"Before thy mystic altar, heavenly truth, I kneel in manhood, as I knelt in youth. Thus let me kneel, till this dull form decay, And life's last shade be brightened by thy ray, Then shall my soul, now lost in clouds below, Soar without bound, without consuming glow."
Since the days of Sir William Jones immense progress has been made in the study of Sanskrit literature, especially within the last thirty or forty years, from the time when the Schlegels led the way in this department. Now, professors of Sanskrit are to be found in all the great European universities, and in this country we have at least one Sanskrit scholar of the very highest order, Professor William D. Whitney, of Yale. The system of Brahmanism, which a short time since could only be known to Western readers by means of the writings of Colebrooke, Wilkins, Wilson, and a few others, has now been made accessible by the works of Lassen, Max Muller, Burnouf, Muir, Pictet, Bopp, Weber, Windischmann, Vivien de Saint-Martin, and a multitude of eminent writers in France, England, and Germany.
Sec. 2. Difficulty of this Study. The Complexity of the System. The Hindoos have no History. Their Ultra-Spiritualism.
But, notwithstanding these many helps, Brahmanism remains a difficult study. Its source is not in a man, but in a caste. It is not the religion of a Confucius, a Zoroaster, a Mohammed, but the religion of the Brahmans. We call it Brahmanism, and it can be traced to no individual as its founder or restorer. There is no personality about it. It is a vast world of ideas, but wanting the unity which is given by the life of a man, its embodiment and representative.
But what a system? How large, how difficult to understand! So vast, so complicated, so full of contradictions, so various and changeable, that its very immensity is our refuge! We say, It is impossible to do justice to such a system; therefore do not demand it of us.
India has been a land of mystery from the earliest times. From the most ancient days we hear of India as the most populous nation of the world, full of barbaric wealth and a strange wisdom. It has attracted conquerors, and has been overrun by the armies of Semiramis, Darius, Alexander; by Mahmud, and Tamerlane, and Nadir Shah; by Lord Clive and the Duke of Wellington. These conquerors, from the Assyrian Queen to the British Mercantile Company, have overrun and plundered India, but have left it the same unintelligible, unchangeable, and marvellous country as before. It is the same land now which the soldiers of Alexander described,—the land of grotto temples dug out of solid porphyry; of one of the most ancient Pagan religions of the world; of social distinctions fixed and permanent as the earth itself; of the sacred Ganges; of the idols of Juggernaut, with its bloody worship; the land of elephants and tigers; of fields of rice and groves of palm; of treasuries filled with chests of gold, heaps of pearls, diamonds, and incense. But, above all, it is the land of unintelligible systems of belief, of puzzling incongruities, and irreconcilable contradictions.
The Hindoos have sacred books of great antiquity, and a rich literature extending back twenty or thirty centuries; yet no history, no chronology, no annals. They have a philosophy as acute, profound and, spiritual as any in the world, which is yet harmoniously associated with the coarsest superstitions. With a belief so abstract that it almost escapes the grasp of the most speculative intellect, is joined the notion that sin can be atoned for by bathing in the Ganges or repeating a text of the Veda. With an ideal pantheism resembling that of Hegel, is united the opinion that Brahma and Siva can be driven from the throne of the universe by any one who will sacrifice a sufficient number of wild horses. To abstract one's self from matter, to renounce all the gratification of the senses, to macerate the body, is thought the true road to felicity; and nowhere in the world are luxury, licentiousness and the gratification of the appetites carried so far. Every civil right and privilege of ruler and subject is fixed in a code of laws, and a body of jurisprudence older far than the Christian era, and the object of universal reverence; but the application of these laws rests (says Rhode) on the arbitrary decisions of the priests, and their execution on the will of the sovereign. The constitution of India is therefore like a house without a foundation and without a roof. It is a principle of Hindoo religion not to kill a worm, not even to tread on a blade of grass, for fear of injuring life; but the torments, cruelties, and bloodshed inflicted by Indian tyrants would shock a Nero or a Borgia. Half the best informed writers on India will tell you that the Brahmanical religion is pure monotheism; the other half as confidently assert that they worship a million gods. Some teach us that the Hindoos are spiritualists and pantheists; others that their idolatry is more gross than that of any living people.
Is there any way of reconciling these inconsistencies? If we cannot find such an explanation, there is at least one central point where we may place ourselves; one elevated position, from which this mighty maze will not seem wholly without a plan. In India the whole tendency of thought is ideal, the whole religion a pure spiritualism. An ultra, one-sided idealism is the central tendency of the Hindoo mind. The God of Brahmanism is an intelligence, absorbed in the rest of profound contemplation. The good man of this religion is he who withdraws from an evil world into abstract thought.
Nothing else explains the Hindoo character as this does. An eminently religious people, it is their one-sided spiritualism, their extreme idealism, which gives rise to all their incongruities. They have no history and no authentic chronology, for history belongs to this world, and chronology belongs to time. But this world and time are to them wholly uninteresting; God and eternity are all in all. They torture themselves with self-inflicted torments; for the body is the great enemy of the soul's salvation, and they must beat it down by ascetic mortifications. But asceticism, here as everywhere else, tends to self-indulgence, since one extreme produces another. In one part of India, therefore, devotees are swinging on hooks in honor of Siva, hanging themselves by the feet, head downwards, over a fire, rolling on a bed of prickly thorns, jumping on a couch filled with sharp knives, boring holes in their tongues, and sticking their bodies full of pins and needles, or perhaps holding the arms over the head till they stiffen in that position. Meantime in other places whole regions are given over to sensual indulgences, and companies of abandoned women are connected with different temples and consecrate their gains to the support of their worship.
As one-sided spiritualism will manifest itself in morals in the two forms of austerity and sensuality, so in religion it shows itself in the opposite direction of an ideal pantheism and a gross idolatry. Spiritualism first fills the world full of God, and this is a true and Christian view of things. But it takes another step, which is to deny all real existence to the world, and so runs into a false pantheism. It first says, truly, "There is nothing without God." It next says, falsely, "There is nothing but God." This second step was taken in India by means of the doctrine of Maya, or Illusion. Maya means the delusive shows which spirit assumes. For there is nothing but spirit; which neither creates nor is created, neither acts nor suffers, which cannot change, and into which all souls are absorbed when they free themselves by meditation from the belief that they suffer or are happy, that they can experience either pleasure or pain. The next step is to polytheism. For if God neither creates nor destroys, but only seems to create and destroy, these appearances are not united together as being the acts of one Being, but are separate, independent phenomena. When you remove personality from the conception of God, as you do in removing will, you remove unity. Now if creation be an illusion, and there be no creation, still the appearance of creation is a fact. But as there is no substance but spirit, this appearance must have its cause in spirit, that is, is a divine appearance, is God. So destruction, in the same way, is an appearance of God, and reproduction is an appearance of God, and every other appearance in nature is a manifestation of God. But the unity of will and person being taken away, we have not one God, but a multitude of gods,—or polytheism.
Having begun this career of thought, no course was possible for the human mind to pursue but this. An ultra spiritualism must become pantheism, and pantheism must go on to polytheism. In India this is not a theory, but a history. We find, side by side, a spiritualism which denies the existence of anything but motionless spirit or Brahm, and a polytheism which believes and worships Brahma the Creator, Siva the Destroyer, Vischnu the Preserver, Indra the God of the Heavens, the Sactis or energies of the gods, Krishna the Hindoo Apollo, Doorga, and a host of others, innumerable as the changes and appearances of things.
But such a system as this must necessarily lead also to idolatry. There is in the human mind a tendency to worship, and men must worship something. But they believe in one Being, the absolute Spirit, the supreme and only God,—Para Brahm; him they cannot worship, for he is literally an unknown God. He has no qualities; no attributes, no activity. He is neither the object of hope, fear, love, nor aversion. Since there is nothing in the universe but spirit and illusive appearances, and they cannot worship spirit because it is absolutely unknown, they must worship these appearances, which are at any rate divine appearances, and which do possess some traits, qualities, character; are objects of hope and fear. But they cannot worship them as appearances, they must worship them as persons. But if they have an inward personality or soul, they become real beings, and also beings independent of Brahm, whose appearances they are. They must therefore have an outward personality; in other words, a body, a shape, emblematical and characteristic; that is to say, they become idols.
Accordingly idol-worship is universal in India. The most horrible and grotesque images are carved in the stone of the grottos, stand in rude, block-like statues in the temple, or are coarsely painted on the walls. Figures of men with heads of elephants or of other animals, or with six or seven human heads,—sometimes growing in a pyramid, one out of the other, sometimes with six hands coming from one shoulder,—grisly and uncouth monsters, like nothing in nature, yet too grotesque for symbols,—such are the objects of the Hindoo worship.
Sec. 3. Helps from Comparative Philology. The Aryans in Central Asia.
We have seen how hopeless the task has appeared of getting any definite light on Hindoo chronology or history. To the ancient Egyptians events were so important that the most trivial incidents of daily life were written on stone and the imperishable records of the land, covering the tombs and obelisks, have patiently waited during long centuries, till their decipherer should come to read them. To the Hindoos, on the other hand, all events were equally unimportant. The most unhistoric people on earth, they cared more for the minutiae of grammar, or the subtilties of metaphysics, than for the whole of their past. The only date which has emerged from this vague antiquity is that of Chandragupta, a contemporary of Alexander, and called by the Greek historians Sandracottus. He became king B.C. 315, and as, at his accession, Buddha had been dead (by Hindoo statement) one hundred and sixty-two years, Buddha may have died B.C. 477. We can thus import a single date from Greek history into that of India. This is the whole.
