[Footnote 105: Published by Fleet in the "Indian Antiquary," 1876, pp. 68-73, and first mentioned by Dr. Bhao Daji, Journal Asiatic Society, Bombay Branch, vol. ix.]

[Footnote 106: Sir William Jones fixed their date at 1280 B.C.; Elphinstone as 900 B.C. It has recently been stated that they could not reasonably be placed later than the fifth century B.C.]

[Footnote 107: A very useful indication of the age of the Dharma-sutras, as compared with the metrical Dharma-sastras or Samhitas, is to be found in the presence or absence in them of any reference to written documents. Such written documents, if they existed, could hardly be passed over in silence in law-books, particularly when the nature of witnesses is discussed in support of loans, pledges, etc. Now, we see that in treating of the law of debt and debtors,(A1) the Dharma-sutras of Gautama, Baudhayana, and Apastamba never mention evidence in writing. Vasishtha only refers to written evidence, but in a passage which may be interpolated,(A2) considering that in other respects his treatment of the law of debt is very crude. Manu's metrical code shows here again its usual character. It is evidently based on ancient originals, and when it simply reproduces them, gives us the impression of great antiquity. But it freely admits more modern ingredients, and does so in our case. It speaks of witnesses, fixes their minimum number at three, and discusses very minutely their qualifications and disqualifications, without saying a word about written documents. But in one place (VIII. 168) it speaks of the valuelessness of written agreements obtained by force, thus recognizing the practical employment of writing for commercial transactions. Professor Jolly,(A3) it is true, suggests that this verse may be a later addition, particularly as it occurs totidem verbis in Narada (IV. 55); but the final composition of Manu's Samhita, such as we possess it, can hardly be referred to a period when writing was not yet used, at all events for commercial purposes. Manu's "Law-book" is older than Yagnavalkya's, in which writing has become a familiar subject. Vishnu often agrees literally with Yagnavalkya, while Narada, as showing the fullest development of the law of debt, is most likely the latest.(A4)

See Brihatsamhita, ed. Kern, pref., p. 43; Journal of the R. A. S., 1875, p. 106.

A1: "Ueber das Indische Schuldrecht von J. Jolly," p. 291.

A2: Jolly, l. c., p. 322.

A3: L. c., p. 290.

A4: Jolly, l. c., p. 322. He places Katyayana and Brihaspati after Narada, possibly Vyasa and Harita also. See also Stenzler, Z. d D. M. G. ix. 664.]

[Footnote 108: Professor Mueller rejects the theory of the Samvat era and the Renaissance of Sanskrit literature in the first century. Instead, he acknowledges the existence of a Saka era, bearing date with the coronation of Kanishka, 78 A.D. Although this monarch was a patron of the Buddhists, and the third collection of their sacred books was made under his auspices, our author considers the period of Saka or Yuen-chi domination from 24 B.C. till 178 A.D. as a literary interregnum. He is not willing to suggest any date for the Mahabharata or Ramayana, which appear to have been then extant. He exonerates Indian epic poetry, however, from any imputation of Greek influence. Not so with astronomy. Aryabhata, the elder, who described the motion of the earth very accurately, he considers to have had no predecessors; and also cites other Indian authors who described the twelve signs of the zodiac with Greek names or their equivalents, and assigned each to a region in the body of the Creator, as we now see it marked out in our almanacs. In this matter he is certainly plausible.

The period of the Renaissance and the reign and proper era of Vikramaditya are set down at about 550 A.D. He follows Dr. Bhao Daji, and is sustained by Mr. Fergusson, author of "Tree and Serpent Worship," and other works on religious architecture. It was the period of learned and literary men, as well as of active religious controversy. "Believers in Buddha and believers in the Veda lived together at this time," he remarks, "very much as Protestants and Roman Catholics do at the present day—fighting when there is an opportunity or necessity for it, but otherwise sharing the same air as fellow-creatures." Among a crowd of others we may instance Dignaga, a Buddhist, Kalidasa, a Siva worshipper, and Manatunga, a Gaina, as frequenting the royal court. Vasubandhu, to whom the revival of Buddhist literature was largely due, was the son of a Brahman and a student of the Nyaya philosophy; as, indeed, Hiouen-thsang, the Chinese traveller, also studied logic under a Brahmana teacher.

Vikramaditya oscillated between all parties. Having quarrelled with the King of Kasmira and Manorhita, the great Buddhist teacher at the convent near Peshawer, he called an assembly of Sastrikas and Sramanas, at which the latter were denounced. He also placed Matrigupta (Kalidasa?) over that country. At his death, however, the regal authority was surrendered to the legitimate king, who in his turn reinstated Siladitya, the successor of Vikrama, on the throne. This king also called an assembly of divines, and the Buddhists were restored to their former position. As they seem to have constituted the principal men of learning, I am disposed to believe that they were the actual restorers of the golden period to India. The "Nine Gems," Professor Mueller is very confident, belong to this period. He declares that the philosophical Sutras have no ascertained date prior to 300 A.D.

According to him, we need not refer many famous authors to a period anterior to the fifth century. Kalidasa, from being the contemporary of Augustus, becomes the contemporary of Justinian, and the very books which were most admired by Sanskrit students as specimens of ancient Indian poetry and wisdom find their rightful place in the period of literary renaissance, coinciding with an age of renewed literary activity in Persia, soon to be followed there, as later in India, by the great Mohammedan conquests. It appears to me that he is altogether too iconoclastic. It is more than probable that the apparent lateness of date is due to the destruction of books when the Buddhists were driven out of India. It would be as logical, it seems to me, to assign a post-Christian date to the Vendidad and Yasna because they had been lost and were collected anew under the auspices of a Sassanid king. We are told in the second book of the Maccabees that Antiochus Epiphanes burned the Hebrew Scriptures, and that Judas Makkabaeus made a new collection; yet nobody pretends that they ought to be assigned to the second century B.C. In fact, we must in due sincerity give some room to faith.

