India: What can it teach us? - A Course of Lectures Delivered before the University Of Cambridge
by F. Max Mueller
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"Varuna, the great lord of these worlds, sees as if he were near. If a man stands or walks or hides, if he goes to lie down or to get up, what two people sitting together whisper to each other, King Varuna knows it, he is there as the third.[257] This earth too belongs to Varuna, the King, and this wide sky with its ends far apart. The two seas (the sky and the ocean) are Varuna's loins; he is also contained in this small drop of water. He who should flee far beyond the sky, even he would not be rid of Varuna, the King.[258] His spies proceed from heaven toward this world; with thousand eyes they overlook this earth. King Varuna sees all this, what is between heaven and earth, and what is beyond. He has counted the twinklings of the eyes of men. As a player throws down the dice, he settles all things (irrevocably). May all thy fatal snares which stand spread out seven by seven and threefold, catch the man who tells a lie, may they pass by him who speaks the truth."

You see this is as beautiful, and in some respects as true, as anything in the Psalms. And yet we know that there never was such a Deva, or god, or such a thing as Varuna. We know it is a mere name, meaning originally "covering or all-embracing," which was applied to the visible starry sky, and afterward, by a process perfectly intelligible, developed into the name of a Being, endowed with human and superhuman qualities.

And what applies to Varuna applies to all the other gods of the Veda and the Vedic religion, whether three in number, or thirty-three, or, as one poet said, "three thousand three hundred and thirty-nine gods."[259] They are all but names, quite as much as Jupiter and Apollo and Minerva; in fact, quite as much as all the gods of every religion who are called by such appellative titles.

Possibly, if any one had said this during the Vedic age in India, or even during the Periklean age in Greece, he would have been called, like Sokrates, a blasphemer or an atheist. And yet nothing can be clearer or truer, and we shall see that some of the poets of the Veda too, and, still more, the later Vedantic philosopher, had a clear insight that it was so.

Only let us be careful in the use of that phrase "it is a mere name." No name is a mere name. Every name was originally meant for something; only it often failed to express what it was meant to express, and then became a weak or an empty name, or what we then call "a mere name." So it was with these names of the Vedic gods. They were all meant to express the Beyond, the Invisible behind the Visible, the Infinite within the Finite, the Supernatural above the Natural, the Divine, omnipresent, and omnipotent. They failed in expressing what, by its very nature, must always remain inexpressible. But that Inexpressible itself remained, and in spite of all these failures, it never succumbed, or vanished from the mind of the ancient thinkers and poets, but always called for new and better names, nay calls for them even now, and will call for them to the very end of man's existence upon earth.


[Footnote 221: Muir, iv. p. 209]

[Footnote 222: Muir, iv. p. 214.]

[Footnote 223: Hibbert Lectures, p. 307.]

[Footnote 224: X. 168, 3, 4.]

[Footnote 225: See Kaegi, Rig-Veda, p. 61.]

[Footnote 226: Rig-Veda II. 13, 12; IV. 19, 6.]

[Footnote 227: Joshua x. 13.]

[Footnote 228: Rig-Veda IV. 30, 3; X. 138, 3.]

[Footnote 229: L. c. VIII. 37, 3.]

[Footnote 230: L. c. VIII. 78, 5.]

[Footnote 231: I am very strongly inclined to regard these names as Kushite or Semitic; Hermes, from [Hebrew: Cherem], the sun; Dionysos, from dyan, the judge, and nisi, mankind; Orpheus, from Orfa, the Arabic name of Edessa; Prometheus, from pro and manthano, to learn.—A. W.]

[Footnote 232: Muir, iv. p. 23.]

[Footnote 233: Ibid. p. 142. An excellent paper on Parganya was published by Buehler in 1862, "Orient und Occident," vol. i. p. 214.]

[Footnote 234: Rig-Veda VII. 101, 6.]

[Footnote 235: Rig-Veda V. 63, 3-6.]

[Footnote 236: L. c. I. 38, 9.]

[Footnote 237: L. c. I. 164, 51.]

[Footnote 238: L. c. X. 98, 1.]

[Footnote 239: Rig-Veda V. 83. See Buehler, "Orient und Occident," vol. i. p. 214; Zimmer, "Altindisches Leben," p. 43.]

[Footnote 240: Both Buehler ("Orient und Occident," vol. i, p. 224) and Zimmer (Z. f. D. A. vii. p. 169) say that the lightning is represented as the son of Parganya in Rig-Veda VII. 101, 1. This seems doubtful.]

[Footnote 241: Rig-Veda VII. 102, 1.]

[Footnote 242: L. c. VIII. 6, 1.]

[Footnote 243: See Max Mueller, Sanskrit Grammar, Sec. 174, 10.]

[Footnote 244: Cf. Gobh. Grihya S. III. 3, 15, vidyut—stanayitnu—prishiteshu.]

[Footnote 245: Uggvaladatta, in his commentary on the Unadi-sutras, iii. 103. admits the same transition of sh into g in the verb prish, as the etymon of parganya.]

[Footnote 246: For different etymologies, see Buehler, "Orient und Occident," i. p. 214; Muir, "Original Sanskrit Texts," v. p. 140; Grassmann, in his Dictionary to the Rig-Veda, s. v.; Zimmer, "Zeitscrift fuer Deutsches Alterthum, Neue Folge," vii. p. 164.]

[Footnote 247: In order to identify Perkunas with Parganya, we must go another step backward, and look upon g or g, in the root parg, as a weakening of an original k in park. This, however, is a frequent phonetic process. See Buehler, in Benfey's "Orient und Occident," ii. p. 717.]

[Footnote 248: Lituanian perkun-kulke, thunder-bolt, perkuno gaisis, storm. See Voelkel, "Die lettischen Sprachreste," 1879, p. 23.]

[Footnote 249: "Perkuno, war der dritte Abgott und man ihn anruffte um's Gewitters willen, damit sie Regen haetten und schoen wetter zu seiner Zeit, und ihn der Donner und blix kein schaden thett." Cf. "Gottesides bei den alten Preussen," Berlin, 1870, p. 23. The triad of the gods is called Triburti, Tryboze; l. c. p. 29.]

[Footnote 250: Grimm, "Teutonic Mythology," p. 175; and Lasitzki (Lasicius) "Joannes De Russorum, Moscovitarum et Tartarorum religione, sacrificiis, nuptiarum et funerum ritu, Spirae Nemetum," 1582; idem De Diis Samagitarum.]

[Footnote 251: Grimm, l. c. p. 176, quoting from Joh. Gutslaff, "Kurzer Bericht und Unterricht von der falsch heilig genannten Baeche in Liefland Woehhanda," Dorpat, 1644, pp. 362-364.]

[Footnote 252: In modern Esthonian Pitkne, the Finnish Pitcainen(?).]

[Footnote 253: On foreign influences in Esthonian stories, see "Ehstniche Maerchen," von T. Kreutzwald, 1869, Vorwort (by Schiefner), p. iv.]

[Footnote 254: Grimm suggests in his "Teutonic Mythology" that Parganya should be identified with the Gothic fairguni, or mountain. He imagines that from being regarded as the abode of the god it had finally been called by his name. Fergunna and Virgunia, two names of mountains in Germany, are relics of the name. The name of the god, if preserved in the Gothic, would have been Fairguneis; and indeed in the Old Norse language Fioergynn is the father of Frigg, the wife of Odin, and Fioergynnior, the Earth-goddess, is mother of Thor. Professor Zimmer takes the same view. Grimm thinks that the Greeks and Romans, by changing f into h, represented Fergunni by Hercynia, and, in fine, he traces the words berg and burg back to Parganya.—A. W.]

[Footnote 255: Rig-Veda II. 28.]

[Footnote 256: Atharva-Veda IV. 16.]

[Footnote 257: Psalm cxxxix. 1, 2, "O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off."]

[Footnote 258: Psalm cxxxix. 9, "If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me."]

[Footnote 259: Rig-veda III. 9, 9; X. 52, 6.]



I do not wonder that I should have been asked by some of my hearers to devote part of my last lecture to answering the question, how the Vedic literature could have been composed and preserved, if writing was unknown in India before 500 B.C., while the hymns of the Rig-Veda are said to date from 1500 B.C. Classical scholars naturally ask what is the date of our oldest MSS. of the Rig-Veda, and what is the evidence on which so high an antiquity is assigned to its contents. I shall try to answer this question as well as I can, and I shall begin with a humble confession that the oldest MSS. of the Rig-Veda, known to us at present, date not from 1500 B.C., but from about 1500 A.D.

We have therefore a gap of three thousand years, which it will require a strong arch of argument to bridge over.

But that is not all.

You may know how, in the beginning of this century, when the age of the Homeric poems was discussed, a German scholar, Frederick August Wolf, asked two momentous questions:

1. At what time did the Greeks first become acquainted with the alphabet and use it for inscriptions on public monuments, coins, shields, and for contracts, both public and private?[260]

2. At what time did the Greeks first think of using writing for literary purposes, and what materials did they employ for that purpose?