But all at once light dawns on us from an unexpected quarter. While we can learn nothing concerning the history of India from its literature, and nothing from its inscriptions or carved temples, language, comes to our aid. The fugitive and airy sounds, which seem so fleeting and so changeable, prove to be more durable monuments than brass or granite. The study of the Sanskrit language has told us a long story concerning the origin of the Hindoos. It has rectified the ethnology of Blumenbach, has taught us who were the ancestors of the nations of Europe, and has given us the information that one great family, the Indo-European, has done most of the work of the world. It shows us that this family consists of seven races,—the Hindoos, the Persians, the^ Greeks, the Romans, who all emigrated to the south from the original ancestral home; and the Kelts, the Teutons, and Slavi, who entered Europe on the northern side of the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea. This has been accomplished by the new science of Comparative Philology. A comparison of languages has made it too plain to be questioned, that these seven races were originally one; that they must have emigrated from a region of Central Asia, at the east of the Caspian, and northwest of India; that they were originally a pastoral race, and gradually changed their habits as they descended from those great plains into the valleys of the Indus and the Euphrates. In these seven linguistic families the roots of the most common names are the same; the grammatical constructions are also the same; so that no scholar, who has attended to the subject, can doubt that the seven languages are all daughters of one common mother-tongue.
Pursuing the subject still further, it has been found possible to conjecture with no little confidence what was the condition of family life in this great race of Central Asia, before its dispersion. The original stock has received the name Aryan. This designation occurs in Manu (II. 22), who says: "As far as the eastern and western oceans, between the two mountains, lies the land which the wise have named Ar-ya-vesta, or inhabited by honorable men." The people of Iran receive this same appellation in the Zend Avesta, with the same meaning of honorable. Herodotus testifies that the Medes were formerly called [Greek: Arioi] (Herod. VII. 61). Strabo mentions that, in the time of Alexander, the whole region about the Indus was called Ariana. In modern times, the word Iran for Persia and Erin for Ireland are possible reminiscences of the original family appellation.
The Ayrans, long before the age of the Vedas or the Zend Avesta, were living as a pastoral people on the great plains east of the Caspian Sea. What their condition was at that epoch is deduced by the following method: If it is found that the name of any fact is the same in two or more of the seven tribal languages of this stock, it is evident that the name was given to it before they separated. For there is no reason to suppose that two nations living wide apart would have independently selected the same word for the same object. For example, since we find that house is in Sanskrit Damn and Dam; in Zend, Demana; in Greek, [Greek: Domos]; in Latin, Domus; in Irish, Dahm; in Slavonic, Domu,—from which root comes also our English word Domestic,—we may be pretty sure that the original Aryans lived in houses. When we learn that boat was in Sanskrit Nau or nauka; in Persian, Naw, nawah; in Greek, [Greek: Naus]; in Latin, Navis; in old Irish, Noi or nai; in old German, Nawa or nawi; and in Polish Nawa, we cannot doubt that they knew something of what we call in English Nautical affairs, or Navigation. But as the words designating masts, sails, yards, &c. differ wholly from each other in all these linguistic families, it is reasonable to infer that the Aryans, before their dispersion, went only in boats, with oars, on the rivers of their land, the Oxus and Jaxartes, and did not sail anywhere on the sea.
Pursuing this method, we see that we can ask almost any question concerning the condition of the Aryans, and obtain an answer by means of Comparative Philology.
Were they a pastoral people? The very word pastoral gives us the answer. For Pa in Sanskrit means to watch, to guard, as men guard cattle,—from which a whole company of words has come in all the Aryan languages.
The results of this method of inquiry, so far as given by Pictet, are these. Some 3000 years B.C., the Aryans, as yet undivided into Hindoos, Persians, Kelts, Latins, Greeks, Teutons, and Slavi, were living in Central Asia, in a region of which Bactriana was the centre. Here they must have remained long enough to have developed their admirable language, the mother-tongue of those which we know. They were essentially a pastoral, but not a nomad people, having fixed homes. They had oxen, horses, sheep, goats, hogs, and domestic fowls. Herds of cows fed in pastures, each the property of a community, and each with a cluster of stables in the centre. The daughters of the house were the dairy-maids; the food was chiefly the products of the dairy and the flesh of the cattle. The cow was, however, the most important animal, and gave its name to many plants, and even to the clouds and stars, in which men saw heavenly herds passing over the firmament above them.
But the Aryans were not an exclusively pastoral people; they certainly had barley, and perhaps other cereals, before their dispersion. They possessed the plough, the mill for grinding grain; they had hatchet, hammer, auger. The Aryans were acquainted with several metals, among which were gold, silver, copper, tin. They knew how to spin and weave to some extent; they were acquainted with pottery. How their houses were built we do not know, but they contained doors, windows, and fireplaces. They had cloaks or mantles, they boiled and roasted meat, and certainly used soup. They had lances, swords, the bow and arrow, shields, but not armor. They had family life, some simple laws, games, the dance, and wind instruments. They had the decimal numeration, and their year was of three hundred and sixty days. They worshipped the heaven, earth, sun, fire, water, wind; but there are also plain traces of an earlier monotheism, from which this nature-worship proceeded.
Sec. 4. The Aryans in India. The Native Races. The Vedic Age. Theology of the Vedas.
So far Comparative Philology takes us, and the next step forward brings us to the Vedas, the oldest works in the Hindoo literature, but at least one thousand or fifteen hundred years more recent than the times we have been describing. The Aryans have separated, and the Hindoos are now in India. It is eleven centuries before the time of Alexander. They occupy the region between the Punjaub and the Ganges, and here was accomplished the transition of the Aryans from warlike shepherds into agriculturists and builders of cities.
The last hymns of the Vedas were written (says St. Martin) when they arrived from the Indus at the Ganges, and were building their oldest city, at the confluence of that river with the Jumna. Their complexion was then white, and they call the race whom they conquered, and who afterward were made Soudras, or lowest caste, blacks. The chief gods of the Vedic age were Indra, Varuna, Agni, Savitri, Soma. The first was the god of the atmosphere; the second, of the Ocean of light, or Heaven; the third, of Fire; the fourth, of the Sun; and the fifth, of the Moon. Yama was the god of death. All the powers of nature were personified in turn,—as earth, food, wine, months, seasons, day, night, and dawn. Among all these divinities, Indra and Agni were the chief. But behind this incipient polytheism lurks the original monotheism,—for each of these gods, in turn, becomes the Supreme Being. The universal Deity seems to become apparent, first in one form of nature and then in another. Such is the opinion of Colebrooke, who says that "the ancient Hindoo religion recognizes but one God, not yet sufficiently discriminating the creature from the Creator." And Max Mueller says: "The hymns celebrate Varuna, Indra, Agni, &c., and each in turn is called supreme. The whole mythology is fluent. The powers of nature become moral beings."
Max Mueller adds: "It would be easy to find, in the numerous hymns of the Veda, passages in which almost every single god is represented as supreme and absolute. Agni is called 'Ruler of the Universe'; Indra is celebrated as the Strongest god, and in one hymn it is said, 'Indra is stronger than all.' It is said of Soma that 'he conquers every one.'"
But clearer traces of monotheism are to be found in the Vedas. In one hymn of the Rig-Veda it is said: "They call him Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni; then he is the well-winged heavenly Garutmat; that which is One, the wise call it many ways; they call it Agni, Yama, Matarisvan."
Nothing, however, will give us so good an idea of the character of these Vedic hymns as the hymns themselves. I therefore select a few of the most striking of those which have been translated by Colebrooke, Wilson, M. Mueller, E. Bumont, and others.
In the following, from one of the oldest Vedas, the unity of God seems very clearly expressed.
RIG-VEDA, X. 121.
"In the beginning there arose the Source of golden light. He was the only born Lord of all that is. He established the earth, and this sky. Who is the God to whom we shall offer our sacrifice?
"He who gives life. He who gives strength; whose blessing all the bright gods desire; whose shadow is immortality, whose shadow is death. Who is the God to whom we shall offer our sacrifice?
"He who through his power is the only king of the breathing and awakening world. He who governs all, man and beast. Who is the god to whom we shall offer our sacrifice?
"He whose power these snowy mountains, whose power the sea proclaims, with the distant river. He whose these regions are, as it were his two arms. Who is the god to whom we shall offer our sacrifice?
"He through whom the sky is bright and the earth firm. He through whom heaven was stablished; nay, the highest heaven. He who measured out the light in the air. Who is the god to whom we shall offer our sacrifice?
"He to whom heaven and earth, standing firm by his will, look up, trembling inwardly. He over whom the rising sun shines forth. Who is the god to whom we shall offer our sacrifice?
"Wherever the mighty water-clouds went, where they placed the seed and lit the fire, thence arose he who is the only life of the bright gods. Who is the god to whom we shall offer our sacrifice?
"He who by his might looked even over the water-clouds, the clouds which gave strength and lit the sacrifice; he who is God above all gods. Who is the god to whom we shall offer our sacrifice?
"May he not destroy us,—he the creator of the earth,—or he, the righteous, who created heaven; he who also created the bright and mighty waters. Who is the god to whom we shall offer our sacrifices?"
The oldest and most striking account of creation is in the eleventh chapter of the tenth Book of the Rig-Veda. Colebrooke, Max Muller, Muir, and Goldstucker, all give a translation of this remarkable hymn and speak of it with admiration. We take that of Colehrooke, modified by that of Muir:—
"Then there was no entity nor non-entity; no world, no sky, nor aught above it; nothing anywhere, involving or involved; nor water deep and dangerous. Death was not, and therefore no immortality, nor distinction of day or night. But THAT ONE breathed calmly alone with Nature, her who is sustained within him. Other than Him, nothing existed [which] since [has been]. Darkness there was; [for] this universe was enveloped with darkness, and was indistinguishable waters; but that mass, which was covered by the husk, was [at length] produced by the power of contemplation. First desire was formed in his mind; and that became the original productive seed; which the wise, recognizing it by the intellect in their hearts, distinguish as the bond of non-entity with entity.