Astronomy was also studied. Aryabhatta the elder had described the earth as making a revolution which produced the daily rising and setting of the sun. Professor Mueller thinks he had no predecessors. Varahamihira wrote during the reign of Vikramaditya, and employs the Yuga in opposition to the Saka era. It is apparent, however, that the Greek zodiac was employed. Badarayana describes the pictorial representations of the Twelve Signs and their relation to the body of Brahman or the Creator:

"The Ram is the head; the face of the Creator is the Bull; the breast would be the Man-pair; the heart, the Crab; the Lion, the stomach; the Maid, the hip; the Balance-bearer, the belly; the eighth (Scorpion), the membrum; the Archer, his pair of thighs; the Makara, his pair of knees; the Pot, his pair of legs; the Fish-pair, his two feet." Another writer gives them in like series as the members of Kala or Time. Other evidence seems even more conclusive; Varahamihira giving the actual Greek names in a Sanskrit dress.—A. W.]

[Footnote 109: Kern, Preface to "Brihatsamahita," p. 20.]

[Footnote 110: During times of conquest and migration, such as are represented to us in the hymns of the Rig-Veda, the system of castes, as it is described, for instance, in the Laws of Manu, would have been a simple impossibility. It is doubtful whether such a system was ever more than a social ideal, but even for such an ideal the materials would have been wanting during the period when the Aryas were first taking possession of the land of the Seven Rivers. On the other hand, even during that early period, there must have been a division of labor, and hence we expect to find and do find in the gramas of the Five Nations, warriors, sometimes called nobles, leaders, kings; counsellors, sometimes called priests, prophets, judges; and working men, whether ploughers, or builders, or road-makers. These three divisions we can clearly perceive even in the early hymns of the Rig-Veda.]

[Footnote 111: Boehtlingk, Sprueche, 5101.]

[Footnote 112: Mahabh. XI. 121.]

[Footnote 113: Pankat. II. 127 (117).]

[Footnote 114: Mahabh. V. 1144.]

[Footnote 115: L. c. XII. 12050.]

[Footnote 116: L. c. XII. 869.]

[Footnote 117: L. c. XII. 872.]

[Footnote 118: L. c. XII. 12453.]

[Footnote 119: L. c. XII. 12456.]

[Footnote 120: L. c. III. 13846 (239).]

[Footnote 121: L. c. III. 13864.]

[Footnote 122: Kam. Nitis, 1, 23 (Boehtlingk, 918).]

[Footnote 123: Atman, see Lecture VII.—A. W.]

[Footnote 124: Vishnu-sutras XX. 50-53.]

[Footnote 125: Apastamba Dharma-sutras I. 8, 22.]

[Footnote 126: Can a state be justly regarded as one of happiness, in which the essential being is overlooked and not regarded; whereas that subtler essence is the reality which gives life, energy, and purity to all our motives? Is to be "of the earth, earthy," a greater felicity than to acknowledge that which is from heaven? I trow not.—A. W.]



It may be quite true that controversy often does more harm than good, that it encourages the worst of all talents, that of plausibility, not to say dishonesty, and generally leaves the world at large worse confounded than it was before. It has been said that no clever lawyer would shrink from taking a brief to prove that the earth forms the centre of the world, and, with all respect for English juries, it is not impossible that even in our days he might gain a verdict against Galileo. Nor do I deny that there is a power and vitality in truth which in the end overcomes and survives all opposition, as shown by the very doctrine of Galileo which at present is held by hundreds and thousands who would find it extremely difficult to advance one single argument in its support. I am ready to admit also that those who have done the best work, and have contributed most largely toward the advancement of knowledge and the progress of truth, have seldom wasted their time in controversy, but have marched on straight, little concerned either about applause on the right or abuse on the left. All this is true, perfectly true, and yet I feel that I cannot escape from devoting the whole of a lecture to the answering of certain objections which have been raised against the views which I have put forward with regard to the character and the historical importance of Vedic literature. We must not forget that the whole subject is new, the number of competent judges small, and mistakes not only possible, but almost inevitable. Besides, there are mistakes and mistakes, and the errors of able men are often instructive, nay one might say sometimes almost indispensable for the discovery of truth. There are criticisms which may be safely ignored, criticisms for the sake of criticism, if not inspired by meaner motives. But there are doubts and difficulties which suggest themselves naturally, objections which have a right to be heard, and the very removal of which forms the best approach to the stronghold of truth. Nowhere has this principle been so fully recognized and been acted on as in Indian literature. Whatever subject is started, the rule is that the argument should begin with the purvapaksha, with all that can be said against a certain opinion. Every possible objection is welcome, if only it is not altogether frivolous and absurd, and then only follows the uttarapaksha, with all that can be said against these objections and in support of the original opinion. Only when this process has been fully gone through is it allowed to represent an opinion as siddhanta, or established.

Therefore, before opening the pages of the Veda, and giving you a description of the poetry, the religion, and philosophy of the ancient inhabitants of India, I thought it right and necessary to establish, first of all, certain points without which it would be impossible to form a right appreciation of the historical value of the Vedic hymns, and of their importance even to us who live at so great a distance from those early poets.

The first point was purely preliminary, namely that the Hindus in ancient, and in modern times also, are a nation deserving of our interest and sympathy, worthy also of our confidence, and by no means guilty of the charge so recklessly brought against them—the charge of an habitual disregard of truth.

Secondly, that the ancient literature of India is not to be considered simply as a curiosity and to be handed over to the good pleasure of Oriental scholars, but that, both by its language, the Sanskrit, and by its most ancient literary documents, the Vedas, it can teach us lessons which nothing else can teach, as to the origin of our own language, the first formation of our own concepts, and the true natural germs of all that is comprehended under the name of civilization, at least the civilization of the Aryan race, that race to which we and all the greatest nations of the world—the Hindus, the Persians, the Greeks and Romans, the Slaves, the Celts, and last, not least, the Teutons, belong. A man may be a good and useful ploughman without being a geologist, without knowing the stratum on which he takes his stand, or the strata beneath that give support to the soil on which he lives and works, and from which he draws his nourishment. And a man may be a good and useful citizen, without being an historian, without knowing how the world in which he lives came about, and how many phases mankind had to pass through in language, religion, and philosophy, before it could supply him with that intellectual soil on which he lives and works, and from which he draws his best nourishment.