These two questions and the answers they elicited threw quite a new light on the nebulous periods of Greek literature. A fact more firmly established than any other in the ancient history of Greece is that the Ionians learned the alphabet from the Phenicians. The Ionians always called their letters Phenician letters,[261] and the very name of Alphabet was a Phenician word. We can well understand that the Phenicians should have taught the Ionians in Asia Minor a knowledge of the alphabet, partly for commercial purposes, i.e. for making contracts, partly for enabling them to use those useful little sheets, called Periplus, or Circumnavigations, which at that time were as precious to sailors as maps were to the adventurous seamen of the middle ages. But from that to a written literature, in our sense of the word, there is still a wide step. It is well known that the Germans, particularly in the North, had their Runes for inscriptions on tombs, goblets, public monuments, but not for literary purposes.[262] Even if a few Ionians at Miletus and other centres of political and commercial life acquired the art of writing, where could they find writing materials? and still more important, where could they find readers? The Ionians, when they began to write, had to be satisfied with a hide or pieces of leather, which they called diphthera, and until that was brought to the perfection of vellum or parchment, the occupation of an author cannot have been very agreeable.[263]

So far as we know at present the Ionians began to write about the middle of the sixth century B.C.; and, whatever may have been said to the contrary, Wolf's dictum still holds good that with them the beginning of a written literature was the same as the beginning of prose writing.

Writing at that time was an effort, and such an effort was made for some great purpose only. Hence the first written skins were what we should call Murray's Handbooks, called Periegesis or Periodos, or, if treating of sea-voyages, Periplus, that is, guide-books, books to lead travellers round a country or round a town. Connected with these itineraries were the accounts of the foundations of cities, the Ktisis. Such books existed in Asia Minor during the sixth and fifth centuries, and their writers were called by a general term, Logographi, or [Greek: logioi] or [Greek: logopoioi],[264] as opposed to [Greek: aoidoi], the poets. They were the forerunners of the Greek historians, and Herodotus (443 B.C.), the so-called father of history, made frequent use of their works.

The whole of this incipient literary activity belonged to Asia Minor. From "Guides through towns and countries," literature seems to have spread at an early time to Guides through life, or philosophical dicta, such as are ascribed to Anaximander the Ionian (610-547 B.C.[265]), and Pherekydes the Syrian (540 B.C.). These names carry us into the broad daylight of history, for Anaximander was the teacher of Anaximenes, Anaximenes of Anaxagoras, and Anaxagoras of Perikles. At that time writing was a recognized art, and its cultivation had been rendered possible chiefly through trade with Egypt and the importation of papyros. In the time of AEschylos (500 B.C.) the idea of writing had become so familiar that he could use it again and again in poetical metaphors,[266] and there seems little reason why we should doubt that both Peisistratos (528 B.C.) and Polykrates of Samos (523 B.C.) were among the first collectors of Greek manuscripts.

In this manner the simple questions asked by Wolf helped to reduce the history of ancient Greek literature to some kind of order, particularly with reference to its first beginnings.

It would therefore seem but reasonable that the two first questions to be asked by the students of Sanskrit literature should have been:

1. At what time did the people of India become acquainted with an alphabet?

2. At what time did they first use such alphabet for literary purposes?

Curiously enough, however, these questions remained in abeyance for a long time, and, as a consequence, it was impossible to introduce even the first elements of order into the chaos of ancient Sanskrit literature.[267]

I can here state a few facts only. There are no inscriptions to be found anywhere in India before the middle of the third century B.C. These inscriptions are Buddhist, put up during the reign of Asoka, the grandson of Kandragupta, who was the contemporary of Seleucus, and at whose court in Patalibothra Megasthenes lived as ambassador of Seleucus. Here, as you see, we are on historical ground. In fact, there is little doubt that Asoka, the king who put up these inscriptions in several parts of his vast kingdom, reigned from 259-222 B.C.

These inscriptions are written in two alphabets—one written from right to left, and clearly derived from an Aramaaean, that is, a Semitic alphabet; the other written from left to right, and clearly an adaptation, and an artificial or systematic adaptation, of a Semitic alphabet to the requirements of an Indian language. That second alphabet became the source of all Indian alphabets, and of many alphabets carried chiefly by Buddhist teachers far beyond the limits of India, though it is possible that the earliest Tamil alphabet may have been directly derived from the same Semitic source which supplied both the dextrorsum and the sinistrorsum alphabets of India.

Here then we have the first fact—viz. that writing, even for monumental purposes, was unknown in India before the third century B.C.

But writing for commercial purposes was known in India before that time. Megasthenes was no doubt quite right when he said that the Indians did not know letters,[268] that their laws were not written, and that they administered justice from memory. But Nearchus, the admiral of Alexander the Great, who sailed down the Indus (325 B.C.), and was therefore brought in contact with the merchants frequenting the maritime stations of India, was probably equally right in declaring that "the Indians wrote letters on cotton that had been well beaten together." These were no doubt commercial documents, contracts, it may be, with Phenician or Egyptian captains, and they would prove nothing as to the existence in India at that time of what we mean by a written literature. In fact, Nearchus himself affirms what Megasthenes said after him, namely that "the laws of the sophists in India were not written." If, at the same time, the Greek travellers in India speak of mile-stones, and of cattle marked by the Indians with various signs and also with numbers, all this would perfectly agree with what we know from other sources, that though the art of writing may have reached India before the time of Alexander's conquest, its employment for literary purposes cannot date from a much earlier time.

Here then we are brought face to face with a most startling fact. Writing was unknown in India before the fourth century before Christ, and yet we are asked to believe that the Vedic literature in its three well-defined periods, the Mantra, Brahmana, and Sutra periods, goes back to at least a thousand years before our era.

Now the Rig-Veda alone, which contains a collection of ten books of hymns addressed to various deities, consists of 1017 (1028) poems, 10,580 verses, and about 153,826 words.[269] How were these poems composed—for they are composed in very perfect metre—and how, after having been composed, were they handed down from 1500 before Christ to 1500 after Christ, the time to which most of our best Sanskrit MSS. belong?

Entirely by memory.[270] This may sound startling, but—what will sound still more startling, and yet is a fact that can easily be ascertained by anybody who doubts it—at the present moment, if every MS. of the Rig-Veda were lost, we should be able to recover the whole of it—from the memory of the Srotriyas in India. These native students learn the Veda by heart, and they learn it from the mouth of their Guru, never from a MS., still less from my printed edition—and after a time they teach it again to their pupils.

I have had such students in my room at Oxford, who not only could repeat these hymns, but who repeated them with the proper accents (for the Vedic Sanskrit has accents like Greek), nay, who, when looking through my printed edition of the Rig-Veda, could point out a misprint without the slightest hesitation.

I can tell you more. There are hardly any various readings in our MSS. of the Rig-Veda, but various schools in India have their own readings of certain passages, and they hand down those readings with great care. So, instead of collating MSS., as we do in Greek and Latin, I have asked some friends of mine to collate those Vedic students, who carry their own Rig-Veda in their memory, and to let me have the various readings from these living authorities.

Here then we are not dealing with theories, but with facts, which anybody may verify. The whole of the Rig-Veda, and a great deal more, still exists at the present moment in the oral tradition of a number of scholars who, if they liked, could write down every letter, and every accent, exactly as we find them in our old MSS. Of course, this learning by heart is carried on under a strict discipline; it is, in fact, considered as a sacred duty. A native friend of mine, himself a very distinguished Vedic scholar, tells me that a boy, who is to be brought up as a student of the Rig-Veda, has to spend about eight years in the house of his teacher. He has to learn ten books: first, the hymns of the Rig-Veda; then a prose treatise on sacrifices, called the Brahmana; then the so-called Forest-book or Aranyaka; then the rules on domestic ceremonies; and lastly, six treatises on pronunciation, grammar, etymology, metre, astronomy, and ceremonial.

These ten books, it has been calculated, contain nearly 30,000 lines, each line reckoned as thirty-two syllables.

A pupil studies every day during the eight years of his theological apprenticeship, except on the holidays, which are called "non-reading days." There being 360 days in a lunar year, the eight years would give him 2880 days. Deduct from this 384 holidays, and you get 2496 working days during the eight years. If you divide the number of lines, 30,000, by the number of working days, you get about twelve lines to be learned each day, though much time is taken up, in addition, for practising and rehearsing what has been learned before.

Now this is the state of things at present, though I doubt whether it will last much longer, and I always impress on my friends in India, and therefore impress on those also who will soon be settled as civil servants in India, the duty of trying to learn all that can still be learned from those living libraries. Much ancient Sanskrit lore will be lost forever when that race of Srotriyas becomes extinct.

But now let us look back. About a thousand years ago a Chinese of the name of I-tsing, a Buddhist, went to India to learn Sanskrit, in order to be able to translate some of the sacred books of his own religion, which were originally written in Sanskrit, into Chinese. He left China in 671, arrived at Tamralipti in India in 673, and went to the great College and Monastery of Nalanda, where he studied Sanskrit. He returned to China in 695, and died in 703.[271]

In one of his works which we still possess in Chinese, he gives an account of what he saw in India, not only among his own co-religionists, the Buddhists, but likewise among the Brahmans.[272]

Of the Buddhist priests he says that after they have learned to recite the five and the ten precepts, they are taught the 400 hymns of Matriketa, and afterward the 150 hymns of the same poet. When they are able to recite these, they begin the study of the Sutras of their Sacred Canon. They also learn by heart the Gatakamala,[273] which gives an account of Buddha in former states of existence. Speaking of what he calls the islands of the Southern Sea, which he visited after leaving India, I-tsing says: "There are more than ten islands in the South Sea. There both priests and laymen recite the Gatakamala, as they recite the hymns mentioned before; but it has not yet been translated into Chinese."

One of these stories, he proceeds to say, was versified by a king (Kie-zhih) and set to music, and was performed before the public with a band and dancing—evidently a Buddhist mystery play.

I-tsing then gives a short account of the system of education. Children, he says, learn the forty-nine letters and the 10,000 compound letters when they are six years old, and generally finish them in half a year. This corresponds to about 300 verses, each sloka of thirty-two syllables. It was originally taught by Mahesvara. At eight years, children begin to learn the grammar of Panini, and know it after about eight months. It consists of 1000 slokas, called Sutras.

Then follows the list of roots (dhatu) and the three appendices (khila), consisting again of 1000 slokas. Boys begin the three appendices when they are ten years old, and finish them in three years.

When they have reached the age of fifteen, they begin to study a commentary on the grammar (Sutra), and spend five years on learning it. And here I-tsing gives the following advice to his countrymen, many of whom came to India to learn Sanskrit, but seem to have learned it very imperfectly. "If men of China," he writes, "go to India, wishing to study there, they should first of all learn these grammatical works, and then only other subjects; if not, they will merely waste their labor. These works should be learned by heart. But this is suited for men of high quality only.... They should study hard day and night, without letting a moment pass for idle repose. They should be like Confucius, through whose hard study the binding of his Yih-king was three times cut asunder, being worn away; and like Sui-shih, who used to read a book repeatedly one hundred times." Then follows a remark, more intelligible in Chinese than in English: "The hairs of a bull are counted by thousands, the horn of a unicorn is only one."

I-tsing then speaks of the high degree of perfection to which the memory of these students attained, both among Buddhists and heretics. "Such men," he says, "could commit to memory the contents of two volumes, learning them only once."

And then turning to the heretics, or what we should call the orthodox Brahmans, he says: "The Brahmanas are regarded throughout the five divisions of India as the most respectable. They do not walk with the other three castes, and other mixed classes of people are still further dissociated from them. They revere their Scriptures, the four Vedas, containing about 100,000 verses.... The Vedas are handed down from mouth to mouth, not written on paper. There are in every generation some intelligent Brahmans who can recite those 100,000 verses.... I myself saw such men."

Here then we have an eye-witness who, in the seventh century after Christ, visited India, learned Sanskrit, and spent about twenty years in different monasteries—a man who had no theories of his own about oral tradition, but who, on the contrary, as coming from China, was quite familiar with the idea of a written, nay, of a printed literature: and yet what does he say? "The Vedas are not written on paper, but handed down from mouth to mouth."

Now, I do not quite agree here with I-tsing. At all events, we must not conclude from what he says that there existed no Sanskrit MSS. at all at his time. We know they existed. We know that in the first century of our era Sanskrit MSS. were carried from India to China, and translated there. Most likely therefore there were MSS. of the Veda also in existence. But I-tsing, for all that, was right in supposing that these MSS. were not allowed to be used by students, and that they had always to learn the Veda by heart and from the mouth of a properly qualified teacher. The very fact that in the later law-books severe punishments are threatened against persons who copy the Veda or learn it from a MSS., shows that MSS. existed, and that their existence interfered seriously with the ancient privileges of the Brahmans, as the only legitimate teachers of their sacred scriptures.

If now, after having heard this account of I-tsing, we go back for about another thousand years, we shall feel less skeptical in accepting the evidence which we find in the so-called Pratisakhyas, that is, collections of rules which, so far as we know at present, go back to the fifth century before our era, and which tell us almost exactly the same as what we can see in India at the present moment, namely that the education of children of the three twice-born castes, the Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, and Vaisyas, consisted in their passing at least eight years in the house of a Guru, and learning by heart the ancient Vedic hymns.

The art of teaching had even at that early time been reduced to a perfect system, and at that time certainly there is not the slightest trace of anything, such as a book, or skin, or parchment, a sheet of paper, pen or ink, being known even by name to the people of India; while every expression connected with what we should call literature, points to a literature (we cannot help using that word) existing in memory only, and being handed down with the most scrupulous care by means of oral tradition.

I had to enter into these details because I know that, with our ideas of literature, it requires an effort to imagine the bare possibility of a large amount of poetry, and still more of prose, existing in any but a written form. And yet here too we only see what we see elsewhere, namely that man, before the great discoveries of civilization were made, was able by greater individual efforts to achieve what to us, accustomed to easier contrivances, seems almost impossible. So-called savages were able to chip flints, to get fire by rubbing sticks of wood, which baffles our handiest workmen. Are we to suppose that, if they wished to preserve some songs which, as they believed, had once secured them the favor of their gods, had brought rain from heaven, or led them on to victory, they would have found no means of doing so? We have only to read such accounts as, for instance, Mr. William Wyatt Gill has given us in his "Historical Sketches of Savage Life in Polynesia,"[274] to see how anxious even savages are to preserve the records of their ancient heroes, kings, and gods, particularly when the dignity or nobility of certain families depends on these songs, or when they contain what might be called the title-deeds to large estates. And that the Vedic Indians were not the only savages of antiquity who discovered the means of preserving a large literature by means of oral tradition, we may learn from Caesar,[275] not a very credulous witness, who tells us that the "Druids were said to know a large number of verses by heart; that some of them spent twenty years in learning them, and that they considered it wrong to commit them to writing"—exactly the same story which we hear in India.

We must return once more to the question of dates. We have traced the existence of the Veda, as handed down by oral tradition, from our days to the days of I-tsing in the seventh century after Christ, and again to the period of the Pratisakhyas, in the fifth century before Christ.

In that fifth century B.C. took place the rise of Buddhism, a religion built up on the ruins of the Vedic religion, and founded, so to say, on the denial of the divine authority ascribed to the Veda by all orthodox Brahmans.

Whatever exists, therefore, of Vedic literature must be accommodated within the centuries preceding the rise of Buddhism, and if I tell you that there are three periods of Vedic literature to be accommodated, the third presupposing the second, and the second the first, and that even that first period presents us with a collection, and a systematic collection of Vedic hymns, I think you will agree with me that it is from no desire for an extreme antiquity, but simply from a respect for facts, that students of the Veda have come to the conclusion that these hymns, of which the MSS. do not carry us back beyond the fifteenth century after Christ, took their origin in the fifteenth century before Christ.

* * * * *

One fact I must mention once more, because I think it may carry conviction even against the stoutest skepticism.

I mentioned that the earliest inscriptions discovered in India belong to the reign of King Asoka, the grandson of Kandragupta, who reigned from 259-222 before Christ. What is the language of those inscriptions? Is it the Sanskrit of the Vedic hymns? Certainly not. Is it the later Sanskrit of the Brahmanas and Sutras? Certainly not. These inscriptions are written in the local dialects as then spoken in India, and these local dialects differ from the grammatical Sanskrit about as much as Italian does from Latin.

What follows from this? First, that the archaic Sanskrit of the Veda had ceased to be spoken before the third century B.C. Secondly, that even the later grammatical Sanskrit was no longer spoken and understood by the people at large; that Sanskrit therefore had ceased, nay, we may say, had long ceased to be the spoken language of the country when Buddhism arose, and that therefore the youth and manhood of the ancient Vedic language lie far beyond the period that gave birth to the teaching of Buddha, who, though he may have known Sanskrit, and even Vedic Sanskrit, insisted again and again on the duty that his disciples should preach his doctrines in the language of the people whom they wished to benefit.

* * * * *

And now, when the time allotted to me is nearly at an end, I find, as it always happens, that I have not been able to say one half of what I hoped to say as to the lessons to be learned by us in India, even with regard to this one branch of human knowledge only, the study of the origin of religion. I hope, however, I may have succeeded in showing you the entirely new aspect which the old problem of the theogony, or the origin and growth of the Devas or gods, assumes from the light thrown upon it by the Veda. Instead of positive theories, we now have positive facts, such as you look for in vain anywhere else; and though there is still a considerable interval between the Devas of the Veda, even in their highest form, and such concepts as Zeus, Apollon, and Athene, yet the chief riddle is solved, and we know now at last what stuff the gods of the ancient world were made of.

But this theogonic process is but one side of the ancient Vedic religion, and there are two other sides of at least the same importance and of even a deeper interest to us.

There are in fact three religions in the Veda, or, if I may say so, three naves in one great temple, reared, as it were, before our eyes by poets, prophets, and philosophers. Here too we can watch the work and the workmen. We have not to deal with hard formulas only, with unintelligible ceremonies, or petrified fetiches. We can see how the human mind arrives by a perfectly rational process at all its later irrationalities. This is what distinguishes the Veda from all other Sacred Books. Much, no doubt, in the Veda also, and in the Vedic ceremonial, is already old and unintelligible, hard, and petrified. But in many cases the development of names and concepts, their transition from the natural to the supernatural, from the individual to the general, is still going on, and it is for that very reason that we find it so difficult, nay almost impossible, to translate the growing thoughts of the Veda into the full-grown and more than full-grown language of our time.

Let us take one of the oldest words for god in the Veda, such as d e v a, the Latin deus. The dictionaries tell you that d e v a means god and gods, and so, no doubt, it does. But if we always translated d e v a in the Vedic hymns by god, we should not be translating, but completely transforming the thoughts of the Vedic poets. I do not mean only that our idea of God is totally different from the idea that was intended to be expressed by d e v a; but even the Greek and Roman concept of gods would be totally inadequate to convey the thoughts imbedded in the Vedic d e v a. D e v a meant originally bright, and nothing else. Meaning bright, it was constantly used of the sky, the stars, the sun, the dawn, the day, the spring, the rivers, the earth; and when a poet wished to speak of all of these by one and the same word—by what we should call a general term—he called them D e v a s. When that had been done, D e v a did no longer mean "the Bright ones," but the name comprehended all the qualities which the sky and the sun and the dawn shared in common, excluding only those that were peculiar to each.

Here you see how, by the simplest process, the D e v a s, the bright ones, might become and did become the D e v a s, the heavenly, the kind, the powerful, the invisible, the immortal—and, in the end, something very like the [Greek: theoi] (or dii) of Greeks and Romans.

In this way one Beyond, the Beyond of Nature, was built up in the ancient religion of the Veda, and peopled with Devas, and Asuras, and Vasus, and Adityas, all names for the bright solar, celestial, diurnal, and vernal powers of nature, without altogether excluding, however, even the dark and unfriendly powers, those of the night, of the dark clouds, or of winter, capable of mischief, but always destined in the end to succumb to the valor and strength of their bright antagonists.

* * * * *

We now come to the second nave of the Vedic temple, the second Beyond that was dimly perceived, and grasped and named by the ancient Rishis, namely the world of the Departed Spirits.[276]

There was in India, as elsewhere, another very early faith, springing up naturally in the hearts of the people, that their fathers and mothers, when they departed this life, departed to a Beyond, wherever it might be, either in the East from whence all the bright Devas seemed to come, or more commonly in the West, the land to which they seemed to go, called in the Veda the realm of Yama or the setting sun. The idea that beings which once had been, could ever cease to be, had not yet entered their minds; and from the belief that their fathers existed somewhere, though they could see them no more, there arose the belief in another Beyond, and the germs of another religion.

Nor was the actual power of the fathers quite imperceptible or extinct even after their death. Their presence continued to be felt in the ancient laws and customs of the family, most of which rested on their will and their authority. While their fathers were alive and strong, their will was law; and when, after their death, doubts or disputes arose on points of law or custom, it was but natural that the memory and the authority of the fathers should be appealed to to settle such points—that the law should still be their will.

Thus Manu says (IV. 178): "On the path on which his fathers and grandfathers have walked, on that path of good men let him walk, and he will not go wrong."

In the same manner then in which, out of the bright powers of nature, the Devas or gods had arisen, there arose out of predicates shared in common by the departed, such as p i t r i s, fathers, p r e t a, gone away, another general concept, what we should call Manes, the kind ones, Ancestors, Shades, Spirits, or Ghosts, whose worship was nowhere more fully developed than in India. That common name, P i t r i s or Fathers, gradually attracted toward itself all that the fathers shared in common. It came to mean not only fathers, but invisible, kind, powerful, immortal, heavenly beings, and we can watch in the Veda, better perhaps than anywhere else, the inevitable, yet most touching metamorphosis of ancient thought—the love of the child for father and mother becoming transfigured into an instinctive belief in the immortality of the soul.

It is strange, and really more than strange, that not only should this important and prominent side of the ancient religion of the Hindus have been ignored, but that of late its very existence should have been doubted. I feel obliged, therefore, to add a few words in support of what I have said just now of the supreme importance of this belief in and this worship of ancestral spirits in India from the most ancient to the most modern times. Mr. Herbert Spencer, who has done so much in calling attention to ancestorship as a natural ingredient of religion among all savage nations, declares in the most emphatic manner,[277] "that he has seen it implied, that he has heard it in conversation, and that he now has it before him in print, that no Indo-European or Semitic nation, so far as we know, seems to have made a religion of the worship of the dead." I do not doubt his words, but I think that on so important a point, Mr. Herbert Spencer ought to have named his authorities. It seems to me almost impossible that anybody who has ever opened a book on India should have made such a statement. There are hymns in the Rig-Veda addressed to the Fathers. There are full descriptions of the worship due to the Fathers in the Brahmanas and Sutras. The epic poems, the law books, the Puranas, all are brimful of allusions to ancestral offerings. The whole social fabric of India, with its laws of inheritance and marriage,[278] rests on a belief in the Manes—and yet we are told that no Indo-European nation seems to have made a religion of the worship of the dead.

The Persians had their Fravashis, the Greeks their [Greek: eidola], or rather their [Greek: theoi patrooi] and their [Greek: daimones],

[Greek: esthloi, epichthonioi, phylakes thneton anthropon; hoi rha phylassousin te dikas kai schetlia erga, eera hessamenoi pante phoitontes ep' aian, ploutodotai] (Hesiodi Opera et Dies, vv. 122-126);[279]

while among the Romans the Lares familiares and the Divi Manes were worshipped more zealously than any other gods.[280] Manu goes so far as to tell us in one place (III. 203): "An oblation by Brahmans to their ancestor transcends an oblation to the deities;" and yet we are told that no Indo-European nation seems to have made a religion of the worship of the dead.

Such things ought really not to be, if there is to be any progress in historical research, and I cannot help thinking that what Mr. Herbert Spencer meant was probably no more than that some scholars did not admit that the worship of the dead formed the whole of the religion of any of the Indo-European nations. That, no doubt, is perfectly true, but it would be equally true, I believe, of almost any other religion. And on this point again the students of anthropology will learn more, I believe, from the Veda than from any other book.

In the Veda the Pitris, or fathers, are invoked together with the Devas, or gods, but they are not confounded with them. The Devas never become Pitris, and though such adjectives as d e v a are sometimes applied to the Pitris, and they are raised to the rank of the older classes of Devas (Manu III. 192, 284, Yagnavalkya I. 268), it is easy to see that the Pitris and Devas had each their independent origin, and that they represent two totally distinct phases of the human mind in the creation of its objects of worship. This is a lesson which ought never to be forgotten.

We read in the Rig-Veda, VI. 52, 4: "May the rising Dawns protect me, may the flowing Rivers protect me, may the firm Mountains protect me, may the Fathers protect me at this invocation of the gods." Here nothing can be clearer than the separate existence of the Fathers, apart from the Dawns, the Rivers, and the Mountains, though they are included in one common Devahuti, however, or invocation of the gods.

We must distinguish, however, from the very first, between two classes, or rather between two concepts of Fathers, the one comprising the distant, half-forgotten, and almost mythical ancestors of certain families or of what would have been to the poets of the Veda, the whole human race, the other consisting of the fathers who had but lately departed, and who were still, as it were, personally remembered and revered.

The old ancestors in general approach more nearly to the gods. They are often represented as having gone to the abode of Yama, the ruler of the departed, and to live there in company with some of the Devas (Rig-Veda VII. 76, 4, devanam sadhamadah; Rig-Veda X. 16, 1, devanam vasanih).

We sometimes read of the great-grandfathers being in heaven, the grandfathers in the sky, the fathers on the earth, the first in company with the Adityas, the second with the Rudras, the last with the Vasus. All these are individual poetical conceptions.[281]

Yama himself is sometimes invoked as if he were one of the Fathers, the first of mortals that died or that trod the path of the Fathers (the pitriyana, X. 2, 7) leading to the common sunset in the West.[282] Still his real Deva-like nature is never completely lost, and, as the god of the setting sun, he is indeed the leader of the Fathers, but not one of the Fathers himself.[283]

Many of the benefits which men enjoyed on earth were referred to the Fathers, as having first been procured and first enjoyed by them. They performed the first sacrifices, and secured the benefits arising from them. Even the great events in nature, such as the rising of the sun, the light of the day and the darkness of the night, were sometimes referred to them, and they were praised for having broken open the dark stable of the morning and having brought out the cows, that is, the days (X. 68, 11).[284] They were even praised for having adorned the night with stars, while in later writing the stars are said to be the lights of the good people who have entered into heaven.[285] Similar ideas, we know, prevailed among the ancient Persians, Greeks, and Romans. The Fathers are called in the Veda truthful (satya), wise (suvidatra), righteous (ritavat), poets (kavi), leaders (pathikrit), and one of their most frequent epithets is somya, delighting in Soma, Soma being the ancient intoxicating beverage of the Vedic Rishis, which was believed to bestow immortality,[286] but which had been lost, or at all events had become difficult to obtain by the Aryans, after their migration into the Punjab.[287]

The families of the Bhrigus, the Angiras, the Atharvans[288] all have their Pitris or Fathers, who are invoked to sit down on the grass and to accept the offerings placed there for them. Even the name of Pitriyagna, sacrifice of the Fathers, occurs already in the hymns of the Rig-Veda.[289]

The following is one of the hymns of the Rig-Veda by which those ancient Fathers were invited to come to their sacrifice (Rig-veda X. 15):[290]

1. "May the Soma-loving Fathers, the lowest, the highest, and the middle, arise. May the gentle and righteous Fathers who have come to life (again), protect us in these invocations!

2. "May this salutation be for the Fathers to-day, for those who have departed before or after; whether they now dwell in the sky above the earth, or among the blessed people.

3. "I invited the wise Fathers ... may they come hither quickly, and sitting on the grass readily partake of the poured-out draught!

4. "Come hither to us with your help, you Fathers who sit on the grass! We have prepared these libations for you, accept them! Come hither with your most blessed protection, and give us health and wealth without fail!

5. "The Soma-loving Fathers have been called hither to their dear viands which are placed on the grass. Let them approach, let them listen, let them bless, let them protect us!

6. "Bending your knee and sitting on my right, accept all this sacrifice. Do not hurt us, O Fathers, for any wrong that we may have committed against you, men as we are.

7. "When you sit down on the lap of the red dawns, grant wealth to the generous mortal! O Fathers, give of your treasure to the sons of this man here, and bestow vigor here on us!

8. "May Yama, as a friend with friends, consume the offerings according to his wish, united with those old Soma-loving Fathers of ours, the Vasishthas, who arranged the Soma draught.

9. "Come hither, O Agni, with those wise and truthful Fathers who like to sit down near the hearth, who thirsted when yearning for the gods, who knew the sacrifice, and who were strong in praise with their songs.

10. "Come, O Agni, with those ancient fathers who like to sit down near the hearth, who forever praise the gods, the truthful, who eat and drink our oblations, making company with Indra and the gods.

11. "O Fathers, you who have been consumed by Agni, come here, sit down on your seats, you kind guides! Eat of the offerings which we have placed on the turf, and then grant us wealth and strong offspring!

12. "O Agni, O Gatavedas,[291] at our request thou hast carried the offerings, having first rendered them sweet. Thou gavest them to the Fathers, and they fed on their share. Eat also, O god, the proffered oblations!

13. "The Fathers who are here, and the Fathers who are not here, those whom we know, and those whom we know not, thou Gatavedas, knowest how many they are, accept the well-made sacrifice with the sacrificial portions!

14. "To those who, whether burned by fire or not burned by fire, rejoice in their share in the midst of heaven, grant thou, O King, that their body may take that life which they wish for!"[292]

Distinct from the worship offered to these primitive ancestors, is the reverence which from an early time was felt to be due by children to their departed father, soon also to their grandfather, and great-grandfather. The ceremonies in which these more personal feelings found expression were of a more domestic character, and allowed therefore of greater local variety.

It would be quite impossible to give here even an abstract only of the minute regulations which have been preserved to us in the Brahmanas, the Srauta, Grihya, and Samayakarika Sutras, the Law-books, and a mass of later manuals on the performance of endless rites, all intended to honor the Departed. Such are the minute prescriptions as to times and seasons, as to altars and offerings, as to the number and shape of the sacrificial vessels, as to the proper postures of the sacrificers, and the different arrangements of the vessels, that it is extremely difficult to catch hold of what we really care for, namely, the thoughts and intentions of those who first devised all these intricacies. Much has been written on this class of sacrifices by European scholars also, beginning with Colebrooke's excellent essays on "The Religious Ceremonies of the Hindus," first published in the "Asiatic Researches," vol. v. Calcutta, 1798. But when we ask the simple question, What was the thought from whence all this outward ceremonial sprang, and what was the natural craving of the human heart which it seemed to satisfy, we hardly get an intelligible answer anywhere. It is true that Sraddhas continue to be performed all over India to the present day, but we know how widely the modern ceremonial has diverged from the rules laid down in the old Sastras, and it is quite clear from the descriptions given to us by recent travellers that no one can understand the purport even of these survivals of the old ceremonial, unless he understands Sanskrit and can read the old Sutras. We are indeed told in full detail how the cakes were made which the Spirits wore supposed to eat, how many stalks of grass were to be used on which they had to be offered, how long each stalk ought to be, and in what direction it should be held. All the things which teach us nothing are explained to us in abundance, but the few things which the true scholar really cares for are passed over, as if they had no interest to us at all, and have to be discovered under heaps of rubbish.

In order to gain a little light, I think we ought to distinguish between—

1. The daily ancestral sacrifice, the Pitriyagna, as one of the five Great Sacrifices (Mahayagnas);

2. The monthly ancestral sacrifice, the Pinda-pitri-yagna, as part of the New and Full-moon sacrifice;

3. The funeral ceremonies on the death of a householder;

4. The Agapes, or feasts of love and charity, commonly called Sraddhas, at which food and other charitable gifts were bestowed on deserving persons in memory of the deceased ancestors. The name of Sraddha belongs properly to this last class only, but it has been transferred to the second and third class of sacrifices also, because Sraddha formed an important part in them.

The daily Pitriyagna or Ancestor-worship is one of the five sacrifices, sometimes called the Great Sacrifices,[293] which every married man ought to perform day by day. They are mentioned in the Grihya-sutras (Asv. III. 1), as Devayagna, for the Devas, Bhutayagna, for animals, etc., Pitriyagna, for the Fathers, Brahmayagna, for Brahman, i.e. study of the Veda, and Manushyayagna, for men, i.e. hospitality, etc.

Manu (III. 70) tells us the same, namely, that a married man has five great religious duties to perform:

1. The Brahma-sacrifice, i.e. the studying and teaching of the Veda (sometimes called Ahuta).

2. The Pitri-sacrifice, i.e. the offering of cakes and water to the Manes (sometimes called Prasita).

3. The Deva-sacrifice, i.e. the offering of oblations to the gods (sometimes called Huta).

4. The Bhuta-sacrifice, i.e. the giving of food to living creatures (sometimes called Prahuta).

5. The Manushya-sacrifice, i.e. the receiving of guests with hospitality (sometimes called Brahmya huta).[294]

The performance of this daily Pitriyagna, seems to have been extremely simple. The householder had to put his sacred cord on the right shoulder, to say "Svadha to the Fathers," and to throw the remains of certain offerings toward the south.[295]

The human impulse to this sacrifice, if sacrifice it can be called, is clear enough. The five "great sacrifices" comprehended in early times the whole duty of man from day to day. They were connected with his daily meal.[296] When this meal was preparing, and before he could touch it himself, he was to offer something to the gods, a Vaisvadeva offering,[297] in which the chief deities were Agni, fire, Soma the Visve Devas, Dhanvantari, the kind of AEsculapius, Kuhu and Anumati (phases of the moon), Pragapati, lord of creatures, Dyava-prithivi, Heaven and Earth, and Svishtakrit, the fire on the hearth.[298]

After having thus satisfied the gods in the four quarters, the householder had to throw some oblations into the open air, which were intended for animals, and in some cases for invisible beings, ghosts and such like. Then he was to remember the Departed, the Pitris, with some offerings; but even after having done this he was not yet to begin his own repast, unless he had also given something to strangers (atithis).

When all this had been fulfilled, and when, besides, the householder, as we should say, had said his daily prayers, or repeated what he had learned of the Veda, then and then only was he in harmony with the world that surrounded him, the five Great Sacrifices had been performed by him, and he was free from all the sins arising from a thoughtless and selfish life.

This Pitriyagna, as one of the five daily sacrifices, is described in the Brahmanas, the Grihya and Samayakarika Sutras, and, of course, in the legal Samhitas. Rajendralal Mitra[299] informs us that "orthodox Brahmans to this day profess to observe all these five ceremonies, but that in reality only the offerings to the gods and manes are strictly observed, while the reading is completed by the repetition of the Gayatri only, and charity and feeding of animals are casual and uncertain."

Quite different from this simple daily ancestral offering is the Pitriyagna or Pinda-pitriyagna, which forms part of many of the statutable sacrifices, and, first of all, of the New and Full-moon sacrifice. Here again the human motive is intelligible enough. It was the contemplation of the regular course of nature, the discovery of order in the coming and going of the heavenly bodies, the growing confidence in some ruling power of the world which lifted man's thoughts from his daily work to higher regions, and filled his heart with a desire to approach these higher powers with praise, thanksgiving, and offerings. And it was at such moments as the waning of the moon that his thoughts would most naturally turn to those whose life had waned, whose bright faces were no longer visible on earth, his fathers or ancestors. Therefore at the very beginning of the New-moon sacrifice, we are told in the Brahmanas[300] and in the Srauta-sutras, that a Pitriyagna, a sacrifice to the Fathers, has to be performed. A Karu or pie had to be prepared in the Dakshinagni, the southern fire, and the offerings, consisting of water and round cakes (pindas), were specially dedicated to father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, while the wife of the sacrificer, if she wished for a son, was allowed to eat one of the cakes.[301]

Similar ancestral offerings took place during other sacrifices too, of which the New and Full-moon sacrifices form the general type.

It may be quite true that these two kinds of ancestral sacrifices have the same object and share the same name, but their character is different; and if, as has often been the case, they are mixed up together, we lose the most important lessons which a study of the ancient ceremonial should teach us. I cannot describe the difference between these two Pitriyagnas more decisively than by pointing out that the former was performed by the father of a family, or, if we may say so, by a layman, the latter by a regular priest, or a class of priests, selected by the sacrificer to act in his behalf. As the Hindus themselves would put it, the former is a grihya, a domestic, the latter a srauta, a priestly ceremony.[302]

We now come to a third class of ceremonies which are likewise domestic and personal, but which differ from the two preceding ceremonies by their occasional character, I mean the funeral, as distinct from the ancestral ceremonies. In one respect these funeral ceremonies may represent an earlier phase of worship than the daily and monthly ancestral sacrifices. They lead up to them, and, as it were, prepare the departed for their future dignity as Pitris or Ancestors. On the other hand, the conception of Ancestors in general must have existed before any departed person could have been raised to that rank, and I therefore preferred to describe the ancestral sacrifices first.

Nor need I enter here very fully into the character of the special funeral ceremonies of India. I described them in a special paper, "On Sepulture and Sacrificial Customs in the Veda," nearly thirty years ago.[303] Their spirit is the same as that of the funeral ceremonies of Greeks, Romans, Slavonic, and Teutonic nations, and the coincidences between them all are often most surprising.

In Vedic times the people in India both burned and buried their dead, and they did this with a certain solemnity, and, after a time, according to fixed rules. Their ideas about the status of the departed, after their body had been burned and their ashes buried, varied considerably, but in the main they seem to have believed in a life to come, not very different from our life on earth, and in the power of the departed to confer blessings on their descendants. It soon therefore became the interest of the survivors to secure the favor of their departed friends by observances and offerings which, at first, were the spontaneous manifestation of human feelings, but which soon became traditional, technical, in fact, ritual.

On the day on which the corpse had been burned, the relatives (samanodakas) bathed and poured out a handful of water to the deceased, pronouncing his name and that of his family.[304] At sunset they returned home, and, as was but natural, they were told to cook nothing during the first night, and to observe certain rules during the next day up to ten days, according to the character of the deceased. These were days of mourning, or, as they were afterward called, days of impurity, when the mourners withdrew from contact with the world, and shrank by a natural impulse from the ordinary occupations and pleasures of life.[305]

Then followed the collecting of the ashes on the 11th, 13th, or 15th day of the dark half of the moon. On returning from thence they bathed, and then offered what was called a Sraddha to the departed.

This word Sraddha, which meets us here for the first time, is full of interesting lessons, if only properly understood. First of all it should be noted that it is absent, not only from the hymns, but, so far as we know at present, even from the ancient Brahmanas. It seems therefore a word of a more modern origin. There is a passage in Apastamba's Dharma-sutras which betrays, on the part of the author, a consciousness of the more modern origin of the Sraddhas:[306]

"Formerly men and gods lived together in this world. Then the gods in reward of their sacrifices went to heaven, but men were left behind. Those men who perform sacrifices in the same manner as the gods did, dwelt (after death) with the gods and Brahman in heaven. Now (seeing men left behind) Manu revealed this ceremony which is designated by the word Sraddha."

Sraddha has assumed many[307] meanings, and Manu,[308] for instance, uses it almost synonymously with pitriyagna. But its original meaning seems to have been "that which is given with sraddha or faith," i.e. charity bestowed on deserving persons, and, more particularly, on Brahmanas. The gift was called sraddha, but the act itself also was called by the same name. The word is best explained by Narayana in his commentary on the Grihya-sutras of Asvalayana (IV. 7), "Sraddha is that which is given in faith to Brahmans for the sake of the Fathers."[309]

Such charitable gifts flowed most naturally and abundantly at the time of a man's death, or whenever his memory was revived by happy or unhappy events in a family, and hence Sraddha has become the general name for ever so many sacred acts commemorative of the departed. We hear of Sraddhas not only at funerals, but at joyous events also, when presents were bestowed in the name of the family, and therefore in the name of the ancestors also, on all who had a right to that distinction.

It is a mistake therefore to look upon Sraddhas simply as offerings of water or cakes to the Fathers. An offering to the Fathers was, no doubt, a symbolic part of each Sraddha, but its more important character was charity bestowed in memory of the Fathers.

This, in time, gave rise to much abuse, like the alms bestowed on the Church during the Middle Ages. But in the beginning the motive was excellent. It was simply a wish to benefit others, arising from the conviction, felt more strongly in the presence of death than at any other time, that as we can carry nothing out of this world, we ought to do as much good as possible in the world with our worldly goods. At Sraddhas the Brahmanas were said to represent the sacrificial fire into which the gifts should be thrown.[310] If we translate here Brahmanas by priests, we can easily understand why there should have been in later times so strong a feeling against Sraddhas. But priest is a very bad rendering of Brahmana. The Brahmanas were, socially and intellectually, a class of men of high breeding. They were a recognized and, no doubt, a most essential element in the ancient society of India. As they lived for others, and were excluded from most of the lucrative pursuits of life, it was a social, and it soon became a religious duty, that they should be supported by the community at large. Great care was taken that the recipients of such bounty as was bestowed at Sraddhas should be strangers, neither friends nor enemies, and in no way related to the family. Thus Apastamba says:[311] "The food eaten (at a Sraddha) by persons related to the giver is a gift offered to goblins. It reaches neither the Manes nor the Gods." A man who tried to curry favor by bestowing Sraddhika gifts, was called by an opprobrious name, a Sraddha-mitra.[312]

Without denying therefore that in later times the system of Sraddhas may have degenerated, I think we can perceive that it sprang from a pure source, and, what for our present purpose is even more important, from an intelligible source.

Let us now return to the passage in the Grihya-sutras of Asvalayana, where we met for the first time with the name of Sraddha.[313] It was the Sraddha to be given for the sake of the Departed, after his ashes had been collected in an urn and buried. This Sraddha is called ekoddishta,[314] or, as we should say, personal. It was meant for one person only, not for the three ancestors, nor for all the ancestors. Its object was in fact to raise the departed to the rank of a Pitri, and this had to be achieved by Sraddha offerings continued during a whole year. This at least is the general, and, most likely, the original rule. Apastamba says that the Sraddha for a deceased relative should be performed every day during the year, and that after that a monthly Sraddha only should be performed or none at all, that is, no more personal Sraddha,[315] because the departed shares henceforth in the regular Parvana-sraddhas.[316] Sankhayana says the same,[317] namely that the personal Sraddha lasts for a year, and that then "the Fourth" is dropped, i.e. the great-grandfather was dropped, the grandfather became the great-grandfather, the father the grandfather, while the lately Departed occupied the father's place among the three principal Pitris.[318] This was called the Sapindikarana, i.e. the elevating of the departed to the rank of an ancestor.

There are here, as elsewhere, many exceptions. Gobhila allows six months instead of a year, or even a Tripaksha,[319] i.e. three half-months; and lastly, any auspicious event (vriddhi) may become the occasion of the Sapindikarana.[320]

The full number of Sraddhas necessary for the Sapindana is sometimes given as sixteen, viz., the first, then one in each of the twelve months, then two semestral ones, and lastly the Sapindana. But here too much variety is allowed, though, if the Sapindana takes place before the end of the year, the number of sixteen Sraddhas has still to be made up.[321]

When the Sraddha is offered on account of an auspicious event, such as a birth or a marriage, the fathers invoked are not the father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, who are sometimes called asrumukha, with tearful faces, but the ancestors before them, and they are called nandimukha, or joyful.[322]

Colebrooke,[323] to whom we owe an excellent description of what a Sraddha is in modern times, took evidently the same view. "The first set of funeral ceremonies," he writes, "is adapted to effect, by means of oblations, the re-embodying of the soul of the deceased, after burning his corpse. The apparent scope of the second set is to raise his shade from this world, where it would else, according to the notions of the Hindus, continue to roam among demons and evil spirits, up to heaven, and then deify him, as it were, among the manes of departed ancestors. For this end, a Sraddha should regularly be offered to the deceased on the day after the mourning expires; twelve other Sraddhas singly to the deceased in twelve successive months; similar obsequies at the end of the third fortnight, and also in the sixth month, and in the twelfth; and the oblation called Sapindana on the first anniversary of his decease.[324] At this Sapindana Sraddha, which is the last of the ekoddishta sraddhas, four funeral cakes are offered to the deceased and his three ancestors, that consecrated to the deceased being divided into three portions and mixed with the other three cakes. The portion retained is often offered to the deceased, and the act of union and fellowship becomes complete."[325]

When this system of Sraddhas had once been started, it seems to have spread very rapidly. We soon hear of the monthly Sraddha, not only in memory of one person lately deceased, but as part of the Pitriyagna, and as obligatory, not only on householders (agnimat), but on other persons also, and, not only on the three upper castes, but even, without hymns, on Sudras,[326] and as to be performed, not only on the day of New-Moon, but on other days also,[327] whenever there was an opportunity. Gobhila seems to look upon the Pindapitriyagna, as itself a Sraddha,[328] and the commentator holds that, even if there are no pindas or cakes, the Brahmans ought still to be fed. This Sraddha, however, is distinguished from the other, the true Sraddha, called Anvaharya, which follows it,[329] and which is properly known by the name of Parvana Sraddha.

The same difficulties which confront us when we try to form a clear conception of the character of the various ancestral ceremonies, were felt by the Brahmans themselves, as may be seen from the long discussions in the commentary on the Sraddha-kalpa[330] and from the abusive language used by Kandrakanta Tarkalankara against Raghunandana. The question with them assumes the form of what is pradhana (primary) and what is anga (secondary) in these sacrifices, and the final result arrived at is that sometimes the offering of cakes is pradhana, as in the Pindapitriyagna, sometimes the feeding of Brahmans only, as in the Nitya-sraddha, sometimes both, as in the Sapindikarana.

We may safely say, therefore, that not a day passed in the life of the ancient people of India on which they were not reminded of their ancestors, both near and distant, and showed their respect for them, partly by symbolic offerings to the Manes, partly by charitable gifts to deserving persons, chiefly Brahmans. These offertories varied from the simplest, such as milk and fruits, to the costliest, such as gold and jewels. The feasts given to those who were invited to officiate or assist at a Sraddha seem in some cases to have been very sumptuous,[331] and what is very important, the eating of meat, which in later times was strictly forbidden in many sects, must, when the Sutras were written, have been fully recognized at these feasts, even to the killing and eating of a cow.[332]

This shows that these Sraddhas, though, possibly of later date than the Pitriyagnas, belong nevertheless to a very early phase of Indian life. And though much may have been changed in the outward form of these ancient ancestral sacrifices, their original solemn character has remained unchanged. Even at present, when the worship of the ancient Devas is ridiculed by many who still take part in it, the worship of the ancestors and the offering of Sraddhas have maintained much of their old sacred character. They have sometimes been compared to the "communion" in the Christian Church, and it is certainly true that many natives speak of their funeral and ancestral ceremonies with a hushed voice and with real reverence. They alone seem still to impart to their life on earth a deeper significance and a higher prospect. I could go even a step further and express my belief, that the absence of such services for the dead and of ancestral commemorations is a real loss in our own religion. Almost every religion recognizes them as tokens of a loving memory offered to a father, to a mother, or even to a child, and though in many countries they may have proved a source of superstition, there runs through them all a deep well of living human faith that ought never to be allowed to perish. The early Christian Church had to sanction the ancient prayers for the Souls of the Departed, and in more southern countries the services on All Saints' and on All Souls' Day continue to satisfy a craving of the human heart which must be satisfied in every religion.[333] We, in the North, shrink from these open manifestations of grief, but our hearts know often a deeper bitterness; nay, there would seem to be a higher truth than we at first imagine in the belief of the ancients that the souls of our beloved ones leave us no rest, unless they are appeased by daily prayers, or, better still, by daily acts of goodness in remembrance of them.[334]

But there is still another Beyond that found expression in the ancient religion of India. Besides the Devas or Gods, and besides the Pitris or Fathers, there was a third world, without which the ancient religion of India could not have become what we see it in the Veda. That third Beyond was what the poets of the Veda call the R i t a, and which I believe meant originally no more than "the straight line." It is applied to the straight line of the sun in its daily course, to the straight line followed by day and night, to the straight line that regulates the seasons, to the straight line which, in spite of many momentary deviations, was discovered to run through the whole realm of nature. We call that Rita, that straight, direct, or right line, when we apply it in a more general sense, the Law of Nature; and when we apply it to the moral world, we try to express the same idea again by speaking of the Moral Law, the law on which our life is founded, the eternal Law of Right and Reason, or, it may be, "that which makes for righteousness" both within us and without.[335]

And thus, as a thoughtful look on nature led to the first perception of bright gods, and in the end of a God of light, as love of our parents was transfigured into piety and a belief in immortality, a recognition of the straight lines in the world without, and in the world within, was raised into the highest faith, a faith in a law that underlies everything, a law in which we may trust, whatever befall, a law which speaks within us with the divine voice of conscience, and tells us "this is rita," "this is right," "this is true," whatever the statutes of our ancestors, or even the voices of our bright gods, may say to the contrary.[336]

These three Beyonds are the three revelations of antiquity; and it is due almost entirely to the discovery of the Veda that we, in this nineteenth century of ours, have been allowed to watch again these early phases of thought and religion, which had passed away long before the beginnings of other literatures.[337] In the Veda an ancient city has been laid bare before our eyes which, in the history of all other religions, is filled up with rubbish, and built over by new architects. Some of the earliest and most instructive scenes of our distant childhood have risen once more above the horizon of our memory which, until thirty or forty years ago, seemed to have vanished forever.

* * * * *

Only a few words more to indicate at least how this religious growth in India contained at the same time the germs of Indian philosophy. Philosophy in India is, what it ought to be, not the denial, but the fulfilment of religion; it is the highest religion, and the oldest name of the oldest system of philosophy in India is V e d a n t a, that is, the end, the goal, the highest object of the Veda.

Let us return once more to that ancient theologian who lived in the fifth century B.C., and who told us that, even before his time, all the gods had been discovered to be but three gods, the gods of the Earth, the gods of the Air, and the gods of the Sky, invoked under various names. The same writer tells us that in reality there is but one God, but he does not call him the Lord, or the Highest God, the Creator, Ruler, and Preserver of all things, but he calls him A t m a n, THE SELF. The one Atman or Self, he says, is praised in many ways owing to the greatness of the godhead. And then he goes on to say: "The other gods are but so many members of the one Atman, Self, and thus it has been said that the poets compose their praises according to the multiplicity of the natures of the beings whom they praise."

It is true, no doubt, that this is the language of a philosophical theologian, not of an ancient poet. Yet these philosophical reflections belong to the fifth century before our era, if not to an earlier date; and the first germs of such thoughts may be discovered in some of the Vedic hymns also. I have quoted already from the hymns such passages as[338]—"They speak of Mitra, Varuna, Agni; then he is the heavenly bird Garutmat; that which is and is one the poets call in various ways; they speak of Yama, Agni, Matarisvan."

In another hymn, in which the sun is likened to a bird, we read: "Wise poets represent by their words the bird who is one, in many ways."[339]

All this is still tinged with mythology; but there are other passages from which a purer light beams upon us, as when one poet asks:[340]

"Who saw him when he was first born, when he who has no bones bore him who has bones? Where was the breath, the blood, the Self of the world? Who went to ask this from any that knew it?"

Here, too, the expression is still helpless, but though the flesh is weak, the spirit is very willing. The expression, "He who has bones" is meant for that which has assumed consistency and form, the Visible, as opposed to that which has no bones, no body, no form, the Invisible, while "breath, blood, and self of the world" are but so many attempts at finding names and concepts for what is by necessity inconceivable, and therefore unnamable.

In the second period of Vedic literature, in the so-called Brahmanas, and more particularly in what is called the Upanishads, or the Vedanta portion, these thoughts advance to perfect clearness and definiteness. Here the development of religious thought, which took its beginning in the hymns, attains to its fulfilment. The circle becomes complete. Instead of comprehending the One by many names, the many names are now comprehended to be the One. The old names are openly discarded; even such titles as Pragapati, lord of creatures, Visvakarman, maker of all things, Dhatri, creator, are put aside as inadequate. The name now used is an expression of nothing but the purest and highest subjectiveness—it is A t m a n, the Self, far more abstract than our E g o—the Self of all things, the Self of all the old mythological gods—for they were not mere names, but names intended for something—lastly, the Self in which each individual self must find rest, must come to himself, must find his own true Self.

You may remember that I spoke to you in my first lecture of a boy who insisted on being sacrificed by his father, and who, when he came to Yama, the ruler of the departed, was granted three boons, and who then requested, as his third boon, that Yama should tell him what became of man after death. That dialogue forms part of one of the Upanishads, it belongs to the Vedanta, the end of the Veda, the highest aim of the Veda. I shall read you a few extracts from it.

Yama, the King of the Departed, says:

"Men who are fools, dwelling in ignorance, though wise in their own sight, and puffed up with vain knowledge, go round and round, staggering to and fro, like blind led by the blind.

"The future never rises before the eyes of the careless child, deluded by the delusions of wealth. This is the world, he thinks; there is no other; thus he falls again and again under my sway (the sway of death).

"The wise, who by means of meditating on his Self, recognizes the Old (the old man within) who is difficult to see, who has entered into darkness, who is hidden in the cave, who dwells in the abyss, as God, he indeed leaves joy and sorrow far behind.

"That Self, the Knower, is not born, it dies not; it came from nothing, it never became anything. The Old man is unborn, from everlasting to everlasting; he is not killed, though the body be killed.

"That Self is smaller than small, greater than great; hidden in the heart of the creature. A man who has no more desires and no more griefs, sees the majesty of the Self by the grace of the creator.

"Though sitting still, he walks far; though lying down, he goes everywhere. Who save myself is able to know that God, who rejoices, and rejoices not?

"That Self cannot be gained by the Veda; nor by the understanding, nor by much learning. He whom the Self chooses, by him alone the Self can be gained.

"The Self chooses him as his own. But he who has not first turned away from his wickedness, who is not calm and subdued, or whose mind is not at rest, he can never obtain the Self, even by knowledge.

"No mortal lives by the breath that goes up and by the breath that goes down. We live by another, in whom both repose.

"Well then, I shall tell thee this mystery, the eternal word (Brahman), and what happens to the Self, after reaching death.

"Some are born again, as living beings, others enter into stocks and stones, according to their work, and according to their knowledge.

"But he, the Highest Person, who wakes in us while we are asleep, shaping one lovely sight after another, he indeed is called the Light, he is called Brahman, he alone is called the Immortal. All worlds are founded on it, and no one goes beyond. This is that.

"As the one fire, after it has entered the world, though one, becomes different according to what it burns, thus the One Self within all things, becomes different, according to whatever it enters, but it exists also apart.

"As the sun, the eye of the world, is not contaminated by the external impurities seen by the eye, thus the One Self within all things is never contaminated by the sufferings of the world, being himself apart.

"There is one eternal thinker, thinking non-eternal thoughts; he, though one, fulfils the desires of many. The wise who perceive Him within their Self, to them belongs eternal life, eternal peace.[341]

"Whatever there is, the whole world, when gone forth (from Brahman), trembles in his breath. That Brahman is a great terror, like a drawn sword. Those who know it, become immortal.

"He (Brahman) cannot be reached by speech, by mind, or by the eye. He cannot be apprehended, except by him who says, He is.

"When all desires that dwell in the heart cease, then the mortal becomes immortal, and obtains Brahman.

"When all the fetters of the heart here on earth are broken, when all that binds us to this life is undone, then the mortal becomes immortal—here my teaching ends."

This is what is called Vedanta, the Veda-end, the end of the Veda, and this is the religion or the philosophy, whichever you like to call it, that has lived on from about 500 B.C. to the present day. If the people of India can be said to have now any system of religion at all—apart from their ancestral sacrifices and their Sraddhas, and apart from mere caste-observances—it is to be found in the Vedanta philosophy, the leading tenets of which are known, to some extent in every village.[342] That great revival of religion, which was inaugurated some fifty years ago by Ram-Mohun Roy, and is now known as the Brahma-Samag, under the leadership of my noble friend Keshub Chunder Sen, was chiefly founded on the Upanishads, and was Vedantic in spirit. There is, in fact, an unbroken continuity between the most modern and the most ancient phases of Hindu thought, extending over more than three thousand years.

To the present day India acknowledges no higher authority in matters of religion, ceremonial, customs, and law than the Veda, and so long as India is India, nothing will extinguish that ancient spirit of Vedantism which is breathed by every Hindu from his earliest youth, and pervades in various forms the prayers even of the idolater, the speculations of the philosopher, and the proverbs of the beggar.

For purely practical reasons therefore—I mean for the very practical object of knowing something of the secret springs which determine the character, the thoughts and deeds of the lowest as well as of the highest among the people in India—an acquaintance with their religion, which is founded on the Veda, and with their philosophy, which is founded on the Vedanta, is highly desirable.

It is easy to make light of this, and to ask, as some statesmen have asked, even in Europe, What has religion, or what has philosophy, to do with politics? In India, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, and notwithstanding the indifference on religious matters so often paraded before the world by the Indians themselves, religion, and philosophy too, are great powers still. Read the account that has lately been published of two native statesmen, the administrators of two first-class states in Saurashtra, Junagadh, and Bhavnagar, Gokulaji and Gaurisankara,[343] and you will see whether the Vedanta is still a moral and a political power in India or not.

But I claim even more for the Vedanta, and I recommend its study, not only to the candidates for the Indian Civil Service, but to all true students of philosophy. It will bring before them a view of life, different from all other views of life which are placed before us in the History of Philosophy. You saw how behind all the Devas or gods, the authors of the Upanishads discovered the Atman or Self. Of that Self they predicated three things only, that it is, that it perceives, and that it enjoys eternal bliss. All other predicates were negative: it is not this, it is not that—it is beyond anything that we can conceive or name.

But that Self, that Highest Self, the Paramatman, could be discovered after a severe moral and intellectual discipline only, and those who had not yet discovered it were allowed to worship lower gods, and to employ more poetical names to satisfy their human wants. Those who knew the other gods to be but names or persons—personae or masks, in the true sense of the word—pratikas, as they call them in Sanskrit—knew also that those who worshipped these names or persons, worshipped in truth the Highest Self, though ignorantly. This is a most characteristic feature in the religious history of India. Even in the Bhagavadgita, a rather popular and exoteric exposition of Vedantic doctrines, the Supreme Lord or Bhagavat himself is introduced as saying: "Even those who worship idols, worship me."[344]

But that was not all. As behind the names of Agni, Indra, and Pragapati, and behind all the mythology of nature, the ancient sages of India had discovered the Atman—let us call it the objective Self—they perceived also behind the veil of the body, behind the senses, behind the mind, and behind our reason (in fact behind the mythology of the soul, which we often call psychology), another Atman, or the subjective Self. That Self too was to be discovered by a severe moral and intellectual discipline only, and those who wished to find it, who wished to know, not themselves, but their Self, had to cut far deeper than the senses, or the mind, or the reason, or the ordinary Ego. All these too were Devas, bright apparitions—mere names—yet names meant for something. Much that was most dear, that had seemed for a time their very self, had to be surrendered, before they could find the Self of Selves, the Old Man, the Looker-on, a subject independent of all personality, an existence independent of all life.

When that point had been reached, then the highest knowledge began to dawn, the Self within (the Pratyagatman) was drawn toward the Highest Self (the Paramatman), it found its true self in the Highest Self, and the oneness of the subjective with the objective Self was recognized as underlying all reality, as the dim dream of religion—as the pure light of philosophy.

This fundamental idea is worked out with systematic completeness in the Vedanta philosophy, and no one who can appreciate the lessons contained in Berkeley's philosophy, will read the Upanishads and the Brahmasutras, and their commentaries without feeling a richer and a wiser man.

I admit that it requires patience, discrimination, and a certain amount of self-denial before we can discover the grains of solid gold in the dark mines of Eastern philosophy. It is far easier and far more amusing for shallow critics to point out what is absurd and ridiculous in the religion and philosophy of the ancient world than for the earnest student to discover truth and wisdom under strange disguises. Some progress, however, has been made, even during the short span of life that we can remember. The Sacred Books of the East are no longer a mere butt for the invectives of missionaries or the sarcasms of philosophers. They have at last been recognized as historical documents, ay, as the most ancient documents in the history of the human mind, and as palaeontological records of an evolution that begins to elicit wider and deeper sympathies than the nebular formation of the planet on which we dwell for a season, or the organic development of that chrysalis which we call man.

If you think that I exaggerate, let me read you in conclusion what one of the greatest philosophical critics[345]—and certainly not a man given to admiring the thoughts of others—says of the Vedanta, and more particularly of the Upanishads. Schopenhauer writes:

"In the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. It has been the solace of my life—it will be the solace of my death."[346]

* * * * *

I have thus tried, so far as it was possible in one course of lectures, to give you some idea of ancient India, of its ancient literature, and, more particularly, of its ancient religion. My object was, not merely to place names and facts before you, these you can find in many published books, but, if possible, to make you see and feel the general human interests that are involved in that ancient chapter of the history of the human race. I wished that the Veda and its religion and philosophy should not only seem to you curious or strange, but that you should feel that there was in them something that concerns ourselves, something of our own intellectual growth, some recollections, as it were, of our own childhood, or at least of the childhood of our own race. I feel convinced that, placed as we are here in this life, we have lessons to learn from the Veda, quite as important as the lessons we learn at school from Homer and Virgil, and lessons from the Vedanta quite as instructive as the systems of Plato or Spinoza.

I do not mean to say that everybody who wishes to know how the human race came to be what it is, how language came to be what it is, how religion came to be what it is, how manners, customs, laws, and forms of government came to be what they are, how we ourselves came to be what we are, must learn Sanskrit, and must study Vedic Sanskrit. But I do believe that not to know what a study of Sanskrit, and particularly a study of the Veda, has already done for illuminating the darkest passages in the history of the human mind, of that mind on which we ourselves are feeding and living, is a misfortune, or, at all events, a loss, just as I should count it a loss to have passed through life without knowing something, however little, of the geological formation of the earth, or of the sun, and the moon, and the stars—and of the thought, or the will, or the law, that govern their movements.


[Footnote 260: On the early use of letters for public inscriptions, see Hayman, Journal of Philology, 1879, pp. 141, 142, 150; Hicks, "Manual of Greek Historical Inscriptions," pp. 1 seqq.]

[Footnote 261: Herod, (v. 59) says: "I saw Phenician letters on certain tripods in a temple of the Ismenian Apollo at Thebes in Boeotia, the most of them like the Ionian letters."]

[Footnote 262: Munch, "Die Nordisch Germanischen Voelker," p. 240.]

[Footnote 263: Herod. (v. 58) says: "The Ionians from of old call [Greek: byblos diphtherai], because once, in default of the former, they used to employ the latter. And even down to my own time, many of the barbarians write on such diphtherae."]

[Footnote 264: Hekataeos and Kadmos of Miletos (520 B.C.), Charon of Lampsakos (504 B.C.), Xanthos the Lydian (463 B.C.), Pherekydes of Leros (480 B.C.), Hellanikos of Mitylene (450 B.C.), etc.]

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