"Did the luminous ray of these [creative acts] expand in the middle, or above, or below? That productive energy became providence [or sentient souls], and matter [or the elements]; Nature, who is sustained within, was inferior; and he who sustains was above.
"Who knows exactly, and who shall in this world declare, whence and why this creation took place? The gods are subsequent to the production of this world: then who can know whence it proceeded, or whence this varied world arose, or whether it upholds [itself] or not? He who in the highest heaven is the ruler of this universe,—he knows, or does not know."
If the following hymn, says Mueller, were addressed only to the Almighty, omitting the word "Varuna," it would not disturb us in a Christian Liturgy:—
1. "Let me not yet, O Varuna, enter into the house of clay; have mercy, almighty, have mercy.
2. "If I go along trembling, like a cloud driven by the wind, have mercy, almighty, have mercy!
3. "Through want of strength, thou strong and bright god, have I gone to the wrong shore; have mercy, almighty, have mercy!
4. "Thirst came upon the worshipper, though he stood in the midst of the waters; have mercy, almighty, have mercy!
5. "Whenever we men, O Varuna, commit an offence before the heavenly host; whenever we break thy law through thoughtlessness; have mercy, almighty, have mercy!"
Out of a large number of hymns addressed to Indra, Mueller selects one that is ascribed to Vasishtha.
1. "Let no one, not even those who worship thee, delay thee far from us! Even from afar come to our feast! Or, if thou art here, listen to us!
2. "For these who here make prayers for thee, sit together near the libation, like flies round the honey. The worshippers, anxious for wealth, have placed their desire upon Indra, as we put our foot upon a chariot.
3. "Desirous of riches, I call him who holds the thunderbolt with his arm, and who is a good giver, like as a son calls his father.
4. "These libations of Soma, mixed with milk, have been prepared for Indra: thou, armed with the thunderbolt, come with the steeds to drink of them for thy delight; come to the house!
5. "May he hear us, for he has ears to hear. He is asked for riches; will he despise our prayers? He could soon give hundreds and thousands;—no one could check him if he wishes to give."
13. "Make for the sacred gods a hymn that is not small, that is well set and beautiful! Many snares pass by him who abides with Indra through his sacrifice.
14. "What mortal dares to attack him who is rich in thee? Through faith in thee, O mighty, the strong acquires spod in the day of battle."
17. "Thou art well known as the benefactor of every one, whatever battles there be. Every one of these kings of the earth implores thy name, when wishing for help.
18. "If I were lord of as much as thou, I should support the sacred bard, thou scatterer of wealth, I should not abandon him to misery.
19. "I should award wealth day by day to him who magnifies; I should award it to whosoever it be. We have no other friend but thee, no other happiness, no other father, O mighty!"
22. "We call for thee, O hero, like cows that have not been milked; we praise thee as ruler of all that moves, O Indra, as ruler of all that is immovable.
23. "There is no one like thee in heaven and earth; he is not born, and will not be born. O mighty Indra, we call upon thee as we go fighting for cows and horses."
"In this hymn," says Mueller, "Indra is clearly conceived as the Supreme God, and we can hardly understand how a people who had formed so exalted a notion of the Deity and embodied it in the person of Indra, could, at the same sacrifice, invoke other gods with equal praise. When Agni, the lord of fire, is addressed by the poet, he is spoken of as the first god, not inferior even to Indra. While Agni is invoked Indra is forgotten; there is no competition between the two, nor any rivalry between them and other gods. This is a most important feature in the religion of the Veda, and has never been taken into consideration by those who have written on the history of ancient polytheism."
"It is curious," says Mueller, "to watch the almost imperceptible transition by which the phenomena of nature, if reflected in the mind of the poet, assume the character of divine beings. The dawn is frequently described in the Veda as it might be described by a modern poet. She is the friend of men, she smiles like a young wife, she is the daughter of the sky." "But the transition from devi, the bright, to devi, the goddess, is so easy; the daughter of the sky assumes so readily the same personality which is given to the sky, Dyaus, her father, that we can only guess whether in every passage the poet is speaking of a bright apparition, or of a bright goddess; of a natural vision, or of a visible deity. The following hymn of Vashishtha will serve as an instance:—
"She shines upon us, like a young wife, rousing every living being to go to his work. The fire had to be kindled by men; she brought light by striking down darkness.
"She rose up, spreading far and wide, and moving towards every one. She grew in brightness, wearing her brilliant garment. The mother of the cows (of the morning clouds), the leader of the days, she shone gold-colored, lovely to behold.
"She, the fortunate, who brings the eye of the god, who leads the white and lovely steed (of the sun), the Dawn was seen, revealed by her rays; with brilliant treasures she follows every one.
"Thou, who art a blessing where thou art near, drive far away the unfriendly; make the pastures wide, give us safety! Remove the haters, bring treasures! Raise wealth to the worshipper, thou mighty Dawn.
"Shine for us with thy best rays, thou bright Dawn, thou who lengthenest our life, thou the love of all, who givest us food, who givest us wealth in cows, horses, and chariots.
"Thou, daughter of the sky, thou high-born Dawn, whom the Vasishthas magnify with songs, give us riches high and wide: all ye gods, protect us always with your blessings!"
"This hymn, addressed to the Dawn, is a fair specimen of the original simple poetry of the Veda. It has no reference to any special sacrifice, it contains no technical expressions, it can hardly be called a hymn, in our sense of the word. It is simply a poem expressing, without any effort, without any display of far-fetched thought or brilliant imagery, the feelings of a man who has watched the approach of the Dawn with mingled delight and awe, and who was moved to give utterance to what he felt in measured language."
"But there is a charm in these primitive strains discoverable in no other class of poetry. Every word retains something of its radical meaning, every epithet tells, every thought, in spite of the most intricate and abrupt expressions, is, if we once disentangle it, true, correct, and complete."
The Vedic literature is divided by Muller into four periods, namely, those of the Chhandas, Mantra, Brahmana, and Sutras. The Chhandas period contains the oldest hymns of the oldest, or Rig-Veda. To that of the Mantras belong the later hymns of the same Veda. But the most modern of these are older than the Brahmanas. The Brahmanas contain theology; the older Mantras are liturgic. Mueller says that the Brahmanas, though so very ancient, are full of pedantry, shallow and insipid grandiloquence and priestly conceit. Next to these, in the order of time, are the Upanishads. These are philosophical, and almost the only part of the Vedas which are read at the present time. They are believed to contain the highest authority for the different philosophical systems, of which we shall speak hereafter. Their authors are unknown. More modern than these are the Sutras. The word "Sutra" means string, and they consist of a string of short sentences. Conciseness is the aim in this style, and every doctrine is reduced to a skeleton. The numerous Sutras now extant contain the distilled essence of all the knowledge which the Brahmans have collected during centuries of meditation. They belong to the non-revealed literature, as distinguished from the revealed literature,—a distinction made by the Brahmans before the time of Buddha. At the time of the Buddhist controversy the Sutras were admitted to be of human origin and were consequently recent works. The distinction between the Sutras and Brahmanas is very marked, the second being revealed. The Brahmanas were composed by and for Brahmans and are in three collections. The Vedangas are intermediate between the Vedic and non-Vedic literature. Panini, the grammarian of India, was said to be contemporary with King Nanda, who was the successor of Chandragupta, the contemporary of Alexander, and therefore in the second half of the fourth century before Christ. Dates are so precarious in Indian literature, says Max Mueller, that a confirmation within a century or two is not to be despised. Now the grammarian Katyayana completed and corrected the grammar of Panini, and Patanjeli wrote an immense commentary on the two which became so famous as to be imported by royal authority into Cashmere, in the first half of the first century of our era. Mueller considers the limits of the Sutra period to extend from 600 B.C. to 200 B.C. Buddhism before Asoka was but modified Brahmanism. The basis of Indian chronology is the date of Chandragupta. All dates before his time are merely hypothetical. Several classical writers speak of him as founding an empire on the Ganges soon after the invasion of Alexander. He was grandfather of Asoka. Indian traditions refer to this king.
Returning to the Brahmana period, we notice that between the Sutras and Barahmanas come the Aranyakas, which are books written for the recluse. Of these the Upanishads, before mentioned, form part. They presuppose the existence of the Brahmanas.
Rammohun Roy was surprised that Dr. Rosen should have thought it worth while to publish the hymns of the Veda, and considered the Upanishads the only Vedic books worth reading. They speak of the divine SELF, of the Eternal Word in the heavens from which the hymns came. The divine SELF they say is not to be grasped by tradition, reason, or revelation, but only by him whom he himself grasps. In the beginning was Self alone. Atman is the SELF in all our selves,—the Divine Self concealed by his own qualities. This Self they sometimes call the Undeveloped and sometimes the Not-Being. There are ten of the old Upanishads, all of which have been published. Anquetil Du Perron translated fifty into Latin out of Persian.
The Brahmanas are very numerous. Mueller gives stories from them and legends. They relate to sacrifices, to the story of the deluge, and other legends. They substituted these legends for the simple poetry of the ancient Vedas. They must have extended over at least two hundred years, and contained long lists of teachers.
Mueller supposes that writing was unknown when the Rig-Veda was composed. The thousand and ten hymns of the Vedas contain no mention of writing or books, any more than the Homeric poems. There is no allusion to writing during the whole of the Brahmana period, nor even through the Sutra period. This seems incredible to us, says Mueller, only because our memory has been systematically debilitated by newspapers and the like during many generations. It was the business of every Brahman to learn by heart the Vedas during the twelve years of his student life. The Guru, or teacher, pronounces a group of words, and the pupils repeat after him. After writing was introduced, the Brahmans were strictly forbidden to read the Vedas, or to write them. Caesar says the same of the Druids. Even Panini never alludes to written words or letters. None of the ordinary modern words for book, paper, ink, or writing have been found in any ancient Sanskrit work. No such words as volumen, volume; liber, or inner bark of a tree; byblos, inner bark of papyrus; or book, that is beech wood. But Buddha had learnt to write, as we find by a book translated into Chinese A.D. 76. In this book Buddha instructs his teacher; as in the "Gospel of the Infancy" Jesus explains to his teacher the meaning of the Hebrew alphabet. So Buddha tells his teacher the names of sixty-four alphabets. The first authentic inscription in India is of Buddhist origin, belonging to the third century before Christ.