But there must always be an aristocracy of those who know, and who can trace back the best which we possess, not merely to a Norman count, or a Scandinavian viking, or a Saxon earl, but to far older ancestors and benefactors, who thousands of years ago were toiling for us in the sweat of their face, and without whom we should never be what we are—the ancestors of the whole Aryan race, the first framers of our words, the first poets of our thoughts, the first givers of our laws, the first prophets of our gods, and of Him who is God above all gods.

That aristocracy of those who know—di color che sanno—or try to know, is open to all who are willing to enter, to all who have a feeling for the past, an interest in the genealogy of our thoughts, and a reverence for the ancestry of our intellect, who are in fact historians in the true sense of the word, i.e. inquirers into that which is past, but not lost.

Thirdly, having explained to you why the ancient literature of India, the really ancient literature of that country, I mean that of the Vedic period, deserves the careful attention, not of Oriental scholars only, but of every educated man and woman who wishes to know how we, even we here in England and in this nineteenth century of ours, came to be what we are, I tried to explain to you the difference, and the natural and inevitable difference, between the development of the human character in such different climates as those of India and Europe. And while admitting that the Hindus were deficient in many of those manly virtues and practical achievements which we value most, I wished to point out that there was another sphere of intellectual activity in which the Hindus excelled—the meditative and transcendent—and that here we might learn from them some lessons of life which we ourselves are but too apt to ignore or to despise.

Fourthly, fearing that I might have raised too high expectations of the ancient wisdom, the religion and philosophy of the Vedic Indians, I felt it my duty to state that, though primitive in one sense, we must not expect the Vedic religion to be primitive in the anthropological sense of the word, as containing the utterances of beings who had just broken their shells, and were wonderingly looking out for the first time upon this strange world. The Veda may be called primitive, because there is no other literary document more primitive than it; but the language, the mythology, the religion and philosophy that meet us in the Veda open vistas of the past which no one would venture to measure in years. Nay, they contain, by the side of simple, natural, childish thoughts, many ideas which to us sound modern, or secondary and tertiary, as I called them, but which nevertheless are older than any other literary document, and give us trustworthy information of a period in the history of human thought of which we knew absolutely nothing before the discovery of the Vedas.[127]

But even thus our path is not yet clear. Other objections have been raised against the Veda as an historical document. Some of them are important; and I have at times shared them myself. Others are at least instructive, and will give us an opportunity of testing the foundation on which we stand.

The first objection then against our treating the Veda as an historical document is that it is not truly national in its character, and does not represent the thoughts of the whole of the population of India, but only of a small minority, namely of the Brahmans, and not even of the whole class of Brahmans, but only of a small minority of them, namely of the professional priests.

Objections should not be based on demands which, from the nature of the case, are unreasonable. Have those who maintain that the Vedic hymns do not represent the whole of India, that is the whole of its ancient population, in the same manner as they say that the Bible represents the Jews or Homer the Greeks, considered what they are asking for? So far from denying that the Vedic hymns represent only a small and, it may be, a priestly minority of the ancient population of India, the true historian would probably feel inclined to urge the same cautions against the Old Testament and the Homeric poems also.

No doubt, after the books which compose the Old Testament had been collected as a Sacred Canon, they were known to the majority of the Jews. But when we speak of the primitive state of the Jews, of their moral, intellectual, and religious status while in Mesopotamia or Canaan or Egypt, we should find that the different books of the Old Testament teach us as little of the whole Jewish race, with all its local characteristics and social distinctions, as the Homeric poems do of all the Greek tribes, or the Vedic hymns of all the inhabitants of India. Surely, even when we speak of the history of the Greeks or the Romans, we know that we shall not find there a complete picture of the social, intellectual, and religious life of a whole nation. We know very little of the intellectual life of a whole nation, even during the Middle Ages, ay, even at the present day. We may know something of the generals, of the commanders-in-chief, but of the privates, of the millions, we know next to nothing. And what we do know of kings or generals or ministers is mostly no more than what was thought of them by a few Greek poets or Jewish prophets, men who were one in a million among their contemporaries.

But it might be said that though the writers were few, the readers were many. Is that so? I believe you would be surprised to hear how small the number of readers is even in modern times, while in ancient times reading was restricted to the very smallest class of privileged persons. There may have been listeners at public and private festivals, at sacrifices, and later on in theatres, but readers, in our sense of the word, are a very modern invention.

There never has been so much reading, reading spread over so large an area, as in our times. But if you asked publishers as to the number of copies sold of books which are supposed to have been read by everybody, say Macaulay's History of England, the Life of the Prince Consort, or Darwin's Origin of Species, you would find that out of a population of thirty-two millions not one million has possessed itself of a copy of these works. The book which of late has probably had the largest sale is the Revised Version of the New Testament; and yet the whole number of copies sold among the eighty millions of English-speaking people is probably not more than four millions. Of ordinary books which are called books of the season, and which are supposed to have had a great success, an edition of three or four thousand copies is not considered unsatisfactory by publishers or authors in England. But if you look to other countries, such, for instance, as Russia, it would be very difficult indeed to name books that could be considered as representative of the whole nation, or as even known by more than a very small minority.

And if we turn our thoughts back to the ancient nations of Greece and Italy, or of Persia and Babylonia, what book is there, with the exception perhaps of the Homeric poems, of which we could say that it had been read or even heard of by more than a few thousand people? We think of Greeks and Romans as literary people, and so no doubt they were, but in a very different sense from what we mean by this. What we call Greeks and Romans are chiefly the citizens of Athens and Rome, and here again those who could produce or who could read such works as the Dialogues of Plato or the Epistles of Horace constituted a very small intellectual aristocracy indeed. What we call history—the memory of the past—has always been the work of minorities. Millions and millions pass away unheeded, and the few only to whom has been given the gift of fusing speech and thought into forms of beauty remain as witnesses of the past.

If then we speak of times so distant as those represented by the Rig-Veda, and of a country so disintegrated, or rather as yet so little integrated as India was three thousand years ago, surely it requires but little reflection to know that what we see in the Vedic poems are but a few snow-clad peaks, representing to us, from a far distance, the whole mountain-range of a nation, completely lost beyond the horizon of history. When we speak of the Vedic hymns as representing the religion, the thoughts and customs of India three thousand years ago, we cannot mean by India more than some unknown quantity of which the poets of the Veda are the only spokesmen left. When we now speak of India, we think of 250 millions, a sixth part of the whole human race, peopling the vast peninsula from the Himalayan mountains between the arms of the Indus and the Ganges, down to Cape Comorin and Ceylon, an extent of country nearly as large as Europe. In the Veda the stage on which the life of the ancient kings and poets is acted, is the valley of the Indus and the Punjab, as it is now called, the Sapta Sindhasah, the Seven Rivers of the Vedic poets. The land watered by the Ganges is hardly known, and the whole of the Dekkan seems not yet to have been discovered.

Then again, when these Vedic hymns are called the lucubrations of a few priests, not the outpourings of the genius of a whole nation, what does that mean? We may no doubt call these ancient Vedic poets priests, if we like, and no one would deny that their poetry is pervaded not only by religious, mythological, and philosophical, but likewise by sacrificial and ceremonial conceits. Still a priest, if we trace him back far enough, is only a presbyteros or an elder, and, as such, those Vedic poets had a perfect right to speak in the name of a whole class, or of the village community to which they belonged. Call Vasishtha a priest by all means, only do not let us imagine that he was therefore very like Cardinal Manning.

After we have made every possible concession to arguments, most of which are purely hypothetical, there remains this great fact that here, in the Rig-Veda, we have poems, composed in perfect language, in elaborate metre, telling us about gods and men, about sacrifices and battles, about the varying aspects of nature and the changing conditions of society, about duty and pleasure, philosophy and morality—articulate voices reaching us from a distance from which we never heard before the faintest whisper; and instead of thrilling with delight at this almost miraculous discovery, some critics stand aloof and can do nothing but find fault, because these songs do not represent to us primitive men exactly as they think they ought to have been; not like Papuas or Bushmen, with arboraceous habits and half-animal clicks, not as worshipping stocks or stones, or believing in fetiches, as according to Comte's inner consciousness they ought to have done, but rather, I must confess, as beings whom we can understand, with whom to a certain extent we can sympathize, and to whom, in the historical progress of the human intellect, we may assign a place not very far behind the ancient Jews and Greeks.

Once more then, if we mean by primitive, people who inhabited this earth as soon as the vanishing of the glacial period made this earth inhabitable, the Vedic poets were certainly not primitive. If we mean by primitive, people who were without a knowledge of fire, who used unpolished flints, and ate raw flesh, the Vedic poets were not primitive. If we mean by primitive, people who did not cultivate the soil, had no fixed abodes, no kings, no sacrifices, no laws, again, I say, the Vedic poets were not primitive. But if we mean by primitive the people who have been the first of the Aryan race to leave behind literary relics of their existence on earth, then I say the Vedic poets are primitive, the Vedic language is primitive, the Vedic religion is primitive, and, taken as a whole, more primitive than anything else that we are ever likely to recover in the whole history of our race.

When all these objections had failed, a last trump was played. The ancient Vedic poetry was said to be, if not of foreign origin, at least very much infected by foreign, and more particularly by Semitic influences. It had always been urged by Sanskrit scholars as one of the chief attractions of Vedic literature that it not only allowed us an insight into a very early phase of religious thought, but that the Vedic religion was the only one the development of which took place without any extraneous influences, and could be watched through a longer series of centuries than any other religion. Now with regard to the first point, we know how perplexing it is in the religion of ancient Rome to distinguish between Italian and Greek ingredients, to say nothing of Etruscan and Phoenician influences. We know the difficulty of finding out in the religion of the Greeks what is purely home-grown, and what is taken over from Egypt, Phoenicia, it may be from Scythia; or at all events, slightly colored by those foreign rays of thought. Even in the religion of the Hebrews, Babylonian, Phoenician, and at a later time Persian influences have been discovered, and the more we advance toward modern times, the more extensive becomes the mixture of thought, and the more difficult the task of assigning to each nation the share which it contributed to the common intellectual currency of the world. In India alone, and more particularly in Vedic India, we see a plant entirely grown on native soil, and entirely nurtured by native air. For this reason, because the religion of the Veda was so completely guarded from all strange infections, it is full of lessons which the student of religion could learn nowhere else.

Now what have the critics of the Veda to say against this? They say that the Vedic poems show clear traces of Babylonian influences.

I must enter into some details, because, small as they seem, you can see that they involve very wide consequences.

There is one verse in the Rig-Veda, VIII. 78, 2,[128] which has been translated as follows: "Oh Indra, bring to us a brilliant jewel, a cow, a horse, an ornament, together with a golden Mana."[129]

Now what is a golden Mana? The word does not occur again by itself, either in the Veda or anywhere else, and it has been identified by Vedic scholars with the Latin mina, the Greek [Greek: mna], the Phoenician manah ([Hebrew: Ma-ne]),[130] the well-known weight which we actually possess now among the treasures brought from Babylon and Nineveh to the British Museum.[131]

If this were so, it would be irrefragable evidence of at all events a commercial intercourse between Babylon and India at a very early time, though it would in no way prove a real influence of Semitic on Indian thought. But is it so? If we translate saka mana hiranyaya by "with a mina of gold," we must take mana hiranyaya as instrumental cases. But saka never governs an instrumental case. This translation therefore is impossible, and although the passage is difficult, because mana does not occur again in the Rig-Veda, I should think we might take mana hiranyaya for a dual, and translate, "Give us also two golden armlets." To suppose that the Vedic poets should have borrowed this one word and this one measure from the Babylonians, would be against all the rules of historical criticism. The word mana never occurs again in the whole of Sanskrit literature, no other Babylonian weight occurs again in the whole of Sanskrit literature, and it is not likely that a poet who asks for a cow and a horse, would ask in the same breath for a foreign weight of gold, that is, for about sixty sovereigns.