In the most ancient Vedic period the language had become complete. There is no growing language in the Vedas.
In regard to the age of these Vedic writings, we will quote the words of Max Mueller, at the conclusion of his admirable work on the "History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature," from which most of this section has been taken:—
"Oriental scholars are frequently suspected of a desire to make the literature of the Eastern nations appear more ancient than it is. As to myself, I can truly say that nothing would be to me a more welcome discovery, nothing would remove so many doubts and difficulties, as some suggestions as to the manner in which certain of the Vedic hymns could have been added to the original collection during the Brahmana or Sutra periods, or, if possible, by the writers of our MSS., of which most are not older than the fifteenth century. But these MSS., though so modern, are checked by the Anukramanis. Every hymn which stands in our MSS. is counted in the Index of Saunaka, who is anterior to the invasion of Alexander. The Sutras, belonging to the same period as Saunaka, prove the previous existence of every chapter of the Brahmanas; and I doubt whether there is a single hymn in the Sanhita of the Rig-Veda which could not be checked by some passage of the Brahmanas and Sutras. The chronological limits assigned to the Sutra and Brahmana periods will seem to most Sanskrit scholars too narrow rather than too wide, and if we assign but two hundred years to the Mantra period, from 800 to 1000 B.C., and an equal number to the Chhandas period, from 1000 to 1200 B.C., we can do so only under the supposition that during the early periods of history the growth of the human mind was more luxuriant than in later times, and that the layers of thought were formed less slowly in the primary than in the tertiary ages of the world."
The Vedic age, according to Mueller, will then be as follows:—
Sutra period, from B.C. 200 to B.C. 600. Brahmana period, " " 600 " 800. Mantra period, " " 800 " 1000. Chhandas period, " " 1000 " 1200.
Dr. Haug, a high authority, considers the Vedic period to extend from B.C. 1200 to B.C. 2000, and the very oldest hymns to have been composed B.C. 2400.
The principal deity in the oldest Vedas is Indra, God of the air. In Greek he becomes Zeus; in Latin, Jupiter. The hymns to Indra are not unlike some of the Psalms of the Old Testament. Indra is called upon as the most ancient god whom the Fathers worshipped. Next to India comes Agni, fire, derived from the root Ag, which means "to move." Fire is worshipped as the principle of motion on earth, as Indra was the moving power above. Not only fire, but the forms of flame, are worshipped and all that belongs to it. Entire nature is called Aditi, whose children are named Adityas. M. Maury quotes these words from Gotama: "Aditi is heaven; Aditi is air; Aditi is mother, father, and son; Aditi is all the gods and the five races; Aditi is whatever is born and will be born; in short, the heavens and the earth, the heavens being the father and the earth the mother of all things." This reminds one of the Greek Zeus-pateer and Gee-meteer. Varuna is the vault of heaven. Mitra is often associated with Varuna in the Vedic hymns. Mitra is the sun, illuminating the day, while Varuna was the sun with an obscure face going back in the darkness from west to east to take his luminous disk again. From Mitra seems to be derived the Persian Mithra. There are no invocations to the stars in the Veda. But the Aurora, or Dawn, is the object of great admiration; also, the Aswins, or twin gods, who in Greece become the Dioscuri. The god of storms is Rudra, supposed by some writers to be the same as Siva. The two hostile worships of Vishnu and Siva do not appear, however, till long after this time. Vishnu appears frequently in the Veda, and his three steps are often spoken of. These steps measure the heavens. But his real worship came much later.
The religion of the Vedas was of odes and hymns, a religion of worship by simple adoration. Sometimes there were prayers for temporal blessings, sometimes simple sacrifices and libations. Human sacrifices have scarcely left any trace of themselves if they ever existed, unless it be in a typical ceremony reported in one of the Vedas.
Sec. 5. Second Period. Laws of Manu. The Brahmanic Age.
Long after the age of the elder Vedas Brahmanism begins. Its text-book is the Laws of Manu. As yet Vishnu and Siva are not known. The former is named once, the latter not at all. The writer only knows three Vedas. The Atharva-Veda is later. But as Siva is mentioned in the oldest Buddhist writings, it follows that the laws of Manu are older than these. In the time of Manu the Aryans are still living in the valley of the Ganges. The caste system is now in full operation, and the authority of the Brahman is raised to its highest point. The Indus and Punjaub are not mentioned; all this is forgotten. This work could not be later than B.C. 700, or earlier than B.C. 1200. It was probably written about B.C. 900 or B.C. 1000. In this view agree Wilson, Lassen, Max Mueller, and Saint-Martin. The Supreme Deity is now Brahma, and sacrifice is still the act by which one comes into relation with heaven. Widow-burning is not mentioned in Manu; but it appears in the Mahabharata, one of the great epics, which is therefore later.
In the region of the Sarasvati, a holy river, which formerly emptied into the Indus, but is now lost in a desert, the Aryan race of India was transformed from nomads into a stable community. There they received their laws, and there their first cities were erected. There were founded the Solar and Lunar monarchies.
The Manu of the Vedas and he of the Brahmans are very different persons. The first is called in the Vedas the father of mankind. He also escapes from a deluge by building a ship, which he is advised to do by a fish. He preserves the fish, which grows to a great size, and when the flood comes acts as a tow-boat to drag the ship of Manu to a mountain. This account is contained in a Brahmana.
The name of Manu seems afterward to have been given by the Brahmans to the author of their code. Some extracts from this very interesting volume we will now give, slightly abridged, from Sir William Jones's translation. From the first book, on Creation:—
"The universe existed in darkness, imperceptible, undefinable, undiscoverable, and undiscovered; as if immersed in sleep."
"Then the self-existing power, undiscovered himself, but making the world discernible, with the five elements and other principles, appeared in undiminished glory, dispelling the gloom."
"He, whom the mind alone can perceive, whose essence eludes the external organs, who has no visible parts, who exists from eternity, even he, the soul of all beings, shone forth in person.
"He having willed to produce various beings from his own divine substance, first with a thought created the waters, and placed in them a productive seed."
"The seed became an egg bright as gold, blazing like the luminary with a thousand beams, and in that egg he was born himself, in the form of Brahma, the great forefather of all spirits.
"The waters are called Nara, because they were the production of Nara, or the spirit of God; and hence they were his first ayana, or place of motion; he hence is named Nara yana, or moving on the waters.
"In that egg the great power sat inactive a whole year of the creator, at the close of which, by his thought alone, he caused the egg to divide itself.
"And from its two divisions he framed the heaven above and the earth beneath; in the midst he placed the subtile ether, the eight regions, and the permanent receptacle of waters.
"From the supreme soul he drew forth mind, existing substantially though unperceived by sense, immaterial; and before mind, or the reasoning power, he produced consciousness, the internal monitor, the ruler.
"And before them both he produced the great principle of the soul, or first expansion of the divine idea; and all vital forms endued with the three qualities of goodness, passion, and darkness, and the five perceptions of sense, and the five organs of sensation.
"Thus, having at once pervaded with emanations from the Supreme Spirit the minutest portions of fixed principles immensely operative, consciousness and the five perceptions, he framed all creatures.
"Thence proceed the great elements, endued with peculiar powers, and mind with operations infinitely subtile, the unperishable cause of all apparent forms.
"This universe, therefore, is compacted from the minute portions of those seven divine and active principles, the great soul, or first emanation, consciousness, and five perceptions; a mutable universe from immutable ideas.
"Of created things, the most excellent are those which are animated; of the animated, those which subsist by intelligence; of the intelligent, mankind; and of men, the sacerdotal class.
"Of priests, those eminent in learning; of the learned, those who know their duty; of those who know it, such as perform it virtuously; and of the virtuous, those who seek beatitude from a perfect acquaintance with scriptural doctrine.
"The very birth of Brahmans is a constant incarnation of Dharma, God of justice; for the Brahman is born to promote justice, and to procure ultimate happiness.
"When a Brahman springs to light, he is born above the world, the chief of all creatures, assigned to guard the treasury of duties, religious and civil.
"The Brahman who studies this book, having performed sacred rites, is perpetually free from offence in thought, in word and in deed.
"He confers purity on his living family, on his ancestors, and on his descendants as far as the seventh person, and he alone deserves to possess this whole earth."
The following passages are from Book II., "On Education and the Priesthood":—
"Self-love is no laudable motive, yet an exemption from self-love is not to be found in this world: on self-love is grounded the study of Scripture, and the practice of actions recommended in it.
"Eager desire to act has its root in expectation of some advantage; and with such expectation are sacrifices performed; the rules of religious austerity and abstinence from sins are all known to arise from hope of remuneration.
"Not a single act here below appears ever to be done by a man free from self-love; whatever he perform, it is wrought from his desire of a reward.
"He, indeed, who should persist in discharging these duties without any view to their fruit, would attain hereafter the state of the immortals, and even in this life would enjoy all the virtuous gratifications that his fancy could suggest.
"The most excellent of the three classes, being girt with the sacrificial thread, must ask food with the respectful word Dhavati at the beginning of the phrase; those of the second class with that word in the middle; and those of the third with that word at the end.
"Let him first beg food of his mother, or of his sister, or of his mother's whole sister; then of some other female who will not disgrace him.
"Having collected as much of the desired food as he has occasion for, and having presented it without guile to his preceptor, let him eat some of it, being duly purified, with his face to the east.