But this is not the only loan that India has been supposed to have negotiated in Babylon. The twenty-seven Nakshatras, or the twenty-seven constellations, which were chosen in India as a kind of lunar Zodiac, were supposed to have come from Babylon. Now the Babylonian Zodiac was solar, and, in spite of repeated researches, no trace of a lunar Zodiac has been found, where so many things have been found, in the cuneiform inscriptions. But supposing even that a lunar Zodiac had been discovered in Babylon, no one acquainted with Vedic literature and with the ancient Vedic ceremonial would easily allow himself to be persuaded that the Hindus had borrowed that simple division of the sky from the Babylonians. It is well known that most of the Vedic sacrifices depend on the moon, far more than on the sun.[132] As the Psalmist says, "He appointed the moon for seasons; the sun knoweth his going down," we read in the Rig-Veda X. 85, 18, in a verse addressed to sun and moon, "They walk by their own power, one after the other (or from east to west), as playing children they go round the sacrifice. The one looks upon all the worlds, the other is born again and again, determining the seasons."

"He becomes new and new, when he is born; as the herald of the days, he goes before the dawns. By his approach he determines their share for the gods, the moon increases a long life."

The moon, then, determines the seasons, the ritus, the moon fixes the share, that is, the sacrificial oblation for all the gods. The seasons and the sacrifices were in fact so intimately connected together in the thoughts of the ancient Hindus, that one of the commonest names for priest was ritv-ig, literally, the season-sacrificer.

Besides the rites which have to be performed every day, such as the five Mahayagnas, and the Agnihotra in the morning and the evening, the important sacrifices in Vedic times were the Full and New-moon sacrifices (darsapurnamasa); the Season-sacrifices (katurmasya), each season consisting of four months;[133] and the Half-yearly sacrifices, at the two solstices. There are other sacrifices (agrayana, etc.) to be performed in autumn and summer, others in winter and spring, whenever rice and barley are ripening.[134]

The regulation of the seasons, as one of the fundamental conditions of an incipient society, seems in fact to have been so intimately connected with the worship of the gods, as the guardians of the seasons and the protectors of law and order, that it is sometimes difficult to say whether in their stated sacrifices the maintenance of the calendar or the maintenance of the worship of the gods was more prominent in the minds of the old Vedic priests.

The twenty-seven Nakshatras then were clearly suggested by the moon's passage.[135] Nothing was more natural for the sake of counting days, months, or seasons than to observe the twenty-seven places which the moon occupied in her passage from any point of the sky back to the same point. It was far easier than to determine the sun's position either from day to day, or from month to month; for the stars, being hardly visible at the actual rising and setting of the sun, the idea of the sun's conjunction with certain stars could not suggest itself to a listless observer. The moon, on the contrary, progressing from night to night, and coming successively in contact with certain stars, was like the finger of a clock, moving round a circle, and coming in contact with one figure after another on the dial-plate of the sky. Nor would the portion of about one third of a lunation in addition to the twenty-seven stars from new moon to new moon, create much confusion in the minds of the rough-and-ready reckoners of those early times. All they were concerned with were the twenty-seven celestial stations which, after being once traced out by the moon, were fixed, like so many mile-stones, for determining the course of all the celestial travellers that could be of any interest for signs and for seasons, and for days and for years. A circle divided into twenty-seven sections, or any twenty-seven poles planted in a circle at equal distances round a house, would answer the purpose of a primitive Vedic observatory. All that was wanted to be known was between which pair of poles the moon, or afterward the sun also, was visible at their rising or setting, the observer occupying the same central position on every day.

Our notions of astronomy cannot in fact be too crude and too imperfect if we wish to understand the first beginnings in the reckoning of days and seasons and years. We cannot expect in those days more than what any shepherd would know at present of the sun and moon, the stars and seasons. Nor can we expect any observations of heavenly phenomena unless they had some bearing on the practical wants of primitive society.

If then we can watch in India the natural, nay inevitable, growth of the division of the heaven into twenty-seven equal divisions, each division marked by stars, which may have been observed and named long before they were used for this new purpose—if, on the other hand, we could hardly understand the growth and development of the Indian ceremonial except as determined by a knowledge of the lunar asterisms, the lunar months, and the lunar seasons, surely it would be a senseless hypothesis to imagine that the Vedic shepherds or priests went to Babylonia in search of a knowledge which every shepherd might have acquired on the banks of the Indus, and that, after their return from that country only, where a language was spoken which no Hindu could understand, they set to work to compose their sacred hymns and arrange their simple ceremonial. We must never forget that what is natural in one place is natural in other places also, and we may sum up without fear of serious contradiction, that no case has been made out in favor of a foreign origin of the elementary astronomical notions of the Hindus as found or presupposed in the Vedic hymns.[136]

The Arabs, as is well known, have twenty-eight lunar stations, the Manzil, and I can see no reason why Mohammed and his Bedouins in the desert should not have made the same observation as the Vedic poets in India, though I must admit at the same time that Colebrooke has brought forward very cogent arguments to prove that, in their scientific employment at least, the Arabic Manzil were really borrowed from an Indian source.[137]

The Chinese, too, have their famous lunar stations, the Sieu, originally twenty-four in number, and afterward raised to twenty-eight.[138] But here again there is no necessity whatever for admitting, with Biot, Lassen, and others, that the Hindus went to China to gain their simplest elementary notions of lunar chrononomy. First of all, the Chinese began with twenty-four, and raised them to twenty-eight; the Hindus began with twenty-seven, and raised them to twenty-eight. Secondly, out of these twenty-eight asterisms, there are seventeen only which can really be identified with the Hindu stars (taras). Now if a scientific system is borrowed, it is borrowed complete. But, in our case, I see really no possible channel through which Chinese astronomical knowledge could have been conducted to India so early as 1000 before our era. In Chinese literature India is never mentioned before the middle of the second century before Christ; and if the Kinas in the later Sanskrit literature are meant for Chinese, which is doubtful, it is important to observe that that name never occurs in Vedic literature.[139]

When therefore the impossibility of so early a communication between China and India had at last been recognized, a new theory was formed, namely, "that the knowledge of Chinese astronomy was not imported straight from China to India, but was carried, together with the Chinese system of division of the heavens into twenty-eight mansions, into Western Asia, at a period not much later than 1100 B.C., and was then adopted by some Western people, either Semitic or Iranian. In their hands it was supposed to have received a new form, such as adapted it to a ruder and less scientific method of observation, the limiting stars of the mansions being converted into zodiacal groups or constellations, and in some instances altered in position, so as to be brought nearer to the general planetary path of the ecliptic. In this changed form, having become a means of roughly determining and describing the places and movements of the planets, it was believed to have passed into the keeping of the Hindus, very probably along with the first knowledge of the planets themselves, and entered upon an independent career of history in India. It still maintained itself in its old seat, leaving its traces later in the Bundahash; and made its way so far westward as finally to become known and adopted by the Arabs." With due respect for the astronomical knowledge of those who hold this view, all I can say is that this is a novel, and nothing but a novel, without any facts to support it, and that the few facts which are known to us do not enable a careful reasoner to go beyond the conclusions stated many years ago by Colebrooke, that the "Hindus had undoubtedly made some progress at an early period in the astronomy cultivated by them for the regulation of time. Their calendar, both civil and religious, was governed chiefly, not exclusively, by the moon and the sun; and the motions of these luminaries were carefully observed by them, and with such success that their determination of the moon's synodical revolution, which was what they were principally concerned with, is a much more correct one than the Greeks ever achieved. They had a division of the ecliptic into twenty-seven and twenty-eight parts, suggested evidently by the moon's period in days, and seemingly their own; it was certainly borrowed by the Arabians."

There is one more argument which has been adduced in support of a Babylonian, or, at all events, a Semitic influence to be discovered in Vedic literature which we must shortly examine. It refers to the story of the Deluge.

That story, as you know, has been traced in the traditions of many races, which could not well have borrowed it from one another; and it was rather a surprise that no allusion even to a local deluge should occur in any of the Vedic hymns, particularly as very elaborate accounts of different kinds of deluges are found in the later Epic poems, and in the still later Puranas, and form in fact a very familiar subject in the religious traditions of the people of India.

Three of the Avataras or incarnations of Vishnu are connected with a deluge, that of the Fish, that of the Tortoise, and that of the Boar, Vishnu in each case rescuing mankind from destruction by water, by assuming the form of a fish, or a tortoise, or a boar.

This being so, it seemed a very natural conclusion to make that, as there was no mention of a deluge in the most ancient literature of India, that legend had penetrated into India from without at a later time.

When, however, the Vedic literature became more generally known, stories of a deluge were discovered, if not in the hymns, at least in the prose writings, belonging to the second period, commonly called the Brahmana period. Not only the story of Manu and the Fish, but the stories of the Tortoise and of the Boar also, were met with there in a more or less complete form, and with this discovery the idea of a foreign importation lost much of its plausibility. I shall read you at least one of these accounts of a Deluge which is found in the Satapatha Brahmana, and you can then judge for yourselves whether the similarities between it and the account in Genesis are really such as to require, nay as to admit, the hypothesis that the Hindus borrowed their account of the Deluge from their nearest Semitic neighbors.

We read in the Satapatha Brahmana I. 8, 1:

"In the morning they brought water to Manu for washing, as they bring it even now for washing our hands.

"While he was thus washing, a fish came into his hands.

"2. The fish spoke this word to Manu: 'Keep me, and I shall save thee.'

"Manu said: 'From what wilt thou save me?'

"The fish said: 'A flood will carry away all these creatures, and I shall save thee from it.'

"Manu said: 'How canst thou be kept?'

"3. The fish said: 'So long as we are small, there is much destruction for us, for fish swallows fish. Keep me therefore first in a jar. When I outgrow that, dig a hole and keep me in it. When I outgrow that, take me to the sea, and I shall then be beyond the reach of destruction.'

"4. He became soon a large fish (ghasha), for such a fish grows largest. The fish said: 'In such and such a year the flood will come. Therefore when thou hast built a ship, thou shalt meditate on me. And when the flood has risen, thou shalt enter into the ship, and I will save thee from the flood.'

"5. Having thus kept the fish, Manu took him to the sea. Then in the same year which the fish had pointed out, Manu, having built the ship, meditated on the fish. And when the flood had risen, Manu entered into the ship. Then the fish swam toward him, and Manu fastened the rope of the ship to the fish's horn, and he thus hastened toward[140] the Northern Mountain.

"6. The fish said: 'I have saved thee; bind the ship to a tree. May the water not cut thee off, while thou art on the mountain. As the water subsides, do thou gradually slide down with it.' Manu then slid down gradually with the water, and therefore this is called 'the Slope of Manu' on the Northern Mountain. Now the flood had carried away all these creatures, and thus Manu was left there alone.

"7. Then Manu went about singing praises and toiling, wishing for offspring. And he sacrificed there also with a Paka-sacrifice. He poured clarified butter, thickened milk, whey, and curds in the water as a libation. In one year a woman arose from it. She came forth as if dripping, and clarified butter gathered on her step. Mitra and Varuna came to meet her.

"8. They said to her: 'Who art thou?' She said: 'The daughter of Manu.' They rejoined: 'Say that thou art ours.' 'No,' she said, 'he who has begotten me, his I am.'