"If he seek long life, he should eat with his face to the east; if prosperity, to the west; if truth and its reward, to the north.
"When the student is going to read the Veda he must perform an ablution, as the law ordains, with his face to the north; and having paid scriptural homage, he must receive instruction, wearing a clean vest, his members being duly composed.
"A Brahman beginning and ending a lecture on the Veda must always pronounce to himself the syllable om; for unless the syllable om precede, his learning will slip away from him; and unless it follow, nothing will be long retained.
"A priest who shall know the Veda, and shall pronounce to himself, both morning and evening, that syllable, and that holy text preceded by the three words, shall attain the sanctity which the Veda confers.
"And a twice-born man, who shall a thousand times repeat those three (or om, the vyahritis, and the gayatri) apart from the multitude, shall be released in a month even from a great offence, as a snake from his slough.
"The three great immutable words, preceded by the triliteral syllable, and followed by the gayatri, which consists of three measures, must be considered as the mouth, or principal part of the Veda.
"The triliteral monosyllable is an emblem of the Supreme; the suppressions of breath, with a mind fixed on God, are the highest devotion; but nothing is more exalted than the gayatri; a declaration of truth is more excellent than silence.
"All rites ordained in the Veda, oblations to fire, and solemn sacrifices pass away; but that which passes not away is declared to be the syllable om, thence called acshara; since it is a symbol of God, the Lord of created beings.
"The act of repeating his Holy Name is ten times better than the appointed sacrifice; an hundred times better when it is heard by no man; and a thousand times better when it is purely mental.
"To a man contaminated by sensuality, neither the Vedas, nor liberality, nor sacrifices, nor strict observances, nor pious austerities, ever procure felicity.
"As he who digs deep with a spade comes to a spring of water, so the student, who humbly serves his teacher, attains the knowledge which lies deep in his teacher's mind.
"If the sun should rise and set, while he sleeps through sensual indulgence, and knows it not, he must fast a whole day repeating the gayatri.
"Let him adore God both at sunrise and at sunset, as the law ordains, having made his ablution, and keeping his organs controlled; and with fixed attention let him repeat the text, which he ought to repeat in a place free from impurity.
"The twice-born man who shall thus without intermission have passed the time of his studentship shall ascend after death to the most exalted of regions, and no more again spring to birth in this lower world."
The following passages are from Book IV., "On Private Morals":—
"Let a Brahman, having dwelt with a preceptor during the first quarter of a man's life, pass the second quarter of human life in his own house, when he has contracted a legal marriage.
"He must live with no injury, or with the least possible injury, to animated beings, by pursuing those means of gaining subsistence, which are strictly prescribed by law, except in times of distress.
"Let him say what is true, but let him say what is pleasing; let him speak no disagreeable truth, nor let him speak agreeable falsehood; this is a primeval rule.
"Let him say 'well and good,' or let him say 'well' only; but let him not maintain fruitless enmity and altercation with any man.
"All that depends on another gives pain; and all that depends on himself gives pleasure; let him know this to be in few words the definition of pleasure and pain.
"And for whatever purpose a man bestows a gift, for a similar purpose he shall receive, with due honor, a similar reward.
"Both he who respectfully bestows a present, and he who respectfully accepts it, shall go to a seat of bliss; but, if they act otherwise, to a region of horror.
"Let not a man be proud of his rigorous devotion; let him not, having sacrificed, utter a falsehood; let him not, though injured, insult a priest; having made a donation, let him never proclaim it.
"By falsehood the sacrifice becomes vain; by pride the merit of devotion is lost; by insulting priests life is diminished; and by proclaiming a largess its fruit is destroyed.
"For in his passage to the next world, neither his father, nor his mother, nor his wife, nor his son, nor his kinsmen will remain his company; his virtue alone will adhere to him.
"Single is each man born; single he dies; single he receives the reward of his good, and single the punishment of his evil deeds."
From Book V., "On Diet":—
"The twice-born man who has intentionally eaten a mushroom, the flesh of a tame hog, or a town cock, a leek, or an onion, or garlic, is degraded immediately.
"But having undesignedly tasted either of those six things, he must perform the penance santapana, or the chandrayana, which anchorites practise; for other things he must fast a whole day.
"One of those harsh penances called prajapatya the twice-born man must perform annually, to purify him from the unknown taint of illicit food; but he must do particular penance for such food intentionally eaten.
"He who injures no animated creature shall attain without hardship whatever he thinks of, whatever he strives for, whatever he fixes his mind on.
"Flesh meat cannot be procured without injury to animals, and the slaughter of animals obstructs the path to beatitude; from flesh meat, therefore, let man abstain.
"Attentively considering the formation of bodies, and the death or confinement of embodied spirits, let him abstain from eating flesh meat of any kind.
"Not a mortal exists more sinful than he who, without an oblation to the manes or the gods, desires to enlarge his own flesh with the flesh of another creature.
"By subsisting on pure fruit and on roots, and by eating such grains as are eaten by hermits, a man reaps not so high a reward as by carefully abstaining from animal food.
"In lawfully tasting meat, in drinking fermented liquor, in caressing women, there is no turpitude; for to such enjoyments men are naturally prone, but a virtuous abstinence from them produces a signal compensation.
"Sacred learning, austere devotion, fire, holy aliment, earth, the mind, water, smearing with cow-dung, air, prescribed acts of religion, the sun, and time are purifiers of embodied spirits.
"But of all pure things purity in acquiring wealth is pronounced the most excellent; since he who gains wealth with clean hands is truly pure; not he who is purified merely with earth and water.
"By forgiveness of injuries, the learned are purified; by liberality, those who have neglected their duty; by pious meditation, those who have secret faults; by devout austerity, those who best know the Veda.
"Bodies are cleansed by water; the mind is purified by truth; the vital spirit, by theology and devotion; the understanding, by clear knowledge.
"No sacrifice is allowed to women apart from their husbands, no religious rite, no fasting; as far only as a wife honors her lord, so far she is exalted in heaven.
"A faithful wife, who wishes to attain in heaven the mansion of her husband, must do nothing unkind to him, be he living or dead.
"Let her emaciate her body by living voluntarily on pure flowers, roots, and fruit; but let her not, when her lord is deceased, even pronounce the name of another man.
"Let her continue till death forgiving all injuries, performing harsh duties, avoiding every sensual pleasure, and cheerfully practising the incomparable rules of virtue, which have been followed by such women as were devoted to one only husband."
The Sixth Book of the Laws of Manu relates to devotion. It seems that the Brahmans were in the habit of becoming ascetics, or, as the Roman Catholics would say, entering Religion. A Brahman, or twice-born man, who wishes to become an ascetic, must abandon his home and family, and go to live in the forest. His food must be roots and fruit, his clothing a bark garment or a skin, he must bathe morning and evening, and suffer his hair to grow. He must spend his time in reading the Veda, with a mind intent on the Supreme Being, "a perpetual giver but no receiver of gifts; with tender affection for all animated bodies." He is to perform various sacrifices with offerings of fruits and flowers, practise austerities by exposing himself to heat and cold, and "for the purpose of uniting his soul with the Divine Spirit he must study the Upanishads."
"A Brahman, having shuffled off his body by these modes, which great sages practise, and becoming void of sorrow and fear, it exalted into the divine essence."
"Let him not wish for death. Let him not wish for life. Let him expect his appointed time, as the hired servant expects his wages."
"Meditating on the Supreme Spirit, without any earthly desire, with no companion but his own soul, let him live in this world seeking the bliss of the next."
The anchorite is to beg food, but only once a day; if it is not given to him, he must not be sorrowful, and if he receives it he must not be glad; he is to meditate on the "subtle indivisible essence of the Supreme Being," he is to be careful not to destroy the life of the smallest insect, and he must make atonement for the death of those which he has ignorantly destroyed by making six suppressions of his breath, repeating at the same time the triliteral syllable A U M. He will thus at last become united with the Eternal Spirit, and his good deeds will be inherited by those who love him, and his evil deeds by those who hate him.
The Seventh Book relates to the duties of rulers. One of these is to reward the good and punish the wicked. The genius of punishment is a son of Brahma, and has a body of pure light. Punishment is an active ruler, governs all mankind, dispenses laws, preserves the race, and is the perfection of justice. Without it all classes would become corrupt, all barriers would fall, and there would be total confusion. Kings are to respect the Brahmans, must shun vices, must select good counsellors and brave soldiers. A King must be a father to his people. When he goes to war he must observe the rules of honorable warfare, must not use poisoned arrows, strike a fallen enemy, nor one who sues for life, nor one without arms, nor one who surrenders. He is not to take too little revenue, and so "cut up his own root"; nor too much, and so "cut up the root of others"; he is to be severe when it is necessary, and mild when it is necessary.
The Eighth Book relates to civil and criminal law. The Raja is to hold his court every day, assisted by his Brahmans, and decide causes concerning debts and loans, sales, wages, contracts, boundaries, slander, assaults, larceny, robbery, and other crimes. The Raja, "understanding what is expedient or inexpedient, but considering only what is law or not law," should examine all disputes. He must protect unprotected women, restore property to its rightful owner, not encourage litigation, and decide according to the rules of law. These rules correspond very nearly to our law of evidence. Witnesses are warned to speak the truth in all cases by the consideration that, though they may think that none see them, the gods distinctly see them and also the spirit in their own breasts.
"The soul itself is its own witness, the soul itself is its own refuge; offend not thy conscious soul, the supreme internal witness of men."
"The fruit of every virtuous act which thou hast done, O good man, since thy birth, shall depart from thee to the dogs, if thou deviate from the truth."
"O friend to virtue, the Supreme Spirit, which is the same with thyself, resides in thy bosom perpetually, and is an all-knowing inspector of thy goodness or wickedness."
The law then proceeds to describe the punishments which the gods would inflict upon false witnesses; but, curiously enough, allows false witness to be given, from a benevolent motive, in order to save an innocent man from a tyrant. This is called "the venial sin of benevolent falsehood." The book then proceeds to describe weights and measures, and the rate of usury, which is put down as five percent. It forbids compound interest. The law of deposits occupies a large space, as in all Eastern countries, where investments are difficult. A good deal is said about the wages of servants, especially of those hired to keep cattle, and their responsibilities. The law of slander is carefully laid down. Crimes of violence are also minutely described, and here the Lex Talionis comes in. If a man strikes a human being or an animal so as to inflict much pain, he shall be struck himself in the same way. A man is allowed to correct with a small stick his wife, son, or servant, but not on the head or any noble part of the body. The Brahmans, however, are protected by special laws.
"Never shall the king flay a Brahman, though convicted of all possible crimes: let him banish the offender from his realm, but with all his property secure and his body unhurt."
"No greater crime is known on earth than flaying a Brahman; and the king, therefore, must not even form in his mind the idea of killing a priest."
The Ninth Book relates to women, to families, and to the law of castes. It states that women must be kept in a state of dependence.
"Their fathers protect them in childhood; their husbands protect them in youth; their sons protect them in age. A woman is never fit for independence."
It is the duty of men to watch and guard women, and very unfavorable opinions are expressed concerning the female character.
"Women have no business with the text of the Veda; this is fully settled; therefore having no knowledge of expiatory texts, sinful women must be as foul as falsehood itself. This is a fixed law."
It is, however, stated that good women become like goddesses, and shall be joined with their husbands in heaven; and that a man is only perfect when he consists of three persons united,—his wife, himself, and his son. Manu also attributes to ancient Brahmans a maxim almost verbally the same as that of the Bible, namely, "The husband is even one person with his wife." Nothing is said by Manu concerning the cremation of widows, but, on the other hand, minute directions are given for the behavior of widows during their life. Directions are also given concerning the marriage of daughters and sons and their inheritance of property. The rest of the book is devoted to a further description of crimes and punishments.
The Tenth Book relates to the mixed classes and times of distress.
The Eleventh Book relates to penance and expiation. In this book is mentioned the remarkable rite which consists in drinking the fermented juice of the moon-plant (or acid asclepias) with religious ceremonies. This Hindu sacrament began in the Vedic age, and the Sanhita of the Sama-Veda consists of hymns to be sung at the moon-plant sacrifice. This ceremony is still practised occasionally in India, and Dr. Hang has tasted this sacred beverage, which he describes as astringent, bitter, intoxicating, and very disagreeable. It is stated by Manu that no one has a right to drink this sacred juice who does not properly provide for his own household. He encourages sacrifices by declaring that they are highly meritorious and will expiate sin. Involuntary sins require a much lighter penance than those committed with knowledge. Crimes committed by Brahmans require a less severe penance than those performed by others; while those committed against Brahmans involve a much deeper guilt and require severer penance. The law declares:—
"From his high birth alone a Brahman is an object of veneration, even to deities, and his declarations are decisive evidence."
"A Brahman, who has performed an expiation with his whole mind fixed on God, purifies his soul."
Drinking intoxicating liquor (except in the Soma sacrifice) is strictly prohibited, and it is even declared that a Brahman who tastes intoxicating liquor sinks to the low caste of a Sudra. If a Brahman who has tasted the Soma juice even smells the breath of a man who has been drinking spirits, he must do penance by repeating the Gayatri, suppressing his breath, and eating clarified butter. Next to Brahmans, cows were the objects of reverence, probably because, in the earliest times, the Aryan race, as nomads, depended on this animal for food. He who kills a cow must perform very severe penances, among which are these:—
"All day he must wait on a herd of cows and stand quaffing the dust raised by their hoofs; at night, having servilely attended them, he must sit near and guard them."
"Free from passion, he must stand while they stand, follow when they move, and lie down near them when they lie down."
"By thus waiting on a herd for three months, he who has killed a cow atones for his guilt."
For such offences as cutting down fruit-trees or grasses, or killing insects, or injuring sentient creatures, the penance is to repeat so many texts of the Veda, to eat clarified butter, or to stop the breath. A low-born man who treats a Brahman disrespectfully, or who even overcomes him in argument, must fast all day and fall prostrate before him. He who strikes a Brahman shall remain in hell a thousand years. Great, however, is the power of sincere devotion. By repentance, open confession, reading the Scripture, almsgiving, and reformation, one is released from guilt. Devotion, it is said, is equal to the performance of all duties; and even the souls of worms and insects and vegetables attain heaven by the power of devotion. But especially great is the sanctifying influence of the Vedas. He who can repeat the whole of the Rig-Veda would be free from guilt, even if he had killed the inhabitants of the three worlds.
The last book of Manu is on transmigration and final beatitude. The principle is here laid down that every human action, word, and thought bears its appropriate fruit, good or evil. Out of the heart proceed three sins of thought, four sins of the tongue, and three of the body, namely, covetous, disobedient, and atheistic thoughts; scurrilous, false, frivolous, and unkind words; and actions of theft, bodily injury, and licentiousness. He who controls his thoughts, words, and actions is called a triple commander. There are three qualities of the soul, giving it a tendency to goodness, to passion, and to darkness. The first leads to knowledge, the second to desire, the third to sensuality. To the first belong study of Scripture, devotion, purity, self-command, and obedience. From the second proceed hypocritical actions, anxiety, disobedience, and self-indulgence. The third produces avarice, atheism, indolence, and every act which a man is ashamed of doing. The object of the first quality is virtue; of the second, worldly success; of the third, pleasure. The souls in which the first quality is supreme rise after death to the condition of deities; those in whom the second rules pass into the bodies of other men; while those under the dominion of the third become beasts and vegetables. Manu proceeds to expound, in great detail, this law of transmigration. For great sins one is condemned to pass a great many times into the bodies of dogs, insects, spiders, snakes, or grasses. The change has relation to the crime: thus, he who steals grain shall be born a rat; he who steals meat, a vulture; those who indulge in forbidden pleasures of the senses shall have their senses made acute to endure intense pain.
The highest of all virtues is disinterested goodness, performed from the love of God, and based on the knowledge of the Veda. A religious action, performed from hope of reward in this world or the next, will give one a place in the lowest heaven. But he who performs good actions without hope of reward, "perceiving the supreme soul in all beings, and all beings in the supreme soul, fixing his mind on God, approaches the divine nature."
"Let every Brahman, with fixed attention, consider all nature as existing in the Divine Spirit; all worlds as seated in him; he alone as the whole assemblage of gods; and he the author of all human actions."
"Let him consider the supreme omnipresent intelligence as the sovereign lord of the universe, by whom alone it exists, an incomprehensible spirit; pervading all beings in five elemental forms, and causing them to pass through birth, growth, and decay, and so to revolve like the wheels of a car."
"Thus the man who perceives in his own soul the supreme soul present in all creatures, acquires equanimity toward them all, and shall be absolved at last in the highest essence, even that of the Almighty himself."
We have given these copious extracts from the Brahmanic law, because this code is so ancient and authentic, and contains the bright consummate flower of the system, before decay began to come.
Sec. 6. The Three Hindoo Systems of Philosophy,—Sankhya, Vedanta, and Nyasa.
Duncker says that the Indian systems of philosophy were produced in the sixth or seventh century before Christ. As the system of Buddha implies the existence of the Sankhya philosophy, the latter must have preceded Buddhism. Moreover, Kapila and his two principles are distinctly mentioned in the Laws of Manu, and in the later Upanishads. This brings it to the Brahmana period of Max Mueller, B.C. 600 to B.C. 800, and probably still earlier. Dr. Weber at one time was of the opinion that Kapila and Buddha were the same person, but afterward retracted this opinion. Colebrooke says that Kapila is mentioned in the Veda itself, but intimates that this is probably another sage of the same name. The sage was even considered to be an incarnation of Vischnu, or of Agni. The Vedanta philosophy is also said by Lassen to be mentioned in the Laws of Manu. This system is founded on the Upanishads, and would seem to be later than that of Kapila, since it criticises his system, and devotes much space to its confutation. But Duncker regards it as the oldest, and already beginning in the Upanishads of the Vedas. As the oldest works now extant in both systems are later than their origin, this question of date can only be determined from their contents. That which logically precedes the other must be chronologically the oldest.
The Sankhya system of Kapila is contained in many works, but notably in the Karika, or Sankhya-Karika, by Iswara Krishna. This consists in eighty-two memorial verses, with a commentary. The Vedanta is contained in the Sutras, the Upanishads, and especially the Brahma-Sutra attributed to Vyasa. The Nyaya is to be found in the Sutras of Gotama and Canade.
These three systems of Hindoo philosophy, the Sankhya, the Nyaya, and the Vedanta, reach far back into a misty twilight, which leaves it doubtful when they began or who were their real authors. In some points they agree, in others they are widely opposed. They all agree in having for their object deliverance from the evils of time, change, sorrow, into an eternal rest and peace. Their aim is, therefore, not merely speculative, but practical. All agree in considering existence to be an evil, understanding by existence a life in time and space. All are idealists, to whom the world of sense and time is a delusion and snare, and who regard the Idea as the only substance. All agree in accepting the fact of transmigration, the cessation of which brings final deliverance. All consider that the means of this deliverance is to be found in knowledge, in a perfect knowledge of reality as opposed to appearance. And all are held by Brahmans, who consider themselves orthodox, who honor the Vedas above all other books, pay complete respect to the Hinduism of the day, perform the daily ceremonies, and observe the usual caste rules. The systems of philosophy supplement the religious worship, but are not intended to destroy it. The Vedantists hold that while in truth there is but one God, the various forms of worship in the Vedas, of Indra, Agni, the Maruts, etc., were all intended for those who could not rise to this sublime monotheism. Those who believe in the Sankhya maintain that though it wholly omits God, and is called "the system without a God," it merely omits, but does not deny, the Divine existence.