"Then they wished her to be their sister, and she half agreed and half did not agree, but went away, and came to Manu.

"9. Manu said to her: 'Who art thou?' She said: 'I am thy daughter.' 'How, lady, art thou my daughter?' he asked.

"She replied: 'The libations which thou hast poured into the water, clarified butter, thickened milk, whey and curds, by them thou hast begotten me. I am a benediction—perform (me) this benediction at the sacrifices. If thou perform (me) it at the sacrifice, thou wilt be rich in offspring and cattle. And whatever blessing thou wilt ask by me, will always accrue to thee.' He therefore performed that benediction in the middle of the sacrifice, for the middle of the sacrifice is that which comes between the introductory and the final offerings.

"10. Then Manu went about with her, singing praises and toiling, wishing for offspring. And with her he begat that offspring which is called the offspring of Manu; and whatever blessing he asked with her, always accrued to him. She is indeed Ida, and whosoever, knowing this, goes about (sacrifices) with Ida, begets the same offspring which Manu begat, and whatever blessing he asks with her, always accrues to him."

This, no doubt, is the account of a deluge, and Manu acts in some respects the same part which is assigned to Noah in the Old Testament. But if there are similarities, think of the dissimilarities, and how they are to be explained. It is quite clear that, if this story was borrowed from a Semitic source, it was not borrowed from the Old Testament, for in that case it would really seem impossible to account for the differences between the two stories. That it may have been borrowed[141] from some unknown Semitic source cannot, of course, be disproved, because no tangible proof has ever been produced that would admit of being disproved. But if it were, it would be the only Semitic loan in ancient Sanskrit literature—and that alone ought to make us pause!

The story of the boar and the tortoise too, can be traced back to the Vedic literature. For we read in the Taittiriya Samhita:[142]

"At first this was water, fluid. Pragapati, the lord of creatures, having become wind, moved on it. He saw this earth, and becoming a boar, he took it up. Becoming Visvakarman, the maker of all things, he cleaned it. It spread and became the widespread Earth, and this is why the Earth is called Prithivi, the widespread."

And we find in the Satapatha Brahmana[143] the following slight allusion at least to the tortoise myth:

"Pragapati, assuming the form of a tortoise (Kurma), brought forth all creatures. In so far as he brought them forth, he made them (akarot), and because he made them he was (called) tortoise (Kurma). A tortoise is (called) Kasyapa, and therefore all creatures are called Kasyapa, tortoise-like. He who was this tortoise (Kurma) was really Aditya (the sun)."

One other allusion to something like a deluge,[144] important chiefly on account of the name of Manu occurring in it, has been pointed out in the Kathaka (XI. 2), where this short sentence occurs: "The waters cleaned this, Manu alone remained."

All this shows that ideas of a deluge, that is, of a submersion of the earth by water and of its rescue through divine aid, were not altogether unknown in the early traditions of India, while in later times they were embodied in several of the Avataras of Vishnu.

When we examine the numerous accounts of a deluge among different nations in almost every part of the world, we can easily perceive that they do not refer to one single historical event, but to a natural phenomenon repeated every year, namely, the deluge or flood of the rainy season or the winter.[145]

This is nowhere clearer than in Babylon. Sir Henry Rawlinson was the first to point out that the twelve cantos of the poem of Izdubar or Nimrod refer to the twelve months of the year and the twelve representative signs of the Zodiac. Dr. Haupt afterward pointed out that Eabani, the wise bull-man in the second canto, corresponds to the second month, Ijjar, April-May, represented in the Zodiac by the bull; that the union between Eabani and Nimrod in the third canto corresponds to the third month, Sivan, May-June, represented in the Zodiac by the twins; that the sickness of Nimrod in the seventh canto corresponds to the seventh month, Tishri, September-October, when the sun begins to wane; and that the flood in the eleventh canto corresponds to the eleventh month, Shabatu, dedicated to the storm-god Rimmon,[146] represented in the Zodiac by the waterman.[147]

If that is so, we have surely a right to claim the same natural origin for the story of the Deluge in India which we are bound to admit in other countries. And even if it could be proved that in the form in which these legends have reached us in India they show traces of foreign influences,[148] the fact would still remain that such influences have been perceived in comparatively modern treatises only, and not in the ancient hymns of the Rig-Veda.

Other conjectures have been made with even less foundation than that which would place the ancient poets of India under the influence of Babylon. China has been appealed to, nay even Persia, Parthia, and Bactria, countries beyond the reach of India at that early time of which we are here speaking, and probably not even then consolidated into independent nations or kingdoms. I only wonder that traces of the lost Jewish tribes have not been discovered in the Vedas, considering that Afghanistan has so often been pointed out as one of their favorite retreats.

After having thus carefully examined all the traces of supposed foreign influences that have been brought forward by various scholars, I think I may say that there really is no trace whatever of any foreign influence in the language, the religion, or the ceremonial of the ancient Vedic literature of India. As it stands before us now, so it has grown up, protected by the mountain ramparts in the north, the Indus and the Desert in the west, the Indus or what was called the sea in the south, and the Ganges in the east. It presents us with a home-grown poetry and a home-grown religion; and history has preserved to us at least this one relic, in order to teach us what the human mind can achieve if left to itself, surrounded by a scenery and by conditions of life that might have made man's life on earth a paradise, if man did not possess the strange art of turning even a paradise into a place of misery.[149]


[Footnote 127: If we applied the name of literature to the cylinders of Babylon and the papyri of Egypt, we should have to admit that some of these documents are more ancient than any date we dare as yet assign to the hymns collected in the ten books of the Rig-Veda.]

[Footnote 128: A nah bhara vyanganam gam asvam abhyanganam Saka mana hiranyaya.]

[Footnote 129: Grassman translates, "Zugleich mit goldenem Geraeth;" Ludwig, "Zusammt mit goldenem Zierrath;" Zimmer, "Und eine Mana gold." The Petersburg Dictionary explains mana by "ein bestimmtes Geraeth oder Gewicht" (Gold).]