Each of these philosophies has a speculative and a practical side. The speculative problem is, How did the universe come? The practical problem is, How shall man be delivered from evil?
In answering the first question, the Vedanta, or Mimansa doctrine, proceeds from a single eternal and uncreated Principle; declaring that there is only ONE being in the universe, God or Brahm, and that all else is Maya, or illusion. The Sankhya accepts TWO eternal and uncreated substances, Soul and Nature. The Nyaya assumes THREE eternal and uncreated substances,—Atoms, Souls, and God.
The solution of the second problem is the same in all three systems. It is by knowledge that the soul is emancipated from body or matter or nature. Worship is inadequate, though not to be despised. Action is injurious rather than beneficial, for it implies desire. Only knowledge can lead to entire rest and peace.
According to all three systems, the transmigration of the soul through different bodies is an evil resulting from desire. As long as the soul wishes anything, it will continue to migrate and to suffer. When it gathers itself up into calm insight, it ceases to wander and finds repose.
The Vedanta or Mimansa is supposed to be referred to in Manu. Mimansa means "searching." In its logical forms it adopts the method so common among the scholastics, in first stating the question, then giving the objection, after that the reply to the objection, and lastly the conclusion. The first part of the Mimansa relates to worship and the ceremonies and ritual of the Veda. The second part teaches the doctrine of Brahma. Brahma is the one, eternal, absolute, unchangeable Being. He unfolds into the universe as Creator and Created. He becomes first ether, then air, then fire, then water, then earth. From these five elements all bodily existence proceeds. Souls are sparks from the central fire of Brahma, separated for a time, to be absorbed again at last.
Brahma, in his highest form as Para-Brahm, stands for the Absolute Being. The following extract from the Sama-Veda (after Haug's translation) expresses this: "The generation of Brahma was before all ages, unfolding himself evermore in a beautiful glory; everything which is highest and everything which is deepest belongs to him. Being and Not-Being are unveiled through Brahma."
The following passage is from a Upanishad, translated by Windischmann:—
"How can any one teach concerning Brahma? he is neither the known nor the unknown. That which cannot be expressed by words, but through which all expression comes, this I know to be Brahma. That which cannot be thought by the mind, but by which all thinking comes, this I know is Brahma. That which cannot be seen by the eye, but by which the eye sees, is Brahma. If thou thinkest that thou canst know it, then in truth thou knowest it very little. To whom it is unknown, he knows it; but to whom it is known, he knows it not."
This also is from Windischmann, from the Kathaka Upanishad: "One cannot attain to it through the word, through the mind, or through the eye. It is only reached by him who says, 'It is! It is!' He perceives it in its essence. Its essence appears when one perceives it as it is."
The old German expression Istigkeit, according to Bunsen, corresponds to this. This also is the name of Jehovah as given to Moses from the burning bush: "And God said unto Moses, I AM THE I AM. Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you." The idea is that God alone really exists, and that the root of all being is in him. This is expressed in another Upanishad: "HE WHO EXISTS is the root of all creatures; he WHO EXISTS is their foundation, and in him they rest."
In the Vedanta philosophy this speculative pantheism is carried further. Thus speaks Sankara, the chief teacher of the Vedanta philosophy ("Colebrooke's Essays"): "I am the great Brahma, eternal, pure, free, one, constant, happy, existing without end. He who ceases to contemplate other things, who retires into solitude, annihilates his desires, and subjects his passions, he understands that Spirit is the One and the Eternal. The wise man annihilates all sensible things in spiritual things, and contemplates that one Spirit who resembles pure space. Brahma is without size, quality, character, or division."
According to this philosophy (says Bunsen) the world is the Not-Being. It is, says Sankara, "appearance without Being; it is like the deception of a dream." "The soul itself," he adds, "has no actual being."
There is an essay on Vedantism in a book published in Calcutta, 1854, by a young Hindoo, Shoshee Chunder Dutt, which describes the creation as proceeding from Maya, in this way: "Dissatisfied with his own solitude, Brahma feels a desire to create worlds, and then the volition ceases so far as he is concerned, and he sinks again into his apathetic happiness, while the desire, thus willed into existence, assumes an active character. It becomes Maya, and by this was the universe created, without exertion on the part of Brahma. This passing wish of Brahma carried, however, no reality with it. And the creation proceeding from it is only an illusion. There is only one absolute Unity really existing, and existing without plurality. But he is like one asleep. Krishna, in the Gita, says: 'These works (the universe) confine not me, for I am like one who sitteth aloof uninterested in them all.' The universe is therefore all illusion, holding a position between something and nothing. It is real as an illusion, but unreal as being. It is not true, because it has no essence; but not false, because its existence, even as illusion, is from God. The Vedanta declares: 'From the highest state of Brahma to the lowest condition of a straw, all things are delusion.'" Chunder Dutt, however, contradicts Bunsen's assertion that the soul also is an illusion according to the Vedanta. "The soul," he says, "is not subject to birth or death, but is in its substance, from Brahma himself." The truth seems to be that the Vedanta regards the individuation of the soul as from Maya and illusive, but the substance of the soul is from Brahma, and destined to be absorbed into him. As the body of man is to be resolved into its material elements, so the soul of man is to be resolved into Brahma. This substance of the soul is neither born nor dies, nor is it a thing of which it can be said, "It was, is, or shall be." In the Gita, Krishna tells Arjun that he and the other princes of the world "never were not."
The Vedantist philosopher, however, though he considers all souls as emanations from God, does not believe that all of them will return into God at death. Those only who have obtained a knowledge of God are rewarded by absorption, but the rest continue to migrate from body to body so long as they remain unqualified for the same. "The knower of God becomes God." This union with the Deity is the total loss of personal identity, and is the attainment of the highest bliss, in which are no grades and from which is no return. This absorption comes not from good works or penances, for these confine the soul and do not liberate it. "The confinement of fetters is the same whether the chain be of gold or iron." "The knowledge which realizes that everything is Brahm alone liberates the soul. It annuls the effect both of our virtues and vices. We traverse thereby both merit and demerit, the heart's knot is broken, all doubts are split, and all our works perish. Only by perfect abstraction, not merely from the senses, but also from the thinking intellect and by remaining in the knowing intellect, does the devotee become identified with Brahm. He then remains as pure glass when the shadow has left it. He lives destitute of passions and affections. He lives sinless; for as water wets not the leaf of the lotus, so sin touches not him who knows God." He stands in no further need of virtue, for "of what use can be a winnowing fan when the sweet southern wind is blowing." His meditations are of this sort: "I am Brahm, I am life. I am everlasting, perfect, self-existent, undivided, joyful."
If therefore, according to this system, knowledge alone unites the soul to God, the question comes, Of what use are acts of virtue, penances, sacrifices, worship? The answer is, that they effect a happy transmigration from the lower forms of bodily life to higher ones. They do not accomplish the great end, which is absorption and escape from Maya, but they prepare the way for it by causing one to be born in a higher condition.
The second system of philosophy, the Sankhya of Kapila, is founded not on one principle, like the Vedanta, but on two. According to the seventy aphorisms, Nature is one of these principles. It is uncreated and eternal. It is one, active, creating, non-intelligent. The other of the two principles, also uncreated and eternal, is Soul, or rather Souls. Souls are many, passive, not creative, intelligent, and in all things the opposite to Nature. But from the union of the two all the visible universe proceeds, according to the law of cause and effect.
God not being recognized in this system, it is often called atheism. Its argument, to show that no one perfect being could create the universe, is this. Desire implies want, or imperfection. Accordingly, if God desired to create, he would be unable to do so; if he was able, he would not desire to do it. In neither case, therefore, could God have created the universe. The gods are spoken of by the usual names, Brahma, Indra, etc., but are all finite beings, belonging to the order of human souls, though superior.
Every soul is clothed in two bodies,—the interior original body, the individualizing force, which is eternal as itself and accompanies it through all its migrations; and the material, secondary body, made of the five elements, ether, air, fire, water, and earth. The original body is subtile and spiritual. It is the office of Nature to liberate the Soul. Nature is not what we perceive by the senses, but an invisible plastic principle behind, which must be known by the intellect. As the Soul ascends by goodness, it is freed by knowledge. The final result of this emancipation is the certainty of non-existence,—"neither I am, nor is aught mine, nor do I exist,"—which seems to be the same result as that of Hegel, Being = Not-Being. Two or three of the aphorisms of the Karika are as follows:—
"LIX. As a dancer, having exhibited herself to the spectator, desists from the dance, so does Nature desist, having manifested herself to the Soul."
"LX. Generous Nature, endued with qualities, does by manifold means accomplish, without benefit (to herself), the wish of ungrateful Soul, devoid of qualities."
"LXI. Nothing, in my opinion, is more gentle than Nature; once aware of having been seen, she does not again expose herself to the gaze of Soul."
"LXVI. Soul desists, because it has seen Nature. Nature desists, because she has been seen. In their (mere) union there is no motive for creation."
Accordingly, the result of knowledge is to put an end to creation, and to leave the Soul emancipated from desire, from change, from the material body, in a state which is Being, but not Existence (esse, not existere; Seyn, not Da-seyn).
This Sankhya philosophy becomes of great importance, when we consider that it was the undoubted source of Buddhism. This doctrine which we have been describing was the basis of Buddhism.
M. Cousin has called it the sensualism of India, but certainly without propriety. It is as purely ideal a doctrine as that of the Vedas. Its two eternal principles are both ideal. The plastic force which is one of them, Kapila distinctly declares cannot be perceived by the senses. Soul, the other eternal and uncreated principle, who "is witness, solitary, bystander, spectator, and passive," is not only spiritual itself, but is clothed with a spiritual body, within the material body. In fact, the Karika declares the material universe to be the result of the contact of the Soul with Nature, and consists in chains with which Nature binds herself, for the purpose (unconscious) of delivering the Soul. When by a process of knowledge the Soul looks through these, and perceives the ultimate principle beyond, the material universe ceases, and both Soul and Nature are emancipated.
One of the definitions of the Karika will call to mind the fourfold division of the universe by the great thinker of the ninth century, Erigena. In his work, [Greek: peri phuseos merismou] he asserts that there is, (1.) A Nature which creates and is not created. (2.) A Nature which is created and creates. (3.) A Nature which is created and does not create. (4.) A Nature which neither creates nor is created. So Kapila (Karika, 3) says, "Nature, the root of all things, is productive but not a production. Seven principles are productions and productive. Sixteen are productions but not productive. Soul is neither a production nor productive."
Mr. Muir (Sanskrit Texts, Part III. p. 96) quotes the following passages in proof of the antiquity of Kapila, and the respect paid to his doctrine in very early times:—
Svet. Upanishad. "The God who superintends every mode of production and all forms, who formerly nourished with various knowledge his son Kapila the rishi, and beheld him at his birth."
"Bhagavat Purana (I. 3, 10) makes Kapila an incarnation of Vischnu. In his fifth incarnation, in the form of Kapila, he declared to Asuri the Sankhya which defines the collection of principles.
"Bhagavat Purana (IX. 8, 12) relates that Kapila, being attacked by the sons of King Sangara, destroyed them with fire which issued from his body. But the author of the Purana denies that this was done in anger. 'How could the sage, by whom the strong ship of the Sankhya was launched, on which the man seeking emancipation crosses the ocean of existence, entertain the distinction of friend and foe'?"
The Sankhya system is also frequently mentioned in the Mahabarata.
The Nyaya system differs from that of Kapila, by assuming a third eternal and indestructible principle as the basis of matter, namely, Atoms. It also assumes the existence of a Supreme Soul, Brahma, who is almighty and allwise. It agrees with Kapila in making all souls eternal, and distinct from body. Its evil to be overcome is the same, namely, transmigration; and its method of release is the same, namely Buddhi, or knowledge. It is a more dialectic system than the others, and is rather of the nature of a logic than a philosophy.
Mr. Banerjea, in his Dialogues on the Hindu philosophy, considers the Buddhists' system as closely resembling the Nyaya system. He regards the Buddhist Nirvana as equivalent to the emancipation of the Nyaya system. Apavarga, or emancipation, is declared in this philosophy to be final deliverance from pain, birth, activity, fault, and false notions. Even so the Pali doctrinal books speak of Nirvana as an exemption from old age, disease, and death. In it desire, anger, and ignorance are consumed by the fire of knowledge. Here all selfish distinctions of mine and thine, all evil thoughts, all slander and jealousy, are cut down by the weapon of knowledge. Here we have an experience of immortality which is cessation of all trouble and perfect felicity.
Sec. 7. Origin of the Hindoo Triad.
There had gradually grown up among the people a worship founded on that of the ancient Vedas. In the West of India, the god RUDRA, mentioned in the Vedic hymns, had been transformed into Siva. In the Rig-Veda Rudra is sometimes the name for Agni. He is described as father of the winds. He is the same as Maha-deva. He is fierce and beneficent at once. He presides over medicinal plants. According to Weber (Indische Stud., II. 19) he is the Storm-God. The same view is taken by Professor Whitney. But his worship gradually extended, until, under the name of Siva, the Destroyer, he became one of the principal deities of India. Meantime, in the valley of the Ganges, a similar devotion had grown up for the Vedic god VISCHNU, who in like manner had been promoted to the chief rank in the Hindoo Pantheon. He had been elevated to the character of a Friend and Protector, gifted with mild attributes, and worshipped as the life of Nature. By accepting the popular worship, the Brahmans were able to oppose Buddhism with success.
We have no doubt that the Hindoo Triad came from the effort of the Brahmans to unite all India in one worship, and it may for a time have succeeded. Images of the Trimurtti, or three-faced God, are frequent in India, and this is still the object of Brahmanical worship. But beside this practical motive, the tendency of thought is always toward a triad of law, force, or elemental substance, as the best explanation of the universe. Hence there have been Triads in so many religions: in Egypt, of Osiris the Creator, Typhon the Destroyer, and Horus the Preserver; in Persia, of Ormazd the Creator, Ahriman the Destroyer, and Mithra the Restorer; in Buddhism, of Buddha the Divine Man, Dharmma the Word, and Sangha the Communion of Saints. Simple monotheism does not long satisfy the speculative intellect, because, though it accounts for the harmonies of creation, it leaves its discords unexplained. But a dualism of opposing forces is found still more unsatisfactory, for the world does not appear to be such a scene of utter warfare and discord as this. So the mind comes to accept a Triad, in which the unities of life and growth proceed from one element, the antagonisms from a second, and the higher harmonies of reconciled oppositions from a third. The Brahmanical Triad arose in the same way.
Thus grew up, from amid the spiritual pantheism into which all Hindoo religion seemed to have settled, another system, that of the Trimurtti, or Divine Triad; the Indian Trinity of Brahma, Vischnu, and Siva. This Triad expresses the unity of Creation, Destruction, and Restoration. A foundation for this already existed in a Vedic saying, that the highest being exists in three states, that of creation, continuance, and destruction.
Neither of these three supreme deities of Brahmanism held any high rank in the Vedas. Siva (Civa) does not appear therein at all, nor, according to Lassen, is Brahma mentioned in the Vedic hymns, but first in a Upanishad. Vischnu is spoken of in the Rig-Veda, but always as one of the names for the sun. He is the Sun-God. His three steps are sunrise, noon, and sunset. He is mentioned as one of the sons of Aditi; he is called the "wide-stepping," "measurer of the world," "the strong," "the deliverer," "renewer of life," "who sets in motion the revolutions of time," "a protector," "preserving the highest heaven." Evidently he begins his career in this mythology as the sun.
BRAHMA, at first a word meaning prayer and devotion, becomes in the laws of Manu the primal God, first-born of the creation, from the self-existent being, in the form of a golden egg. He became the creator of all things by the power of prayer. In the struggle for ascendency which took place between the priests and the warriors, Brahma naturally became the deity of the former. But, meantime, as we have seen, the worship of Vischnu had been extending itself in one region and that of Siva in another. Then took place those mysterious wars between the kings of the Solar and Lunar races, of which the great epics contain all that we know. And at the close of these wars a compromise was apparently accepted, by which Brahma, Vischnu, and Siva were united in one supreme God, as creator, preserver, and destroyer, all in one.
It is almost certain that this Hindoo Triad was the result of an ingenious and successful attempt, on the part of the Brahmans, to unite all classes of worshippers in India against the Buddhists. In this sense the Brahmans edited anew the Mahabharata, inserting in that epic passages extolling Vischnu in the form of Krishna. The Greek accounts of India which followed the invasion of Alexander speak of the worship of Hercules as prevalent in the East, and by Hercules they apparently mean the god Krishna. The struggle between the Brahmans and Buddhists lasted during nine centuries (from A.D. 500 to A.D. 1400), ending with the total expulsion of Buddhism, and the triumphant establishment of the Triad, as the worship of India.
Before this Triad or Trimurtti (of Brahma, Vischnu, and Siva) there seems to have been another, consisting of Agni, Indra, and Surya. This may have given the hint of the second Triad, which distributed among the three gods the attributes of Creation, Destruction, and Renovation. Of these Brahma, the Creator, ceased soon to be popular, and the worship of Siva and Vischnu as Krishna remain as the popular religion of India.
One part, and a very curious one, of the worship of Vischnu is the doctrine of the Avatars, or incarnations of that deity. There are ten of these Avatars,—nine have passed and one is to come. The object of Vischnu is, each time, to save the gods from destruction impending over them in consequence of the immense power acquired by some king, giant, or demon, by superior acts of austerity and piety. For here, as elsewhere, extreme spiritualism is often divorced from morality; and so these extremely pious, spiritual, and self-denying giants are the most cruel and tyrannical monsters, who must be destroyed at all hazards. Vischnu, by force or fraud, overcomes them all.
His first Avatar is of the Fish, as related in the Mahabharata. The object was to recover the Vedas, which had been stolen by a demon from Brahma when asleep. In consequence of this loss the human race became corrupt, and were destroyed by a deluge, except a pious prince and seven holy men who were saved in a ship. Vischnu, as a large fish, drew the ship safely over the water, killed the demon, and recovered the Vedas. The second Avatar was in a Turtle, to make the drink of immortality. The third was in a Boar, the fourth in a Man-Lion, the fifth in the Dwarf who deceived Bali, who had become so powerful by austerities as to conquer the gods and take possession of Heaven. In the eighth Avatar he appears as Krishna and in the ninth as Buddha.
This system of Avatars is so peculiar and so deeply rooted in the system, that it would seem to indicate some law of Hindoo thought. Perhaps some explanation may be reached thus:—
We observe that,—
Vischnu does not mediate between Brahma and Siva, but between the deities and the lower races of men or demons.
The danger arises from a certain fate or necessity which is superior both to gods and men. There are laws which enable a man to get away from the power of Brahma and Siva.
But what is this necessity but nature, or the nature of things, the laws of the outward world of active existences? It is not till essence becomes existence, till spirit passes into action, that it becomes subject to law.
The danger then is from the world of nature. The gods are pure spirit, and spirit is everything. But, now and then, nature seems to be something, it will not be ignored or lost in God. Personality, activity, or human nature rebel against the pantheistic idealism, the abstract spiritualism of this system.
To conquer body, Vischnu or spirit enters into body, again and again. Spirit must appear as body to destroy Nature. For thus is shown that spirit cannot be excluded from anything,—that it can descend into the lowest forms of life, and work in law as well as above law.