[Footnote 130: According to Dr. Haupt, Die Sumerisch-akkadische Sprache, p. 272, mana is an Akkadian word.]

[Footnote 131: According to the weights of the lions and ducks preserved in the British Museum, an Assyrian mina was = 7747 grains. The same difference is still preserved to the present day, as the man of Shiraz and Bagdad is just double that of Tabraz and Bushir, the average of the former being 14.0 and that of the latter only 6.985. See Cunningham, "Journal of the Asiatic Society," Calcutta, 1881, p. 163.]

[Footnote 132: Preface to the fourth volume of my edition of the Rig-Veda, p. li.]

[Footnote 133: Vaisvadevam on the full-moon of Phalguna, Varunapraghasah on the full-moon of Ashadha, Sakamedhah on the full-moon of Krittika, see Boehtlingk, Dictionary, s. v.]

[Footnote 134: See Vishnu-smriti, ed. Jolly LIX. 4; Aryabhata, Introduction.]

[Footnote 135: See Preface to vol. iv. of Rig-Veda, p. li. (1862).]

[Footnote 136: See Zimmer, Altindisches Leben, pp. 352-357.]

[Footnote 137: L. c. p. lxx.]

[Footnote 138: See Zimmer, Altindisches Leben, p. xlvii.]

[Footnote 139: In the Mahabharata and elsewhere the Kinas are mentioned among the Dasyus or non-Aryan races in the north and in the east of India. King Bhagadatta is said to have had an army of Kinas and Kiratas,(B1) and the Pandavas are said to reach the town of the King of the Kulindas, after having passed through the countries of Kinas, Tukharas, and Daradas. All this is as vague as ethnological indications generally are in the late epic poetry of India. The only possibly real element is that Kirata and Kina soldiers are called kankana, gold or yellow colored,(B2) and compared to a forest of Karnikaras, which were trees with yellow flowers.(B3) In Mahabh. VI. 9, v. 373, vol. ii., p. 344, the Kinas occur in company with Kambogas and Yavanas, which again conveys nothing definite.

B1: Lassen, i. p. 1029; Mahabh. III. 117, v. 12,350; vol. i. p. 619.

B2: Mahabh. V. 18, v. 584; vol. ii. p. 106.

B3: See Vakaspatya s. v.; Kaskit Karnikaragaurah.

Chinese scholars tell us that the name of China is of modern origin, and only dates from the Thsin dynasty or from the famous Emperor Shi hoang-ti, 247 B.C. But the name itself, though in a more restricted sense, occurs in earlier documents, and may, as Lassen thinks,(B4) have become known to the Western neighbors of China. It is certainly strange that the Sinim too, mentioned in Isaiah xlix. 12, have been taken by the old commentators for people of China, visiting Babylon as merchants and travellers.

B4: Lassen, vol. i. p. 1029, n. 2.]

[Footnote 140: I prefer now the reading of the Kanva-sakha, abhidudrava, instead of atidudrava or adhidudrava of the other MSS. See Weber, Ind. Streifen, i. p. 11.]

[Footnote 141: It is not necessary to establish literary borrowing; for on the theory of Bible inspiration and trustworthiness we must assume that the Aryans as well as the Semites were saved in the ark. The story of a flood supports the story of the flood to a certain extent.—AM. PUBS.]

[Footnote 142: VII. 1, 5, 1 seq.; Muir, i. p. 52; Colebrooke, Essays, i. 75.]

[Footnote 143: VII. 5, 1, 5; Muir, "Original Sanskrit Texts," i. p. 54.]

[Footnote 144: Weber, "Indische Streifen," i. p. 11.]

[Footnote 145: See Lecture V. p. 172.]

[Footnote 146: More accurately Ramanu, the Vul or storm-god of George Smith; and the god of the Mind and higher intellect at Babylon. His arcane name is said to have been Yav, [Hebrew: YHWH] or [Greek: Iao].—A. W.]

[Footnote 147: See Haupt, "Der Keilinschriftliche Sintfluthbericht, 1881," p. 10.]

[Footnote 148: See M. M., "Genesis and Avesta" (German translation), i. p. 148.]

[Footnote 149: No one is more competent than the learned author to give a verdict on all the evidence which has been gathered; but we are only at the beginning of research into the intercourse of mankind in remote times, and much that was once thought home-grown has already been traced to distant points. It is in the general line of progress in research that more evidence may be expected to connect Vedic thought with other cultures.—AM. PUBS.]



Although there is hardly any department of learning which has not received new light and new life from the ancient literature of India, yet nowhere is the light that comes to us from India so important, so novel, and so rich as in the study of religion and mythology. It is to this subject therefore that I mean to devote the remaining lectures of this course. I do so, partly because I feel myself most at home in that ancient world of Vedic literature in which the germs of Aryan religion have to be studied, partly because I believe that for a proper understanding of the deepest convictions, or, if you like, the strongest prejudices of the modern Hindus, nothing is so useful as a knowledge of the Veda. It is perfectly true that nothing would give a falser impression of the actual Brahmanical religion than the ancient Vedic literature, supposing we were to imagine that three thousand years could have passed over India without producing any change. Such a mistake would be nearly as absurd as to deny any difference between the Vedic Sanskrit and the spoken Bengali. But no one will gain a scholarlike knowledge or a true insight into the secret springs of Bengali who is ignorant of the grammar of Sanskrit; and no one will ever understand the present religious, philosophical, legal, and social opinions of the Hindus who is unable to trace them back to their true sources in the Veda.

I still remember how, many years ago, when I began to publish for the first time the text and the commentary of the Rig-Veda, it was argued by a certain, perhaps not quite disinterested party, that the Veda was perfectly useless; that no man in India, however learned, could read it, and that it was of no use either for missionaries or for any one else who wished to study and to influence the native mind. It was said that we ought to study the later Sanskrit, the Laws of Manu, the epic poems, and, more particularly, the Puranas. The Veda might do very well for German students, but not for Englishmen.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse