Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. VI. - The History of British India, vol. 1
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
CHAP. VI. - James Mill, The History of British India, vol. 1 
The History of British India in 6 vols. (3rd edition) (London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1826). Vol. 1.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
BOOK II. Chap. 6.It is difficult to determine whether the constitution of the government and the provisions of law, or Religion, have, among the Hindus, the greatest influence upon the lives of individuals, and the operations of society. Beside the causes which usually give superstition a powerful sway in ignorant and credulous ages, the order of priests obtained a greater authority in India than in any other region of the globe; and this again they employed with astonishing success in multiplying and corroborating the ideas on which their power and consequence depended. Every thing in Hindustan was transacted by the Deity. The laws were promulgated, the people were classified, the government was established, by the Divine Being. The astonishing exploits of the Divinity were endless in that sacred land. For every stage of life from the cradle to the grave; for every hour of the day; for every function of nature; for every social transaction, God prescribed a number of religious observances. And meditation upon his incomprehensible attributes, as it was by far the most difficult of all human operations, so was it that glorious occupation which alone prepared the intense votary for the participation of the Divine nature.
Of so extensive and complicated a subject, as the religion of the Hindus, a very general view can alone be taken here. All that is interesting to the politician and the philosopher, may, however, it is presumed,BOOK II. Chap. 6. be confined within a moderate space. The task is rendered difficult by the unparalleled vagueness which marks the language of the Brahmens respecting the nature of the gods, the vast multiplicity of their fictions, and the endless discrepancy of their ideas. Hence it is, that no coherent system of belief seems capable of being extracted from their wild eulogies and legends; and if he who attempts to study their religion is disposed, like themselves, to build his faith on his imagination, he meets with little obstruction from the stubborn precision of Hindu expressions and tenets.
Nothing is more curious than to trace the ideas concerning Divine power which the natural faculties of our race suggest to them at the various stages of their career. In the very rude and imperfect state in which society originated, the human mind can hardly so far enlarge its views as to draw conclusions respecting the universe. Those operations and events of nature, which more immediately concern mankind, and on which their happiness and misery depend, no doubt engage their eager curiosity. The causes of light and darkness, of drought and rain, of the thunder, of the hurricane, of the earthquake, suggest many an anxious inquiry; but to put all the objects of nature, and all the changes which they undergo, into one group of ideas, and to ask whence did the whole proceed, seems to be an operation too complicated, and too far removed from the ordinary track of his ideas, to be one of the first that takes place in the mind of a barbarian.
With regard to that other class of questions, which more easily occur to him, his nature very readily suggests an answer. Prior to experience and instruction, there is a propensity in the imagination to endow BOOK II. Chap. 6.with life whatever we behold in motion; or, in general, whatever appears to be the cause of any event. A child beats the inanimate object, by which it has been hurt, and caresses that by which it has been gratified. The sun, which is the cause of day, the savage regards as a beneficent deity. A spirit resides in the storm; the woods and the waters are peopled with divinities; there is a god of plenty, and a god of want; a god of war, and a god of peace; a god of health, and a god of sickness. That this may be considered as a correct outline of the first religion which is suggested to the human mind, the laws of human nature, and the ideas which are found to prevail among rude tribes, appear sufficiently to evince.
But men are not long in making another step in their religious progress. Having made for themselves a theory with respect to the cause of the events which affect them, the origin too of the things which they perceive attracts their curiosity; and from asking the cause, first of one great object, and then of another, they come at last to put the general question, what is the cause and origin of the whole? There are very few, therefore, even among the most barbarous nations, who have not made an attempt to account for the origin of the universe, and in whose religious ideas some species of cosmogony is not involved. But, in answering the question respecting the origin of the universe, it is impossible that men should not be guided by their previous ideas. It follows, that among the divinities, whom they already adored, He, whom they regarded as the most powerful, should be selected as the Maker of the world. Were they placed in circumstances of tolerable tranquillity, this potent God would probably be the sun; were they a people almost constantly plunged in the horrors of war, the god of arms would naturally be their chief divinity. Hence we see that in many nationsBOOK II. Chap. 6. of Asia, who at an early period seem to have been placed in favourable circumstances, the sun was supreme among the gods, and the great principle of the universe; among the turbulent and warlike tribes who inhabited the north of Europe, Odin, the god of war, was the supreme deity, and author of all things.
The Hindus had made considerable progress beyond the first and lowest stage of human society. It seems common, however, to retain for a long time the ideas which are then implanted; and, rather than eradicate the old to make of them a heterogeneous compound with the new. The Greeks and the Romans did not reject their Jupiter, and Mars, their gods of the mountains, trees, and rivers, when they rose to more comprehensive views of the universe; they only endeavoured to accommodate to these primary conceptions their new apprehensions and conclusions. In like manner, the Hindus have still their Indra, or the god of the firmament, Varuna, or the god of the waters, Rembha, the goddess of love; in the whole, a long and splendid catalogue of thirtythree crore.1
We have translations from the Hindu books of several passages containing accounts of the creation.2BOOK II. Chap. 6.They differ from one another very widely in the minor forms and circumstances; but strongly resemble in the general character, and in the principal ideas. That contained in the sacred volume which bears the name of Menu may be taken as a standard, being more full and circumstantial than any of those which are given us from the Vedas; derived from a work of equal authority with the Vedas themselves, and exhibiting, as drawn up at a later period, the improvement, if any, which the ideas of the people had acquired. It is all vagueness and darkness, incoherence, inconsistency, and confusion. It is one of the most extravagant of all specimens of discourse without ideas. The fearless propensity of a rude mind to guess where it does not know, never exhibited itself in more fantastic and senseless forms.1
Beside accounts of what creation was, we have accounts of the mode in which the Hindu divinity performed the creation. If a man possessing refined and exalted notions of the Divine Nature were to describe the great work of creation, he would have the clearest conviction of his own incompetence; and, as Moses, he would attempt no more than by a few strokes to convey an idea of the magnitude of the task, and of the power and wisdom of him who performed it. If far removed from this degree of knowledge and reflection, he will enter without hesitation upon a minute and detailed description both of the plan, and of its execution. If, however, the society in which he lives has attained any considerable improvement, the process which he conceives will indicate some portion of human wisdom; will, at least, be such as an instructed member of that society, had he infinite power imparted to him,BOOK II. Chap. 6. would devise for himself. On the other hand, if a description of the creation presents no idea but what is fantastic, wild, and irrational; if it includes not even a portion of that design and contrivance which appear in the ordinary works of man; if it carries the common analogies of production, in animal and vegetable life, to the production of the universe, we cannot be mistaken in ascribing it to a people, whose ideas of the Divine Being were grovelling.
“The self-existing power,” says Menu, “having willed to produce various beings, first with a thought created the waters.” This is not a despicable conception: but what succeeds? “He placed in these waters a productive seed.” This is one of those analogies to the growth of a plant or an animal which are generally the foundation of the cosmogony of a rude people. What next? The seed becomes an egg; which is a very extraordinary product; a wonderful course, too, for the self-existing power to follow in the formation of the universe. The other steps are not less amazing. In this egg the divine being deposited himself, and there he lay, in a state of inactivity, a whole year of the Creator, that is, according to the Hindus, 1,555,200,000,000 solar years of mortals.1 At the end of this astonishing BOOK II. Chap. 6.period he caused by his thought the egg to divide itself, and was himself born in the form of Brahma, the great forefather of all spirits;1 thus, “from That-Which-is, the first cause, was produced the divine male, famed in all worlds, under the appellation of Brahma.”2 This is celebrated in Hindu books as the great transformation of the Divine Being, from neuter to masculine, for the purpose of creating worlds; and under this masculine form of Brahma it was that he effected the rest of creation. The Hindus believe that he was engaged in it for no less than 17,064,000 years.3 Of the two divisions of the egg from which he had just been freed, he framed the heaven above, the earth beneath, and in the midst the subtle ether, the eight regions, and the permanent receptacle of waters. The creation of mind is next described; but this will be more conveniently considered when we come to appreciate the notions of the Hindus in relation to thought. The creation however of man, or at least of the Hindus, is worthy of our particular regard. “That the human race might be multiplied, He caused the Brahmen to proceed from his mouth, the Cshatriya from his arm, the Vaisya from his thigh, and the Sudra from his foot.” The analogy of ordinary descent is again the foundation of this fantastic imagination; and the Hindu could picture to himself the production of a human being, even by the Deity, only in the way of a species of birth. This analogy leads to a still more extravagant conceit for the creation of other races of men, and living creatures. As if “The MightyBOOK II. Chap. 6. Power” could not produce them by his male virtue alone, “He divided his own substance, and became half male, half female. By this female the male half produced Viraj, a demigod and saint; Viraj, by the virtue of austere devotion, produced Menu, another demigod and saint.” Menu again, “desirous,” he says, “of giving birth to a race of men,” produced ten lords of created beings; and these lords produced at his command “seven other Menus, and deities, and the mansions of deities, and great sages, and also benevolent genii, and fierce giants, blood-thirsty savages, heavenly quiristers, nymphs and demons, huge serpents and snakes of smaller size, birds of mighty wing, and separate companions of Pitris or progenitors of mankind; lightnings and thunderbolts, clouds and coloured bows of Indra, falling meteors, earthrending vapours, comets, and luminaries of various degrees; horse-faced sylvans, apes, fish, and a variety of birds, tame cattle, deer, men, and ravenous beasts with two rows of teeth; small and large reptiles, moths, lice, fleas, and common flies, with every biting gnat, and immoveable substances of distinct sorts. Thus was this whole assemblage of moveable and stationary bodies framed by those high-minded beings.”1
But in the Hindu books we find applied to the Divinity a great variety of expressions, so elevated, that they cannot be surpassed even by those of the men who entertain the most sublime ideas of the Divine Nature. In the passage immediately quoted from Menu, he is described as the sole self-existing power, the soul of all beings, he whom the mind alone can perceive, who exists from eternity, and whom no being BOOK II. Chap. 6.can comprehend. In a passage from the Brahmanda Purana, translated by Mr. Wilford, he is denominated; “The great God, the great Omnipotent, Omniscient one, the greatest in the World, the great Lord who goes through all worlds, incapable of decay.”1 In a prayer, translated by Mr. Colebrooke, from one of the Vedas, he is called, “the pure Brahme, whom none can apprehend as an object of perception, above, around, or in the midst; the God who pervades all regions, the first-born; he, prior to whom nothing was born; who became all beings, himself the Lord of creatures; he, who made the fluid sky and solid earth, who fixed the solar orb and celestial abode, whom heaven and earth mentally contemplate; the mysterious Being, in whom the universe perpetually exists, resting on that sole support; in whom this world is absorbed, from whom it issues.”2 Without multiplying instances, it may shortly be stated that human language does not supply more lofty epithets of praise than are occasionally addressed to their deities by the Hindus.
To form a true estimate of the religion of this people, it is necessary by reflection to ascertain, what those expressions in the mouth of a Brahmen really mean. We shall incur the risk of completely deceiving ourselves, if, with the experience how naturally vague and general expressions, especially in such abstract and mental subjects, convey the most different ideas, to people in different stages of society, we take the lofty expressions of devotion in Hindu books, as full and satisfactory evidence of lofty conceptions of the Divine Nature. It is well ascertained that nations, who have the lowest and meanest ideas of the Divine Being, may yet apply to him the most sounding epithets by which perfection can be expressed.
In tracing the progress of natural religion, throughBOOK II. Chap. 6. the different stages of intellectual acquirement, a very important fact is discovered; that language, on this subject, has a much greater tendency to improve, than ideas. It is well known how vile and degrading were the notions of the Divine Nature presented in the fictions of the Greek poets; insomuch that Plato deemed them unfit to be read;1 yet the Brahmens themselves do not surpass the Greek poets in elevated expressions concerning the Deity. Orpheus, early and rude as is the period to which his poetry relates, thus describes the celestial King; “Jupiter, the sovereign; Jupiter, the original parent of all things; and Wisdom, the first procreator; and all-delighting Love: For in the mighty frame of Jupiter all are contained: One power, one godhead: He is the great Regent of all.”2 Cæsar informs us that the Druids among BOOK II. Chap. 6.the ancient Gauls delivered many doctrines concerning the nature of the universe, and the powers of the immortal gods;1 and it is remarkable that the Greeks and the Romans were forcibly struck with the similarity between the ideas of the Druids, and those of the Brahmens of India, the Magi of Persia, the Chaldeans of Assyria, and the priests of Egypt.2 The creed of the ancient Germans, as we are informed by Tacitus, was, “that God is the Ruler of all: other things are to him subject and obedient.”3 In the ancient Scandinavian mythology, the Supreme God was described, as, “The author of every thing that existeth; the eternal, the ancient, the living and awful Being, the searcher into concealed things; the Being that never changeth.”4 On the statue of the Egyptian goddess Isis was this inscription; “I am every thing past, every thing present, and every thing to come.”5 The Deity was described by Zoroaster as “The First, the Incorruptible, the Eternal, without generation, without dissolution, without a parallel, the charioteer of all which is good, inaccessible to bribes, the best of the good, the wisest of the wise.”6 The Getes asserted their deity Zamolxis to be the true God, that besides him there was none other, and that to him they went after death, being endowed with spirits immortal.7 Even the rude tribes of America, wandering naked in the woods, “appear,” says Robertson, “to acknowledge a Divine Power to be the maker of theBOOK II. Chap. 6. world, and the disposer of all events. They denominate him the Great Spirit.”1 Thus it appears how commonly the loftiest expressions are used concerning the gods, by people whose conceptions of them are, confessedly, mean.2
This important fact, however remarkable, is founded on principles of very powerful operation in the nature of man. The timid barbarian, who is agitated by fears respecting the unknown events of nature, feels the most incessant and eager desire to propitiate the Being on whom he believes them to depend. His mind works, with laborious solicitude, to discover the best means of recommending himself. He naturally takes counsel from his own sentiments and feelings; and as nothing to his rude breast is more delightful than adulation, he is led by a species of instinct to expect the favour of his god from praise and flattery. In an uncultivated mind, how strong this sentiment is, a very superficial knowledge of human nature may convince us. Mr. Foster, in his Travels over land from India, was overtaken by a storm in the Caspian Sea; and remarks that during the danger “every man was imploring the Divine interposition in his own manner and language.” “But my attention,” says he, “was chiefly attracted by a Persian. His ejaculations were loud and fervent; and the whole force of his prayers was levelled at Ali; on whom he bestowed every title that could denote sanctity or military prowess. He BOOK II. Chap. 6.called on him, by the name of the Friend of God; the Lord of the Faithful; the Brandisher of the invincible sword; to look down on his servant, and shield him from the impending evil. Thinking also to obtain the more grace with the father, he would occasionally launch out into the praises of his two sons.”1
When the belief is once admitted that the Deity is pleased with panegyric, it is evident to what length the agitated and ignorant votary will speedily be carried. Whatever may be the phrases with which he begins; in a short time, the ardour of his fears incites him to invent new and stronger; as likely to prove more agreeable and prevalent. Even these, by a short use, become familiar to his mind. When they begin to be stale and feeble, he is again prompted to a new invention, and to more violent exaggerations.
Exhausting quickly the powers of his language, he has other expedients in store. The god, on whom his eulogies have been lavished, is that one, among the invisible powers, on whom his interests seem more immediately to depend: This deity is at first panegyrised on account of those operations alone which belong to his own department: The sun is originally applauded only as the Regent of day: the bountiful giver of light, and of all its attendant blessings! But when panegyric on this subject is exhausted, the unwearied adorer opens a new fountain of adulation: The operations of some divinity, whose department most nearly resembles that of the favourite deity, affords some circumstance which, it is imagined, might do honour to that patron god: It is accordingly, as a very artful expedient, immediately detracted from the one, and ascribed to the other: No sooner is the novelty of this new attribute decayed, than the prerogative of some other divinity is invaded,BOOK II. Chap. 6. and the great object of worship is invested with a new power or function of nature: This, it is evident, is a fertile discovery: The votary has many articles to add to his list of powers and functions, before he exhausts the provinces of the whole of the gods. He proceeds incessantly, however; adding to the works and dominions of the great divinity one province after another, till at last he bestows upon him the power and functions of all the gods. He is now the supreme deity, and all the rest are subordinate. He is the king of the celestial powers; or, what is still more sublime, their author or father; He from whom their very being and powers are derived. They still, however, retain their ancient departments: and he who was god of the winds remains the god of the winds: he who was god of the waters remains god of the waters. But they are no longer independant deities; they have now a superior, and are regarded in the light of his ministers or agents.
The ingenuity of fear and desire sometimes invents a higher strain of flattery still. The power, which is delegated to so many extraordinary beings, is regarded as a deduction from that which might otherwise be wielded by the supreme. And happy is the man, who first imagines he can inform the Divinity, that no such division and diminution of his power exist: That those supposed agents or ministers are not in reality beings endowed with the powers of the Almighty; that they are those powers themselves; the different modes in which he manifests himself. After this, he is the one God He is all in all: From him every thing begins, in him every thing terminates: He unites all possible attributes: Like time, he has no beginning and shall have no end: All power belongs to him, all wisdom, and all virtue. Such is the progress BOOK II. Chap. 6.of the language, not of knowledge and cultivated reason, but of the rude and selfish passions of a barbarian; and all these high and sounding epithets are invented by men whose ideas of the divine nature are mean, ridiculous, gross, and disgusting.
Some of the most enlightened of the Europeans who have made inquiries concerning the ideas and institutions of the Hindus, have been induced, from the lofty epithets occasionally applied to the gods, to believe and to assert that this people had a refined and elevated religion. Nothing is more certain than that such language is far from being proof of such a religion. Yet ingenious men, from whom we have largely derived instruction, appear to have thought that no other proof was requisite; and, as on this evidence they adopted the opinion themselves, thought that others ought to receive it on the same foundation.1
Since the language employed by any people is aBOOK II. Chap. 6. very fallacious test of the ideas which they entertain concerning the Divine Nature, it is necessary to investigate the circumstances, in their religious practice or belief, which enable us in any degree to define their vague expressions. Those circumstances are few; but their evidence determinate. They are the operations ascribed to the Divinity, the services reputed agreeable to him, and the laws which he is understood to have ordained. If these correspond with the ideas of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, we may believe with certainty that the sublime language is the expression of corresponding conceptions; on the other hand, where those operations, services, and laws, are in the highest degree unworthy of a perfect nature, we may be fully assured, that the sublime language is altogether without a meaning, the effect of flattery, and the meanest of passions; and that it is directly suggested, not by the most lofty, but by the most grovelling and base, ideas of the Divine Nature.
Of the host of Hindu Divinities, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva are the most exalted. Other nations have BOOK II. Chap. 6.most frequently carried on the applause of one favourite deity, till they bestowed upon him alone all power in heaven and earth: The Hindus have distributed the creation and government of the universe among those three, denominating Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Siva the destroyer.
Of the highest scene of operation in which the Divine Being can be contemplated by mortals, the creation of the universe, the conception, formed by the Hindus, is so far from corresponding with high and noble ideas of the creating power, that it is consistent only with the meanest. This itself is a criterion of a religious system from which there is no appeal.
Of the peculiar functions of Vishnu and Siva no determinate conception appears to have been formed. They are two beings of mighty power, by whom great actions are performed; but there is no distinct separation of their provinces. Whenever indeed we seek to ascertain the definite and precise ideas of the Hindus in religion, the subject eludes our grasp. All is loose, vague, wavering, obscure, and inconsistent. Their expressions point at one time to one meaning, and another time to another meaning;1 and their wild fictions, to use the language of Mr. Hume, seem rather the playsome whimsies of monkeys in human shape, than the serious asseverations of a being who dignifies himself with the name of rational.2 Vishnu is not unfrequently employed in the acts which properlyBOOK II. Chap. 6. belong only to a destructive power; and Siva is so far from answering to the title bestowed upon him, that he is a divinity hardly less beneficent than Vishnu himself.
In the conception which the Hindus have formed of the government of the world, the visible agency of the Deity is peculiarly required. “I have passed,” says the preserving God, “many births. Although I am not in my nature subject to birth or decay, and am the lord of all created beings, yet having command over my own nature, I am made evident by my own power; and as often as there is a decline of virtue, and an insurrection of vice and injustice in the world, I make myself evident; and thus I appear from age to age, for the preservation of the just, the destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of virtue.”1 “Aty Sechen himself,” says another sacred book, “all knowing as he is, could not number the metamorphoses and different forms under which Vishnu has appeared for the salvation of the universe.”2 Such are the Hindu ideas of the manner in which the power of the Divine Being is exerted in the government of the universe.
Of these visible appearances or incarnations of the divinity, ten, known in the Hindu mythology under the name of avatars, are peculiarly distinguished. The first, which is denominated the avatar of the fish, is thus described.3 At the close of the last calpa, there was a general destruction, occasioned by the sleep of Brahma; his creatures in different worlds being drowned in a vast ocean. The strong demon Hagyagriva BOOK II. Chap. 6.came near him and stole the Vedas, which had flowed from his lips. When the preserver of the universe discovered this deed, he took the shape of a minute fish, called sap’hari. A holy king named Satyavrata then reigned. One day, as he was making a libation in the river Critamala, the little fish said to him, How canst thou leave me in this river water, when I am too weak to resist the monsters of the stream who fill me with dread? Satyavrata placed it under his protection in a small vase full of water; but in a single night its bulk was so increased, that it could not be contained in the jar, and thus again addressed the prince: I am not pleased with living in this little vase; make me a large mansion where I may dwell in comfort. The king successively placed it in a cistern, in a pool, and in a lake, for each of which it speedily grew too large, and supplicated for a more spacious place of abode; after which he threw it into the sea, when the fish again addressed him: Here the horned sharks and other monsters of great strength will devour me; thou shouldest not, O valiant man, leave me in this ocean. Thus repeatedly deluded by the fish, who had addressed him with gentle words, the king said, Who art thou that beguilest me in that assumed shape. Never before have I seen or heard of so prodigious an inhabitant of the waters, who like thee has filled up, in a single day, a lake 100 leagues in circumference. Surely thou art the great God whose dwelling was on the waves. Salutation and praise to thee, O first male, the lord of creation, of preservation, of destruction! Thou art the highest object, O supreme ruler, of us thy adorers, who piously seek thee. All thy delusive descents in this world give existence to various beings; yet I am anxious to know for what cause that shape has been assumed by thee. The lord of the universe, loving the pious man, and intending to preserveBOOK II. Chap. 6. him from the sea of destruction, caused by the depravity of the age, thus told him how he was to act: In seven days from the present time, O thou tamer of enemies, the three worlds will be plunged in an ocean of death; but in the midst of the destroying waves, a large vessel, sent by me for thy use, shall stand before thee. Then shalt thou take all medicinal herbs, all the variety of seeds; and, accompanied by seven saints, encircled by pairs of all brute animals, thou shalt enter the spacious ark, and continue in it secure from the flood on one immense ocean, without light except the radiance of thy companions. When the ship shall be agitated by an impetuous wind, thou shalt fasten it with a large sea serpent on my horn; for I will be near thee, drawing the vessel with thee and thy attendants. Thus instructed, the pious king waited humbly for the appointed time. The sea, overwhelming its shores, deluged the whole earth; and it was soon perceived to be augmented by showers from immense clouds. He, still meditating on the divine command, and conforming to the divine directions, entered the ship; when the god appeared again distinctly on the vast ocean in the form of a fish, blazing like gold, extending a million of leagues, with one stupendous horn, on which the king, as he had before been commanded, tied the ship with a cable made of a vast serpent. Afterwards the god, rising, together with Brahma, from the destructive deluge, which was abated, slew the demon Hagyagriva.
Such are the operations in the government of the universe which the religious ideas of the Hindus lead them to ascribe to the divine Being. The second appearance or avatar of the Preserver is of the same character, and suggested by similar views. Hirinacheren, BOOK II. Chap. 6.a malignant and destructive giant, who delighted in afflicting the earth, at last rolled it up into a shapeless mass, and plunged down with it into the abyss. On this occasion there issued from the side of Brahma, a being shaped like a boar, white and exceedingly small, which in the space of one hour grew to the size of an elephant of the largest magnitude, and remained in the air. This being, Brahma discovered to be Vishnu, who had assumed a body and become visible. Suddenly it uttered a sound like the loudest thunder, and the echo reverberated, and shook all the corners of the universe. Shaking the full-flowing mane which hung down his neck on both sides, and erecting the humid hairs of his body, he proudly displayed his two most exceedingly white tusks: then rolling round his wine-coloured eyes, and erecting his tail, he descended from the region of the air, and plunged head foremost into the water. The whole body of water was convulsed by the motion, and began to rise in waves, while the guardian spirit of the sea, being terrified, began to tremble for his domain, and cry out for quarter and mercy. At length, the power of the omnipotent having divided the water, and arriving at the bottom, he saw the earth lying, a mighty and barren stratum; then he took up the ponderous globe (freed from the water) and raised it high on his tusk: one would say it was a beautiful lotos blossoming on the tip of his tusk. In a moment, with one leap, coming to the surface, by the all-directing power of the Omnipotent Creator, he spread it, like a carpet, on the face of the water, and then vanished from the sight of Brahma.1
Of the third avatar we have so particular and remarkableBOOK II. Chap. 6. a description, that it merits uncommon regard.1 The soors, a species of angels, and all the glorious host of heaven, sat on the summit of Mount Meru, a fictitious mountain, highly celebrated in the books of the Hindus, meditating the discovery of the Amreeta, that is, being translated, the water of immortality: when Narayan2 said unto Brahma, Let the ocean, as a pot of milk, be churned by the united labour of the soors and asoors; and when the mighty waters have been stirred up, the Amreeta shall be found. A great mountain, named Mandar, was the instrument with which the operation was to be performed; but the dews3 being unable to remove it, they had recourse to Vishnu and Brahma. By their direction, the king of the serpents lifted up that sovereign of mountains, with all its forests and inhabitants; and the soors and asoors having obtained permission of the king of the tortoises, it was placed for support on his back, in the midst of the ocean. Then the soors and asoors, using the serpent Vasookee for the rope, the asoors pulling by the head, and the soors by the tail, began to churn the ocean;4 while there issued from the mouth of the serpent, a continued stream of fire, and smoke, and wind; and the roaring of the ocean, BOOK II. Chap. 6.violently agitated with the whirling of the mountain, was like the bellowing of a mighty cloud. Meanwhile a violent conflagration was raised on the mountain, by the concussion of its trees and other substances, and quenched by a shower which the lord of the firmament poured down; whence an heterogeneous stream of the concocted juices of various trees and plants, ran down into the briny flood. It was from this milk-like stream, produced from those juices, and a mixture of melted gold, that the soors obtained their immortality. The waters of the ocean being now assimilated with those juices, were converted into milk, and a species of butter was produced, when the churning powers became fatigued; but Narayan endued them with fresh strength, and they proceeded with great ardour to stir that butter of the ocean. First, arose from it the moon; next, Sree, the goddess of fortune; then the goddess of wine, and the white horse, Oochisrava; afterwards the jewel kowstoobh; the tree of plenty; and the cow that granted every heart's desire. Then the dew Dhanwantaree, in human shape, came forth, holding in his hand a white vessel filled with the immortal juice, amreeta; which, when the asoors beheld, they raised their tumultuous voices, and each of them clamorously exclaimed, This of right is mine! But as they continued to churn the ocean more than enough, a deadly poison issued from its bed, confounding the three regions of the world with its mortal stench, until Siva, at the word of Brahma, swallowed the fatal drug to save mankind. In the mean while a violent jealousy and hatred, on account of the amreeta, and the goddess Sree, sprung up in the bosoms of the asoors. But Narayan, assuming the form of a beautiful female, stood before them, whose minds becoming fascinated by her presence, and deprived of reason, they seized the amreeta andBOOK II. Chap. 6. gave it unto her. But a dreadful battle arose between the soors and asoors, in which Narayan, quitting the female figure, assisted the soors. The elements and powers of nature were thrown into confusion by the conflict; but with the mighty aid of Narayan, and his weapon chacra, which of itself, unguided even by a hand, performed miraculous exploits, the soors obtained the victory, and the mountain Mandar was carried back to its former station. The soors guarded the amreeta with great care; and the god of the firmament, with all his immortal hands, gave the water of life unto Narayan, to keep it for their use. This was the third manifestation of the Almighty, in the preservation and government of the world.
The fourth I shall describe with greater brevity. Hirinacheren, the gigantic ruler, who rolled up the earth, and plunged with it to the bottom of the abyss, left a younger brother Hirinakassup, who succeeded him in his kingdom, and refused to do homage to Vishnu, but persecuted his own son, who was an ardent votary of that god. I, said he, am lord of all this visible world. The son replied, that Vishnu had no fixed abode, but was present every where. Is he, said his father, in that pillar? Then let him come forth; and rising from his seat, he struck the pillar with his foot; upon which Vishnu, bursting from it, with a body like a man, but a head like a lion, tore Hirinakassup in pieces, and placed his son upon the throne.1
In the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh avatars, the Preserving Power appeared in human shapes for the destruction of impious and ferocious kings, performing BOOK II. Chap. 6.many heroic and many miraculous deeds. But, after the examples which have already been given, a particular description of these extravagant legends would poorly compensate the toil of a perusal. The eighth, however, is one of the most celebrated of all the incarnations of Vishnu. He was born the son of Vasudeva and Devaci, of the royal family of Cansa, and obtained the name of Crishna. But as it had been predicted to Cansa, that one born of those parents would occasion his destruction, whence he had decreed the death of all their children, Crishna was secretly withdrawn, and brought up in the family of a shepherd or herdsman. Many and wonderful were the transactions of his childhood, in which the wanton pranks of the mischievous, but amiable boy, are not less distinguished, than the miraculous exploits of the god. When he grew up to youth, the indulgence of licentious love was his great occupation and enjoyment. It is a small part of the picture which I can, or which I need, to expose to view. The scenes with the young shepherdesses are painted by the Hindus in all the glowing colours of oriental poetry. A passage from a hymn, or divine song, translated by Sir William Jones, is in the following words: “With a garland of wild flowers, descending even to the yellow mantle that girds his azure limbs, distinguished by smiling cheeks, and by earrings that sparkle as he plays, Heri1 exults in the assemblage of amorous damsels. One of them presses him with her swelling breast, while she warbles with exquisite melody. Another, affected by a glance from his eye, stands meditating on the lotos of his face. A third, on pretence of whispering a secret in his ear, approaches his temples and kisses them with ardour. One seizes his mantle, and draws him towardsBOOK II. Chap. 6. her, pointing to the bower on the banks of Yamuna, where elegant vanjulahs interweave their branches. He applauds another who dances in the sportive circle, whilst her bracelets ring, as she beats time with her palms. Now he caresses one, and kisses another, smiling on a third with complacency; and now he chases her whose beauty has most allured him. Thus the wanton Heri frolics, in the season of sweets, among the maids of Vraja, who rush to his embraces, as if he were pleasure itself assuming a human form; and one of them, under a pretext of hymning his divine perfections, whispers in his ear: Thy lips, my beloved, are nectar.”1 I shall select but another instance, which is from the translation before us of the Bhagavat. “Crishna, finding himself on the banks of the Yamuna,2 began to play on his pastoral flute. All the shepherdesses, filled with desire, ran in crowds to hear his enchanting sounds. Crishna, beholding them burning with desire, informed them, that it was contrary to the order established in the world, to quit their houses to seek the embraces of a lover. He added that their families might thus, if their husbands were jealous, be thrown into disorder, and disgrace come upon themselves. He advised them accordingly to return. The women replied, that their passion, it was true, were it for an ordinary man, would be criminal; but desiring to unite themselves with the absolute master of all things, they could not believe that such an impulse was any other than meritorious. In regard to their husbands, they could have no rights which tended to the exclusion of God. Crishna, who saw BOOK II. Chap. 6.the innocence of their hearts, graciously gave them entire satisfaction; and by a miracle continually renewed, in all that multitude of women, each was convinced that she alone enjoyed the Deity, and that he never quitted her an instant for the embraces of another.”1 “Crishna,” says Sir William Jones, “continues to this hour the darling god of the Indian women. The sect of Hindus,” he adds, “who adore him with enthusiastic and almost exclusive devotion, have broached a doctrine which they maintain with eagerness, and which seems general in these provinces;2 that he was distinct from all the avatars, who had only a portion of his divinity; while Crishna was the person of Vishnu himself in a human form.”3 “At a more advanced age,” continues Sir William, “he put to death his cruel enemy, Cansa; and having taken under his protection the king Yudhisht’hir and the other Pandus, who had been grievously oppressed by the Curus, and their tyrannical chief, he kindled the war described in the great epic poem, entitled the Mahabharat, at the prosperous conclusion of which he returned to his heavenly seat in Vaicont’ha, having left the instructions comprised in the Gita with his disconsolate friend Arjoon.”4 He was afterwards slain, being wounded by an arrow in theBOOK II. Chap. 6. foot.1
The ninth incarnation of Vishnu, and the last, yet vouchsafed, of the Divine appearances, was in the person of Buddha. The object of this avatar is described in the following verse of a Hindu poet: “Thou blamest, Oh wonderful, the whole Veda, when thou seest, O kind-hearted, the slaughter of cattle prescribed for sacrifice, O Cesava,2 assuming the body of Buddha. Be victorious, O Heri,3 lord of the universe!”4 But though Buddha is by the Hindus, regarded as a manifestation of the Divine Being, the sect of Buddhists are regarded as heretical, and are persecuted by the Brahmens. It is conjectured that, at one time, a great number of them had been compelled to fly from the country, and spread their tenets in various directions.5 The religion of Buddha is now found to prevail over the greater part of the East; in Ceylon, in the farther peninsula, in Thibet, in China, and even as far as BOOK II. Chap. 6.Japan.1 “The tenth avatar,” says Sir William Jones, “we are told is yet to come, and is expected to appear mounted (like the crowned conqueror in the Apocalypse) on a white horse, with a cimeter blazing like a comet, to mow down all incorrigible and impenitent offenders who shall then be on earth.”2
It will require the addition of but a few passages more of this wild mythology, to convey a satisfactory idea of the actions and qualities which the Hindus ascribe to their supreme deities. “It is related,” says Mr. Wilford,3 “in the Scanda,4 that when the whole earth was covered with water, and Vishnu lay extended asleep in the bosom of Devi,5 a lotos arose from his navel. Brahma sprang from that flower, and looking round without seeing any creature on the boundless expanse, imagined himself to be the first-born, and entitled to rank above all future beings. Resolving, however, by investigation, more fully to satisfy himself, he glided down the stalk of the lotos, and finding Vishnu asleep, asked loudly who he was. I am the first-born, answered Vishnu,BOOK II. Chap. 6. waking: and as Brahma contradicted him, they had an obstinate battle, till Mahadeva, or Siva, pressed between them in great wrath, saying, It is I who am truly the first-born: but I will resign my pretensions to either of you who shall be able to reach and behold the summit of my head, or the soles of my feet. Brahma instantly ascended; but having fatigued himself to no purpose in the regions of immensity, yet loth to abandon his claim, he returned to Mahadeva, and declared that he had attained the crown of his head, calling, as his witness, the first born cow. For this union of pride and falsehood, the angry god ordained, that no sacred rites should be performed to Brahma. When Vishnu returned, he acknowledged that he had not been able to see the feet of Mahadeva, confessed him to be the first-born among the gods, and entitled to rank above them all.”
After a passage such as this, who would expect to find the following? “The patriarch Atterien retired into a forest, and there performed rigorous devotion, having for his nourishment nothing but the wind, and being exposed to all the injuries of the atmosphere. One day he addressed his vows to the Eternal in these words: O thou who hast created, and who preservest the universe; O thou by whom it is destroyed; give me the knowledge of thyself, and grant me the vision of thee! Then a fire issuing from the crown of the votary's head, made all the gods tremble, and they had recourse to Vishnu, to Siva, and to Brahma. Those three divinities, completely armed and mounted, accompanied by Lacshmi, Guenga, and Seraswati, their wives, presented themselves before the saint. Prostrating himself, Atterien worshipped them, and uttered the following words: O you three Lords, know that I BOOK II. Chap. 6.recognise only one God: inform me which of you is the true divinity, that I may address to him alone my vows and adorations! To this supplication the three Gods replied; Learn, O devotee, that there is no real distinction between us: what to you appears such is only by semblance: the Single Being appears under three forms; by the acts of creation, of preservation, and destruction: but he is One.”1 Yet this “Single” Being, this One God, is thus again represented, a few pages after, in the same Purana: “Even Brahma, finding himself alone with his daughter, who was full of charms and knowledge, conceived for her a criminal passion.”2 Thus are we taught by the Hindus themselves to interpret the lofty phrases which the spirit of exaggeration and flattery so frequently puts into their mouths.
Of the First-born, Mahadeva, or the One, Eternal God, under one of his forms, we have the following sacred story. He was playing one day at dice with Parvati,3 when they quarrelled, and parted in wrath to different regions. They severally performed rigid acts of devotion, but the fires which they kindled blazed so vehemently as to threaten a general conflagration. The devas,4 in great alarm, hastened to Brahma, who led them to Mahadeva, and supplicated him to recall his consort; but the wrathful deity only answered, that she must come by her own free choice. They accordingly dispatched Ganga, the river goddess, who prevailed on Parvati to return to him, on condition that his love for her should be restored. The celestial mediators then employed Camadeva,5 who wounded Siva with one of his flowery arrows; but the angry divinity reduced him to ashes with a flame from his eye. ParvatiBOOK II. Chap. 6. soon after presented herself before him in the form of a Cirati, or daughter of a mountaineer, and seeing him enamoured of her, resumed her own shape.1 Of the various passages of a similar nature presented to us in the history of this God, I shall content myself with another, extracted by Mr. Wilford from the Scanda Purana. “There had subsisted,” says he,2 “for a long time, some animosity between Brahma and Mahadeva in their mortal shapes; and the latter, on account of his bad conduct, which is fully described in the Puranas, had it appears given much uneasiness to Swayambhuva, and Satarupa. For he was libidinous, going about stark-naked, with a large club in his hand. Be this as it may, Mahadeva, who was the eldest, saw his claim as such totally disregarded, and Brahma set up in his room. This intrusion the latter wanted to support; but made use of such lies as provoked Mahadeva to such a point, that he cut off one of his heads in his divine form.” Such are the ideas which the Hindus entertain of the actions and character of their supreme deities; on whom, notwithstanding, they lavish all the most lofty epithets of divinity which human language can supply.
This theology affords a remarkable instance of that progress in exaggeration and flattery which I have described as the genius of rude religion. As the Hindus, instead of selecting one god, to whom they assigned all power in heaven and in earth, distributed the creation and administration of the universe among three divinities, they divided themselves BOOK II. Chap. 6.into sects; and some attached themselves more particularly to one deity, some to another.1
Presently the usual consequence appeared. WhicheverBOOK II. Chap. 6. of the three gods any votary selected for his peculiar patron, he expected to perform to him one of the most agreeable of all possible services, by representing him as superior to the other two. This we find to have been the practice, invariably, and enthusiastically. In a passage from the Scanda Purana, one of the sacred books in honour of Siva, we have seen by what legends his votaries endeavour to elevate him above Brahma, and Vishnu; while he cuts off the head of the one for contesting with him the supremacy, and has it expressly yielded up to him by the other. It is not, however, sufficient that the favourite god should be only superior to the rest; whatever honour is derived from their actions, that too must be claimed for him; and he is asserted to be himself the author of all their achievements.
A still higher strain of flattery succeeds. Not only must he absorb their actions, it is accounted still nobler if he can be asserted to absorb even themselves; if Siva, for example, can be affirmed, not only to be Siva, and to be at once creator, preserver, and destroyer, but can be declared to be Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva themselves. Beyond even this, a step remains. In the same manner as he absorbs the gods, he is finally made to absorb every thing. He is asserted to be the universe itself. He is then all in BOOK II. Chap. 6.all. We shall find this process pursued with the Hindu divinities, one after another. In another sacred book,1 dedicated to Siva, that god is made to declare, “I have always been, and I always am, and I always will be. There is no second of whom I can say that I am he, and that he is I. I am the within of all the withins. I am in all surfaces. Whatever is I am; and whatever is not I am. I am Brahma; and I am also Brahme; and I am the causing cause. Whatever is in the east I am; and whatever is in the west I am; and whatever is in the south I am; and whatever is in the north I am. Whatever is below I am; and whatever is above I am. I am man, and not man, and woman. I am the truth; I am the ox; and I am all other animated beings. I am more ancient than all. I am the king of kings. And I am in all the great qualities. I am the perfect being. Whatever has been, Rudra2 is; and whatever is he is; and whatever shall be he is. Rudra is life, and is death; and is the past, present, and future; and is all worlds.”3 But if the votaries of Siva, with exaggerating devotion, thus infinitely exalt him above all; the same, or, if possible, still greater honours, do the adorers of Vishnu lavish upon that divinity. “Let it not be thought,” says the Bhagavat, “that Vishnu is only one of the three divinities, or triple powers. Know that he is the principle of all. It is he who created the universe by his productive power; it is he who supports all by his preserving power; it is he, in fine, who destroys all by his destructive power. He creates under the form of Brahma, and destroys underBOOK II. Chap. 6. that of Siva. The productive power is more excellent than the destructive, and the preserving more excellent than the productive. To the name of Vishnu, therefore, is attached the pre-eminence, since the title of preserver or saviour is peculiarly attributed to him.”1 In the Bhagvat-Geeta, Crishna is thus addressed; “O mighty being! who, greater than Brahma, art the prime creator! eternal god of gods! the world's mansion! thou art the incorruptible being distinct from all things transient! Thou art before all gods, and the supreme supporter of the universe! Thou knowest all things! By thee, O infinite form! the universe was spread abroad. Thou art Vayoo the god of winds, Agnee the god of fire, Varoon the god of oceans, Sasanka the moon, Prajapatee the god of nations! Reverence be unto thee before and behind, reverence be unto thee on all sides, O thou who art all in all! Infinite is thy power and thy glory! Thou includest all things, wherefore thou art all things.”2 In a Sanscrit inscription taken from a stone BOOK II. Chap. 6.at Buddha Gaya, Buddha is thus addressed; “Reverence be unto thee, O god, in the form of the god of mercy; the lord of all things, the guardian of the universe. Thou art Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesa.1 Thou art lord of the universe! Thou art, under the proper form of all things, moveable and immoveable, the possessor of the whole!”2
Among the numerous expressions of panegyric and adoration which the Hindus apply to their divinities, none seem to have made a deeper impression upon some of the most intelligent of our English inquirers, than the epithet One. This has so far prevailed as to impress them with a belief that the Hindus had a refined conception of the unity of the Divine Nature. Yet it seems very clear that the use of such an epithet is but a natural link in that chain of unmeaning panegyric which distinguishes the religion of ignorant men. When one divinity has been made to engross the powers of all the rest, it is the necessary termination of this piece of flattery, to denominate him The One. Oriental scholars ought moreover to have reflected that one is an epithet of very common, and vague application in the languages of Asia; and is by no means a foundation whereon to infer among the Hindus any conception analogous to that which we denote by the term unity of God. The translation of the Institutes of Menu affords us a very satisfactory example; “Then only is a man perfect when he consists of three persons united, his wife, himself, and his son; and thus have learned Brahmens announced this—the husband is even One with his wife.”3 Yet surely no unity of being was supposed in this triuneBOOK II. Chap. 6. person, a man, his wife, and his son. Ad, we are informed by Macrobius, was among the Assyrians a word which signified one, and was a name conferred by them upon their chief divinity.1 The Babylonians applied it to their principal goddess.2 The god Rimmon, as we learn from the Bible, had the same epithet.3 Mr. Bryant says it was a sacred title among all the Eastern nations, and originally conferred upon the sun.4 Even the Greek poets, who have never been suspected of refined notions of the unity of God, employ it to profusion. It is applied to Jupiter, to Pluto, to the sun, to Dionysius.5 All the gods are affirmed to be one.6 “One power,” says the Orphic poetry, “one divinity, Jupiter is the great ruler of all.”7 Plutarch informs us that Apollo was frequently denominated the monad, or the Only One;8 and from the emperor Julian we learn, that the people of Edessa had a god whom they called Monimus, a word of the same interpretation.9 Few nations shall we find without a knowledge of the unity of the Divine BOOK II. Chap. 6.Nature, if we take such expressions of it as abound in the Hindu writings for satisfactory evidence. By this token Mr. Park found it among the savages of Africa.1
In pursuance of the same persuasion, ingenious authors have laid hold of the term Brahme, or Brahm, the neuter of Brahma, the masculine name of the creator.2 This they have represented as the peculiar appellation of the one god; Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, being only names of the particular modes of divine action. But this supposition (for it is nothing more) involves the most enormous inconsistency; as if the Hindus possessed refined notions of the unity of God, and could yet conceive his modes of action to be truly set forth in the characters of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva; as if the same people could at once be so enlightened as to form a sublime conception of the Divine nature, and yet so stupid as to make a distinction between the character of God and his modes of action. The parts of the Hindu writings, however, which are already before us, completely refute thisBOOK II. Chap. 6. gratuitous notion, and prove that Brahme is a mere unmeaning epithet of praise, applied to various gods; and no more indicative of refined notions of the unity, or any perfection of the Divine Nature, than other parts of their panegyrical devotions. We have already beheld Siva decorated with this title.1 Vishnu is denominated the supreme Brahme in the Bhagvat-Geeta.2 Nay, we find this Brahme, the great, the BOOK II. Chap. 6.eternal One, the supreme soul, employed in rather a subordinate capacity. “The Great Brahm,” says Chrishna, “is my womb. In it I place my fœtus; and from it is the production of all nature. The great Brahm is the womb of all those various forms which are conceived in every natural womb, and I am the father who soweth the seed.”1 In one of the morning prayers of the Brahmens, cited from the Vedas byBOOK II. Chap. 6. Mr. Colebrooke, water is denominated Brahme.1 “The sun,” says Yajnyawalcya, “is Brahme; this is a certain truth revealed in the sacred Upanishats, and in various sac’has of the Vedas. So the Bhawishya Purana, speaking of the sun: Because there is none greater than he, nor has been nor will be, therefore he is celebrated as the supreme soul in all the Vedas.”2 Air, too, receives the appellation of Brahme. Thus, says a passage in the Veda; “That which moves in the atmosphere is air, Brahme.3 Thus again; “Salutation unto thee, O air! Even thou art Brahme, present to our apprehension. Thee I will call, ‘present Brahme:’ thee I will name, ‘the right one:’ thee I will pronounce, ‘the true one.’ May that Brahme, the universal being entitled air, preserve me.”4 Food too is denominated Brahme; so is breath, and intellect, and felicity.5 Nay, it is affirmed, as part of the Hindu belief, that man himself may become Brahme; thus in the Bhagvat-Geeta Crishna declares: “A man being endowed with a purified understanding, having humbled his spirit by resolution, and abandoned the objects of the organs; who hath freed himself from passion and dislike, who worshippeth with discrimination, eateth with moderation, and is humble of speech, of body, and of mind; who preferreth the devotion of meditation, and who constantly placeth his confidence in dispassion; who is freed from ostentation, tyrannic strength, vain glory, lust, anger, and avarice; and who is exempt from BOOK II. Chap. 6.selfishness, and in all things temperate, is formed for being Brahm.”1
Such are the proofs on which the opinion has been adopted that sublime principles run through the religion of the Brahmens.2 I know no supposition which can be employed to reconcile the inconsistencies,BOOK II. Chap. 6. and to remove the absurdities, which we have found this opinion to involve, unless it be assumed that the legends of the Hindus are all allegorical; and though, in their literal interpretation, they may be altogether unworthy of a perfect being, that yet a recondite and enigmatical meaning may be extorted from them, which will tally with the sublime hypothesis it is wished to entertain. Undoubtedly, if we assume to ourselves the licence of giving to the Hindu mythology a meaning to suit our own views, we may form out of it not only a sublime theology, but a sublime philosophy, or any thing we please. It might, however, have been imagined that the futility, the absurdity, of these arbitrary interpretations had been too well exposed to allow them to mislead such men as some of the advocates for the allegorical sense of the Hindu scriptures. The latter Platonists, and other refiners upon the mythology of Greece and Rome, drew from it a pure system of theology, by the very same process which is adopted and recommended in regard to the fables of the Hindus. “Without a tedious detail,” says Mr. Gibbon, “the modern reader could not form a just idea of the strange allusions, the forced etymologies, the solemn trifling, and the impenetrable obscurity of these sages, who professed to reveal the system of the universe. As the traditions of Pagan mythology were variously related, the sacred interpreters were at liberty to select the most BOOK II. Chap. 6.convenient circumstances; and as they translated an arbitrary cipher, they could extract from any fable any sense which was adapted to their favourite system of religion and philosophy. The lascivious form of a naked Venus was tortured into the discovery of some moral precept, or some physical truth; and the castration of Atys explained the revolution of the sun between the tropics, or the separation of the human soul from vice and error.”1 But if a condemnation thus severe can be justly pronounced upon those who allegorize the Greek and Roman mythology, what judgment should be formed of those by whom the same mode of interpretation is applied to the fables of the Hindus?2 The Egyptian religion is allowed on all hands to have possessed the same fundamental principles with the Hindu, and to have resembled it remarkably in its outward features: yet, of all the systems of superstition which were found within the Roman empire, Mr. Gibbon pronounces this to be “the most contemptible and abject.”3 There are satisfactory reasons for supposing that improvement in the language of the Brahmens, and refinement in the interpretations which they put upon their ancient writings, not to speak of what may have been done by their favourite practice of interpolation, have been suggested by the more rational and simple doctrines of Mahomet.4 The natural effect of acquaintance with a better creed is wellBOOK II. Chap. 6. described by Mr. Bryant. “It is to be observed,” he says, “that when Christianity had introduced a more rational system, as well as a more refined worship, among mankind; the Pagans were struck with the sublimity of its doctrines, and tried in their turns to refine. But their misfortune was, that they were obliged to abide by the theology which had been transmitted to them; and to make the history of the Gentile Gods the basis of their procedure. This brought them into immense difficulties and equal absurdities: while they laboured to solve what was inexplicable; and to remedy what was past cure. Hence we meet with many dull and elaborate sophisms even in the great Plutarch: but many more in after times, among the writers of whom I am speaking. Proclus is continually ringing the changes upon the terms νοος, νοερος, and νοητος; and explains what is really a proper name, as if it signified sense and intellect. In consequence of this, he tries to subtilize and refine all the base jargon about Saturn and Zeus: and would persuade us that the most idle and obscene legends related to the divine mind, to the eternal wisdom, and supremacy of the Deity. Thus he borrows many exalted notions from Christianity: and blends them with the basest alloy, with the dregs of Pagan mythology.”1 Such are the BOOK II. Chap. 6.opinions of the greatest men respecting those attempts to allegorize a rude superstition, which some of the most celebrated of our Indian guides so vehemently recommend.1
Of the pure and elevated ideas of the Divine Nature, which are ascribed to the Hindus, or to any other people, an accurate judgment may be formed, by ascertaining the source from which they are derived. It will be allowed that just and rationalBOOK II. Chap. 6. views of God can be obtained from two sources alone: from revelation; or, where that is wanting, from sound reflection upon the frame and government of the universe. Wherever men are sufficiently improved to take a comprehensive survey of this magnificent system, to observe the order which prevails, the adaptation of means to ends, and the incredible train of effects which flow from the simplest causes; they may then form exalted notions of the intelligence to which all those wonders are ascribed. If all the unrevealed knowledge which we possess respecting God, the immediate object of none of our senses, be derived from his works, they whose ideas of the works are in the highest degree absurd, mean, and degrading, cannot, whatever may be the language which they employ, have elevated ideas of the author of those works. It is impossible for the stream to ascend higher than the fountain. The only question therefore is, what are the ideas which the Hindus have reached concerning the wisdom and beauty of the universe. To this the answer is clear and incontrovertible. No people, how rude and ignorant soever, who have been so far advanced as to leave us memorials of their thoughts in writing, have ever drawn a more gross and disgusting picture of the universe than what is presented in the writings of the Hindus.1 In BOOK II. Chap. 6.the conception of it no coherence, wisdom, or beauty, ever appears: all is disorder, caprice, passion, contest, portents, prodigies, violence, and deformity.1 It is perfectly evident that the Hindus never contemplatedBOOK II. Chap. 6. the universe as a connected and perfect system, governed by general laws, and directed to benevolent ends; and it follows, as a necessary consequence, that their religion is no other than that primary worship, which is addressed to the designing and invisible beings who preside over the powers of nature, according to their own arbitrary will, and act only for some private and selfish gratification. The elevated language, which this species of worship finally assumes, is only the refinement, which flattery, founded upon a base apprehension of the divine character, ingrafts upon a mean superstition.1
BOOK II. Chap. 6.If it be deemed necessary to inquire into the principle of the Hindu superstition; or which of the powers of nature, personified into gods, they exalted in the progress of hyperbolical adoration to the supremacy over the rest, and the lordship of all things; the question is resolved by copious evidence; and on this point inquirers generally coincide. Sir William Jones has written a discourse to prove that the gods of Greece, Italy, and India are the same. But it is sufficiently proved that the Greek and Roman deities ultimately resolve themselves into the sun, whose powers and provinces had been gradually enlarged, till they included those of all nature. It follows that the sun too is the principle of the Hindu religion. “We must not be surprised,” says Sir William Jones, “at finding on a close examination, that the characters of all the Pagan deities, male and female, melt into each other, and at last into one or two; for it seems a well-founded opinion, that the whole crowd of gods and goddesses, in ancient Rome and modern Varanes, mean only the powers of nature, and principally those of the sun, expressed in a variety of ways, and by a multitude of fanciful names.”1 He says too, that “the three Powers Creative, Preservative, and Destructive, which the Hindus express by the triliteral word Aum, were grossly ascribed by the first idolators to the heat, light, and flame of their mistaken divinity the sun.”1 Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, wereBOOK II. Chap. 6. therefore, the heat, light, and flame of the sun; and it follows as a very clear deduction, that Brahme, whose powers were shadowed forth in the characters of those three gods, was the sun himself. This conclusion, too, is established by many express texts of the Hindu scriptures, as well as by the most venerated part of the Hindu ritual. “The syllable Om (Aum) intends,” says a passage from the Veda translated by Mr. Colebrooke, “every deity: It belongs to Paramesht’hi, him who dwells in the supreme abode: it appertains to Brahme, the vast one; to Deva, god; to Adhyatma, the superintending soul. Other deities belonging to those several regions, are portions of the three gods; for they are variously named and described, on account of their different operations: but in fact there is only one deity, THE GREAT SOUL. He is called the Sun; for he is the soul of all beings. Other deities are portions of him.”2 I have already quoted a very remarkable passage from Yajnyawalcya, one of the highest of all authorities, in which the sun is directly asserted to be Brahme, and to be the supreme soul, as is declared in all the Vedas.3 Another passage translated from a Veda by Mr. Colebrooke says; “Fire is That Original Cause, the Sun is that; such too is that pure Brahme. Even he is the god who pervades all regions; he, prior to whom nothing was born; and who became all beings, himself the lord of creatures.”4 A passage in the Veda, translated by Sir William Jones, says, “That Sun, than which nothing is higher, to which nothing is equal, enlightens the sky, the earth, the lower worlds, the BOOK II. Chap. 6.higher worlds, other worlds, enlightens the breast, enlightens all besides the breast.”1 In the Bhawishya, Purana, Crishna himself says; “The sun is the god of perception, the eye of the universe, the cause of day; there is none greater than he among the immortal powers. From him this universe proceeded, and in him it will reach annihilation; he is time measured by instants.” I shall add but one instance more. There is a passage in the Vedas, which is regarded by the Hindus with unspeakable veneration. It has a distinctive appellation. It is called the Gayatri; and is used upon the mightiest occasions of religion. It is denominated the holiest text in the Vedas. This extraordinary, this most sacred, most wonderful text, is thus translated by Sir William Jones; “Let us adore the supremacy of that divine Sun, the godhead, who illuminates all, who re-creates all, from whom all proceed, to whom all must return, whom we invoke to direct our understandings aright in our progress towards his holy seat.”2 Another version of it, and somewhat different in its phraseology, is given by Mr. Colebrooke, in his account of the first of the Vedas: “I subjoin,” says he, “a translation of the prayer which contains it, as also of the preceding one, (both of which are addressed to the sun) for the sake of exhibiting the Indian priests’ confession of faith with its context:—’This new and excellent praise of thee, O splendid, playful Sun! is offered by us to thee. Be gratified by this my speech: approach this craving mind as a fond man seeks a woman. May that sun who contemplates and looks into all worlds be our protector!—Let us Meditate on The Adorable Light of The Divine Ruler; MAY IT GUIDE OUR INTELLECTS!1 Desirous of food, we solicit the gift of theBOOK II. Chap. 6. splendid Sun, who should be studiously worshipped. Venerable men, guided by the understanding, salute the divine Sun with oblations and praise.”2 Constrained by these and similar passages, Mr. Colebrooke says; “The ancient Hindu religion, as founded on the Indian scriptures, recognizes but one God, yet not sufficiently discriminating the creature from the Creator.”3 This is an important admission, from one of the most illustrious advocates of the sublimity of the Hindu religion. Had he reflected for one moment, he would have seen that between not sufficiently, and not-at-all, in this case, there can be no distinction.4
In the natural progress of religion, it very frequently happens, that the spirit of adulation and BOOK II. Chap. 6.hyperbole exalts admired or powerful individuals to the rank of gods. The name of the sun, or of some other divinity, is bestowed as a title, or as an epithet of inflated praise, upon a great prince, or conqueror.1 Immediately the exploits of the hero are blended with the functions of the god; and, in process of time, when the origin of the combination is forgotten, they form a compound mass of inextricable and inconsistent mythology. Mr. Colebrooke is of opinion, that in the Vedas the elements and the planets alone are deified; that the worship of heroes was introduced among the Hindus at a later period; and makes a remarkable figure in the Puranas.2
Among the false refinements to which the spirit of a rude religion gives birth, it is worthy of particular remark, that abstract terms are personified, and made to assume the character of gods: such as, Health and Sickness; War and Peace; Plenty, Famine, Pestilence. When the most general abstractions too begin to be formed, as of space, of time, of fate, of nature, they are apt to fill the mind with a kind of awe and wonder; and appear to stretch beyond all things. They are either, therefore, apprehended as new gods, and celebrated as antecedent, and superior, to all the old; or if any of the old have taken a firm possession of the mind, they are exalted to the new dignity, and receive the name of the abstract idea which most forcibly engages the attention. Thus, among the Greeks and the Romans, Fate usurped a power over all the gods. The Parsee books represent Ormusd and Ahriman, the Good Principle andBOOK II. Chap. 6. the Evil Principle, sometimes as independent beings; sometimes as owing their existence to something above them; in a manner extremely resembling the language of the Sanscrit books respecting Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. At times, however, the Persians express themselves more precisely. “In the law of Zoroaster,” says one of their sacred books, “it is positively declared that God [Ormusd] was created by Time along with all other beings; and the creator is Time; and Time has no limits; it has nothing above it; it has no root; it has always been, and always will be. No one who has understanding will ever say, Whence did Time come? In that grandeur wherein Time was, there was no being who could call it creator, because it had not yet created. Afterwards it created fire and water, and from their combination proceeded Ormusd. Time was the creator, and preserved its authority over the creatures which it had produced.∗ ∗ ∗ I said in the beginning that Ormusd and Ahriman came both from Time.”1 The Brahmens, on the other hand, rather appear to have advanced the dignity of the acknowledged divinities so far as to make it embrace the extent of the abstract ideas; and to have regarded them as the abstract ideas themselves. Thus Mr. Wilkins supposes, that Brahme represents nature; Brahma, matter; Vishnu, space; Siva, time. But this is a refinement which is very sparingly, if at all, introduced in any writings of the Brahmens, which have yet been laid open to European eyes. Direct contradictions of it, though plentifully diffused, are no proof that it is not at all a Hindu doctrine. Thus Chrishna, in the Geeta, says, “I am never BOOK II. Chap. 6.failing Time, the Preserver, whose face is turned on all sides;”1 a point of view in which it well agrees with the peculiar attributes of Vishnu. But in the very same discourse, Chrishna says again, “I am Time, the destroyer of mankind,”2 in which case it agrees only with the character of Siva. But it is still more remarkable that Brahma is said to have “given being to time, and the divisions of time;”3 and that space is said to have been produced from the ear of the first victim immolated by the gods.4 Nay, there are passages in which the Hindus acknowledge a destiny or fate which over-rules the Supreme Beings themselves. “The future condition of great beings is destined with certainty, both the nakedness of Mahadeva, and the bed of Vishnu, on a vast serpent. What is not to be, that will not be; and if an event be predoomed, it cannot happen otherwise.”5
When the exaggerations of flattery are in thisBOOK II. Chap. 6. manner engrafted upon the original deification of the elements and powers of nature; and when the worship of heroes and of abstract ideas is incorporated with the whole; then is produced that heterogeneous and monstrous compound which has formed the religious creed of so great a portion of the human race; but composes a more stupendous mass in Hindustan than any other country; because in Hindustan a greater and more powerful section of the people, than in any other country, have, during a long series of ages, been solely occupied in adding to its volume, and augmenting its influence.1
BOOK II. Chap. 6.So little do men regard incoherence of thought; so little are they accustomed to trace the relations of one set of opinions to another, and to form on any subject a consistent and harmonious combination of ideas, that while many persons of eminence loudly contend for the correctness and sublimity of the speculative, there is an universal agreement respecting the meanness, the absurdity, the folly, of the endless ceremonies, in which the practical part of the HinduBOOK II. Chap. 6. religion consists. For the illustration of this part of the subject, I shall content myself with a reference to the documents in the appendix.1 Volumes would hardly suffice to depict at large a ritual which is more tedious, minute, and burthensome; and engrosses a greater portion of human life, than any which has been found to fetter and oppress any other portion of the human race.
No circumstance connected with a religious system more decidedly pronounces on its character, than the ideas which it inculcates respecting merit and demerit, purity and impurity, innocence and guilt. If those qualities which render a man amiable, respectable, and useful; if wisdom, beneficence, self-command, are celebrated as the chief recommendation to the favour of the Almighty; if the production of happiness is steadily and consistently represented as the most acceptable worship of the Creator; no other proof is requisite, that they who framed, and they who understand this religion, have arrived at high and refined notions of an All-perfect being. But where, with no more attention to morality, than the exigencies and laws of human nature force upon the attention of the rudest tribes, the sacred duties are made to consist in frivolous observances, there, we may be assured, the religious ideas of the people are barbarous. The train of thought which tends to this conclusion is extremely similar to that which gives birth to other deformities in the religious system of ignorant minds. From the imbecilities which usually accompany exalted station, it is found, even when society is considerably improved, BOOK II. Chap. 6.that assiduous attendance upon the person of the great man or prince, and unwearied contrivances for the expression of devotion and respect, are the path which leads the most surely to his attention and favour.1 To the rude mind, no other rule suggests itself for paying court to the Divine, than that for paying court to the Human Majesty; and as among a barbarous people, the forms of address, of respect, and compliment, are generally multiplied into a great variety of grotesque and frivolous ceremonies, so it happens with regard to their religious service. An endless succession of observances, in compliment to the god, is supposed to afford him the most exquisite delight; while the common discharge of the beneficent duties of life is regarded as an object of comparative indifference. It is unnecessary to cite instances in support of a representation, of which the whole history of the religion of most nations is a continual proof.
Even those inquirers who have been least aware of the grossness of the Hindu religion, have seen that wretched ceremonies constituted almost theBOOK II. Chap. 6. whole of its practical part. The precepts, which are lavished upon its ceremonies, bury, in their exorbitant mass, the pittance bestowed upon all other duties taken together. On all occasions ceremonies meet the attention as the pre-eminent duties of the Hindu. The holiest man is always he, by whom the ceremonies of his religion are most strictly performed. Never among any other people did the ceremonial part of religion prevail over the moral to a greater, probably to an equal extent. Of the many rules of conduct prescribed to the householder, almost the whole concern religious observances.1 Beside the general strain of the holy text, many positive declarations ascribe infinite superiority to rites and ceremonies, above morality. “Devotion,” says Menu, “is equal to the performance of all duties; it is divine knowledge in a Brahmen; it is defence of the people in a Cshatriya; devotion is the business of trade and agriculture in a Vaisya; devotion is dutiful service in a Sudra. By reading each day as much as possible of the Veda, by performing the five great sacraments, and by forgiving all injuries, even sins of the highest degree shall soon be effaced.”2 In the following list of conditions, a small space is allotted to useful virtue. “By injuring nothing animated, by subduing all sensual appetites, by devout rites ordained in the Veda, and by rigorous mortifications, men obtain, even in this life, the state of beatitude.”3 “It is through sacrifices,” says the Calica Purana, “that princes obtain bliss, heaven, and victory over their enemies.”4
In conceiving the honours with which the divine powers should be treated, it is supposed that there are certain qualities with which it is holy or unholy to approach them. As there are certain pollutions with which it would be held disrespectful to approach an earthly superior, the same sentiment, as usual, is transferred to the heavens; and the notion BOOK II. Chap. 6.of a religious impurity is engendered. This is a circumstance of considerable importance. By the nature of the particulars, to which the belief of religious purity and impurity is attached, a criterion is afforded of the mental qualities which the Divine Being is supposed to possess. The causes of impurity among the Brahmens are exceedingly numerous; that they are proportionally strange, a few instances will evince. “When a child has teethed,” says the law of Menu, “and when, after teething, his head has been shorn, and when he has been girt with his thread, and when, being full grown, he dies, all his kindred are impure: on the birth of a child, the law is the same.”1 Among a variety of other instances it is declared, that he who has touched a Chandala, a woman in her courses, an outcast, a new-born child, a corpse, or one who has touched a corpse, is impure. A Brahmen who has touched a human bone is impure.2 The rules of purification, which form a remarkable part of this subject, are not less exorbitant in their number, or extravagant in their forms. On the death of a kinsman, the modes of purification are various, according to various cases: one, which we may select as an example, is prescribed in the following words: “Let them eat vegetable food without factitious (that is, only with native) salt; let them bathe for three days at intervals; let them taste no flesh-meat; and let them sleep apart on the ground.”3 “Should a Brahmen touch a human bone moist with oil, he is purified by bathing; if it be not oily, by stroking a cow, or by looking at the sun, having sprinkled his mouth with water.”4 All those functions of the body, by which its offensive discharges are effected, or its vital powers communicated,BOOK II. Chap. 6. afford occasion for the ceremonies of purification.1 “Oily exudations,” says the law of Menu, “seminal fluids, blood, dandruff, urine, feces, earwax, nail-parings, phlegm, tears, concretions on the eyes, and sweat, are the twelve impurities of the human frame, and for cleansing these earth and water must be used.”2 “He who carries in any manner an inanimate burthen, and is touched by any thing impure, is cleansed by making an ablution, without laying his burden down.”3 “He who has been bitten by a dog, a shakal, or an ass, by any carnivorous animal frequenting a town, by a man, a horse, a camel, or a boar, may be purified by stopping his breath during one repetition of the gayatri.”4 After the rules for the purification of living bodies, follow precepts for the purification of things inanimate. For each of a great many species, a separate mode is prescribed. Land, for example, is cleansed, by sweeping, by smearing with cow-dung, by sprinkling with cow's urine, by scraping, or by letting a BOOK II. Chap. 6.cow pass a day and a night on it.1 “The purification ordained for all sorts of liquids, is by stirring them with cusa grass; for cloths folded, by sprinkling them with hallowed water; for wooden utensils, by planing them. The purification by sprinkling is ordained for grain and cloths in large quantities; but to purify them in small parcels, such as a man may easily carry, they must be washed.”2 These instances, selected merely as a small specimen of a great whole, will suffice to show what moral ideas are conveyed and inculcated in the notions of purity and impurity comprised in the religion of the Hindus.
As the purifications, so likewise the penances, prescribed by the various systems of religion, afford a remarkable indication of the qualities really ascribed to the object of worship. All penance consists in suffering. In the same degree in which the object of worship is supposed to be delighted with penance, in the same degree he is delighted with human suffering; and so far as he delights in suffering, for its own sake, so far he is a malignant being; whatever epithets, in the spirit of flattery, his votaries may confer upon him. It is natural to a rude and ignorant mind to regard the object of its worship as malignant. Things appear great or little by comparison. Amid the incessant efforts which are made to ascend another step in adulation, after all the epithets of greatness and honour are lavished upon the god, to make his greatness and honour still higher, by contrast, every epithet of meanness and contempt is heaped by the worshipper upon himself and his kind. The same is the case with his happiness; which will appear the greater, the higher it is raised above that of otherBOOK II. Chap. 6. beings; of course, the deeper the misery of other beings. Hence it is, that the prayers and praises, addressed to the deity by rude nations, abound with the most hyperbolical expressions of human misery as well as human depravity; that, in the religion of rude minds, pleasure in general bears a strong mark of reprobation, and the voluntary creation of pain is the strongest of all recommendations to him on whom the issues of life depend. In the language of the Greeks and Romans, the gods were envious of human happiness;1 just as the proud and haughty mind of the earthly despot, the archetype and model according to which, in certain stages of knowledge, the idea of the heavenly is regularly formed, likes not that the happiness of other people should approach to that of himself, and reaps a pleasure from their pain, both as enhancing the idea of his own happiness, and lessening the sense of his misery.2 “A sin, involuntarily committed,” says the sacred BOOK II. Chap. 6.text of Menu, “is removed by repeating certain texts of the scripture, but a sin committed intentionally, by harsh penances of different sorts.”1 The following account of the reason for performing penances, has the effect of exposing to religious antipathy all those persons who are affected with a bodily infirmity. “Some evil-minded persons,” says the same sacred volume, “for sins committed in this life, and some for bad actions in a preceding state, suffer a morbid change in their bodies: a stealer of gold from a Brahmen has whitlows on his nails; a drinker of spirits, black teeth; the slayer of a Brahmen, a marasmus; the violator of his preceptor's bed, a deformity in the generative organs; a malignant informer, fetid ulcers in his nostrils; a false detractor, stinking breath; a stealer of grain, the defect of some limb; a mixer of bad wares with good, some redundant member; a stealer of dressed grain, dyspepsia; a stealer of holy words, or an unauthorised reader of the scriptures, dumbness; a stealer of clothes, leprosy; a horse-stealer, lameness; the stealer of a lamp, total blindness; the mischievous extinguisher of it, blindness in one eye; a delighter in hurting sentient creatures, perpetual illness; an adulterer, windy swelling in his limbs: Thus, according to the diversity of actions, are born men despised by the good, stupid, dumb, blind, deaf, and deformed: Penance, therefore, must invariably be performed for the sake of expiation, since they who have not expiated their sins, will again spring to birth with disgraceful marks.”2 “Any twice-born man, who has drunk spirit of rice through perverse delusion of mind, may drink more spirit in flame, and atone for his offence by severely burning his body;BOOK II. Chap. 6. or he may drink boiling hot, until he die, the urine of a cow, or pure water, or milk, or clarified butter, or juice expressed from cow-dung.”1 A curious reason is assigned for the heinous guilt assigned to the drinking of intoxicating liquors by a Brahmen; Because, “stupified by drunkenness, he might fall on something very impure, or might even, when intoxicated, pronounce a secret phrase of the Veda, or might do some other act which ought not to be done.”2 If a Brahmen kill by design a cat, or an ichneumon, the bird chasha, or a frog, a dog, a lizard, an owl, or a crow, he must perform the ordinary penance required for the death of a Sudra;”3 as if the crime of killing a man were the same with that of killing a frog. “Should one of the twice-born eat the food of those persons with whom he ought never to eat, or food left by a woman, or a Sudra, or any prohibited flesh, he must drink barley gruel only for seven days and nights.”4 “Having taken goods of little value from the house of another man, he must procure absolution by performing the penance santapana, or by eating for a whole day the dung and urine of cows mixed with curds, milk, clarified butter, and water boiled with cusa grass, and then fasting entirely for a day and a night.”5 The penances for venereal sin, and the description of its various species, are unfit to be transcribed.6 Something might be said for penances, if they were attached solely to moral offences, and proportioned in painfulness to the motives to offend; because the efficacy of the punishment which is reserved to a subsequent life is commonly BOOK II. Chap. 6. annihilated by remoteness. How much of this useful character belongs to the penances of the Hindus, a few passages will disclose. “He, who has officiated at a sacrifice for outcasts, or burned the corpse of a stranger, or performed rites to destroy the innocent,” (a strange association of crimes) “may expiate his guilt by three prajapatya penances.”1 “A total fast for twelve days and nights, by a penitent with his organs controlled, and his mind attentive, is the penance named paraca, which expiates all degrees of guilt.”2 He who for a whole month eats no more than thrice eighty mouthfuls of wild grains, as he happens by any means to meet with them, keeping his organs in subjection, shall attain the same abode with the regent of the moon.”3 “Sixteen suppressions of the breath, while the holiest of texts is repeated with the three mighty words, and the triliteral syllable, continued each day for a month, absolve even the slayer of a Brahman from his hidden faults.”4 “A priest who should retain in his memory the whole Rigveda would be absolved from guilt, even if he had slain the inhabitants of the three worlds, and had eaten food from the foulest hands.”5 To such a degree are fantastic ceremonies exalted above moral duties; and so easily may the greatest crimes be compensated, by the merit of ritual, and unmeaning services.6
But the excess to which religion depraves theBOOK II. Chap. 6. moral sentiments of the Hindus is most remarkably exemplified in the supreme, the ineffable merit which they ascribe to the saint who makes penance his trade.
Repairing to a forest, with no other utensils or effects, than those necessary in making oblations to consecrated fire: and leaving all property, and all worldly duties behind him, he is there directed to live on pure food, on certain herbs, roots, and fruit, which he may collect in the forest, to wear a black antelope's hide, or a vesture of bark, and to suffer the hairs of his head, his beard, and his nails to grow continually. He is commanded to entertain those who may visit his hermitage with such food as he himself may use, to perform the five great sacraments, to be constantly engaged in reading the Veda; patient of all extremities, universally benevolent, with a mind intent on the Supreme Being; a perpetual giver, but no receiver of gifts; with tender affection for all animated bodies. “Let him not eat the produce of ploughed land, though abandoned by any man, nor fruits and roots produced in a town, even though hunger oppress him.———Either let him break hard fruits with a stone, or let his teeth serve as a pestle.—Let him slide backwards and forwards on the ground; or let him stand a whole day on tiptoe; or let him continue in motion rising and sitting alternately; but at sunrise, at noon, and at sunset, let him go to the waters, and bathe. In the hot season let him sit exposed to five fires, four blazing around him with the sun above; in the rains let him stand uncovered, without even a mantle, where the clouds pour the heaviest showers; in the cold season, let him wear humid vesture; and BOOK II. Chap. 6.enduring harsher and harsher mortifications, let him dry up his bodily frame. Let him live without external fire, without a mansion, wholly silent, feeding on roots and fruit, sleeping on the bare earth, dwelling at the roots of trees. From devout Brahmens let him receive alms to support life, or from other housekeepers of twice-born classes, who dwell in the forest. Or, if he has any incurable disease, let him advance in a straight path, towards the invincible north eastern point, feeding on water and air, till his mortal frame totally decay, and his soul become united with the Supreme.”1
In conformity with these principles are formed those professors of mortification and piety, who are known under the modern name of Fakeers, and presented to Europeans a spectacle which so greatly surprised them. Of all the phenomena of human nature, none appears at first view more extraordinary than the self-inflicted torment of the holy saints of Hindustan. Some of them keep their hands closed till they are pierced through by the growth of the nails. Others hold them above their heads, till the power of the arms is extinguished. They make vows to remain in the standing posture for years. Three men were seen by Fryer, whose vow extended to sixteen years. One of them had completed his dreadful penance; of the rest, one had passed five years in torment, the otherBOOK II. Chap. 6. three. Their legs were prodigiously swelled, and deeply ulcerated; and became at last too weak to support their bodies, when they leaned on a pillow suspended from a tree. Others, turning their heads to gaze at the heaven over their shoulder, remain fixed in that posture, till the head can no longer be restored to its natural position, and no aliment, except in the liquid state, can pass down their throats.
The ceremony, commanded by Menu, “of sitting, in the hot season between five fires,” cannot be conceived without horror. A yogee, or penitent, actually seen by Fryer, had resolved to undergo this penance for forty days, at a public festival, where an immense concourse of spectators were assembled. Early on the morning, after having seated himself on a quadrangular stage he fell prostrate, and continued fervent in his devotions, till the sun began to have considerable power. He then rose, and stood on one leg, gazing stedfastly at thesun, while fires, each large enough, says the traveller, to roast an ox, were kindled at the four corners of the stage, the penitent counting his beads, and occasionally, with his pot of incense, throwing combustible materials into the fire to increase the flames. He next bowed himself down in the centre of the four fires, keeping his eyes still fixed upon the sun. Afterwards, placing himself upright on his head, with his feet elevated in the air, he stood for the extraordinary space of three hours, in that inverted position; he then seated himself with his legs across, and thus remained sustaining the raging heat of the sun and of the fires till the end of the day. Other penitents bury themselves up to the neck in the ground, or even wholly below it, leaving only a little hole through which they may breathe. They tear themselves with whips; they repose on beds of iron BOOK II. Chap. 6.spikes;1 they chain themselves for life to the foot of a tree: the wild imagination of the race appears in short to have been racked to devise a sufficient variety of fantastic modes of tormenting themselves. The extent to which they carry the penance of fasting is almost incredible. They fix their eyes on the blazzing sun till the power of vision is extinguished.2 The following description, in the drama entitled Sacontala, how much soever partaking of the hyperbolical character of oriental poetry, conveys a most remarkable image of the length of time, the patience, and steadiness, with which the devotees of the forests must have remained immoveable in their solitary positions. “You see,” says one of the personages of the drama, “in that grove a pious Yogee, motionless as a pollard, holding his thick, bushy hair, and fixing his eyes on the solar orb.—Mark; his body is covered with a white ants’ edifice, made of raised clay; the skin of a snake supplies the place of his sacerdotal thread, and part of it girds his loins; a number of knotty plants encircle and wound his neck; ‘and surrounding birds’BOOK II. Chap. 6. nests almost conceal his shoulders.”1 The same venerable character is thus farther described in the Bhagvat-Geeta; “The Yogee constantly exerciseth the spirit in private. He is recluse, of a subdued mind and spirit; free from hope, and free from perception. He planteth his own seat firmly on a spot that is undefiled, neither too high, nor too low, and sitteth upon the sacred grass which is called coos, covered with a skin and a cloth. There he, whose business is the restraint of his passions, should sit, with his mind fixed on one object alone, in the exercise of his devotion for the purification of his soul, keeping his head, his neck, and his body, steady, without motion, his eyes fixed on the point of his nose, looking at no other place around. The man who keepeth the outward accidents from entering his mind, and his eyes fixed in contemplation between his brows; who maketh BOOK II. Chap. 6.the breath to pass through both his nostrils alike in expiration and inspiration, who is of subdued faculties, mind, and understanding; the Yogee, who thus constantly exerciseth his soul, obtaineth happiness incorporeal and supreme.”1 This pure state of meditation, which obtains the name of devotion, is even more exalted than that of penance. “The Yogee,” says Crishna, “is more exalted than Tapaswees, those votaries who afflict themselves in performing penance, respected above the learned in science, and” (which is worthy of peculiar regard,) “superior to those who are attached to moral works.”2 “Be thou at all times,” says this supreme god to Arjoon in another place, “employed in devotion. The fruit of this surpasseth all the rewards of virtue pointed out in the Vedas, in worshippings, in mortifications, and even in the gifts of charity.”3
It is abundantly ascertained that the Hindus at one time, and that a time comparatively recent,4 were marked with the barbarity of human sacrifices.5 It even appears that the remainder of that devotional service is now in existence. When it is proposed to resist, as exorbitant, the demands of government, the Brahmens erect, what they denominate a koor, which is a circular pile of wood, with a cow, or anBOOK II. Chap. 6. old woman on the top of it. If urged to extremity they set fire to the pile, and consume the victim, a sacrifice by which they are understood to involve their oppressor in the deepest guilt.1 The British Government has interfered to prevent the sacrifice of children by throwing them to the sharks in the Ganges.2
Though the progress of improvement has brought into comparative disuse the mode of seeking divine favour by the sacrifice of a fellow creature, horrid rites, which have too near an affinity with it, are still the objects of the highest veneration. It is one of the grandest achievements of piety, for individuals to sacrifice themselves in honour of the gods. There are solemn festivals, in which the images of certain deities are carried in procession in vast ponderous machines denominated raths, or chariots, drawn by a multitude of devotees and priests; when it is customary for numbers of the congregated people to throw themselves under the wheels, and even fathers and mothers with their children in their arms. The chariot passes on, as if no impediment existed, and crushing them to death, is supposed to convey them immediately to heaven.3 The practice of sacrificing BOOK II. Chap. 6.themselves in the flames is a noted ceremony of the Hindus. It is sometimes executed with circumstances of studied atrocity; the victim striking himself in front with his sabre, so as to lay open his bowels to the spectators, tearing out part of his liver, cutting it off with his sabre, giving it to a relation or bystander, conversing all the time with indifference apparently complete, then with unchanged countenance leaping into the flames, and expiring without a movement.1 In some parts of India a Brahmen devotes himself to death, by eating till he expires with the surfeit.2 On great solemnities, the votaries strike off their own heads, as a sacrifice to the Ganges,3 and many drown themselves in the hallowed streams.4 Of the modes adopted by the Hindus of sacrificing themselves to the divine powers, none however has more excited the attention of the Europeans, than the burning of the wives on the funeral piles of their husbands. To this cruel sacrifice the highest virtues are ascribed. “The wife who commits herself to the flames with her husband's corpse, shall equal Arundhati, and reside in Swarga; accompanying her husband, she shall reside so long in Swarga, as areBOOK II. Chap. 6. the thirty-five millions of hairs on the human body.1 As the snake-catcher forcibly drags the serpent from his earth, so, bearing her husband from hell, with him, she shall enjoy the delights of heaven, while fourteen Indras reign. If her husband had killed a Brahmana, broken the ties of gratitude, or murdered his friend, she expiates the crime.”2 Though a widow has the alternative of leading a life of chastity, of piety, and mortification, denied to the pleasures of dress, never sleeping on a bed, never exceeding one meal a day, nor eating any other than simple food, it is held her duty to burn herself along with her husband; and “the Hindu legislators,” says Mr. Colebrooke, “have shown themselves disposed to encourage” this barbarous sacrifice.3
BOOK II. Chap. 6. Such are the acts, by which, according to the Hindu religion, the favour of the Almighty Power is chiefly to be gained; such are the ideas respecting purity and merit, which it is calculated to inspire. Yet if any one concludes that the Hindus were unacquainted with the ordinary precepts of morality, he will be greatly deceived. “By Brahmens,” says the law of Menu, “placed in the four orders, a tenfold system of duties must ever be sedulously practised; Content; returning good for evil; resistance to sensual appetites; abstinence from illicit gain; purification; coercion of the organs; knowledge of scripture; knowledge of the supreme spirit; veracity; and freedom from wrath.”1 In this enumeration of duties, though a large proportion is allowed to acts purely ceremonial and useless; yet some of the noblest virtues are included. “Action,” says the same sacred code, “is either mental, verbal, or corporeal. Devising means to appropriate the wealth of other men, resolving on any forbidden deed, and conceiving notions of atheism or materialism, are the three bad acts of the mind: scurrilous language, falsehood, indiscriminate backbiting, and useless tattle, are the four bad acts of the tongue: Taking effects not given, hurting sentient creatures without the sanction of law, and criminal intercourse with the wife of another, are three bad acts of the body; and all the ten have their opposites, which are good in an equal degree.”2 Though there is something extremely whimsical in the consequence ascribed to the following acts of injustice, yet they are with great propriety forbidden: “He who appropriates to his own use, the carriage, the bed, the seat,BOOK II. Chap. 6. the well, the garden, or the house of another man, who has not delivered them to him, assumes a fourth part of the guilt of their owner.”1 The following observations are in a pure and elevated strain of morality: “Even here below an unjust man attains no felicity; nor he whose wealth proceeds from giving false evidence; nor he, who constantly takes delight in mischief. Though oppressed by penury, in consequence of his righteous dealings, let him never give his mind to unrighteousness; for he may observe the speedy overthrow of iniquitous and sinful men. Iniquity, committed in this world, produces not fruit immediately, but, like the earth, in due season; and, advancing by little and little, it eradicates the man who committed it. Yes; iniquity, once committed, fails not of producing fruit to him who wrought it. He grows rich for a while through unrighteousness; then he beholds good things; then it is that he vanquishes his foes; but he perishes at length from his whole root upwards. Let a man continually take pleasure in truth, in justice, in laudable practices, and in purity; let him chastise those, whom he may chastise, in a legal mode; let him keep in subjection his speech, his arm, and his appetite: wealth and pleasures, repugnant to law, let him shun; and even lawful acts, which may cause future pain, or be offensive to mankind.”2
Sir William Jones, whom it is useful to quote, because his authority may have influence with those whose opinions I am constrained to controvert, observes, that “the principles of morality are few, luminous, and ready to present themselves on every BOOK II. Chap. 6. occasion.”1 Descanting on the rudeness, and ignorance, of the Scythian nations; “of any philosophy,” he says, “except natural ethics, which the rudest society requires, and experience teaches, we find no more vestiges in Asiatic Scythia, than in ancient Arabia.”2 He was not surprised to find natural ethics, where not a vestige of philosophy was found; because “natural ethics,” are what “the rudest society requires, and experience teaches.” If we search a little further, we shall discover that nations differ less from one another in the knowledge of morality, and of its obligations, (the rules of morality have been taught in all nations in a manner remarkably similar), than in the degrees of steadiness, with which they assign the preference to moral, above other acts. Among rude nations it has almost always been found, that religion has served to degrade morality, by advancing to the place of greatest honour, those external performances, or those mental exercises, which more immediately regarded the deity; and with which, of course, he was supposed to be more peculiarly delighted. On no occasion, indeed, has religion obliterated the impressions of morality, of which the rules are the fundamental laws of human society: morality has every where met with the highest applause; and no where has it been celebrated in more pompous strains, than in places where the most contemptible, or the most abominable rites, have most effectually been allowed to usurp its honours.3 It is not so much, therefore, by the mere words in which moralityBOOK II. Chap. 6. is mentioned, that we are to judge of the mental perfections of different nations, as by the place which it clearly holds in the established scale of meritorious acts. In a moment of hyperbolical praise, it may even receive a verbal preference to ceremonies; as in one passage of the Institutes of Menu: “A wise man should constantly discharge all the moral duties, though he perform not constantly the ceremonies of religion; since he falls low, if, while he performs ceremonial acts only, he discharge not his moral BOOK II. Chap. 6. duties.”1 Yet in the entire system of rules concerning duty, the stress which is laid upon moral acts, may, as we see in the case of the Hindus, bear no comparison to the importance which is attached to useless or pernicious ceremonies. Such a maxim as that which has just been quoted, can be regarded as but of little value, when it is surrounded by numerous maxims of the following tendency; “Not a mortal exists more sinful than he, who, without an oblation to the manes or gods, desires to enlarge his own flesh with the flesh of another creature.”2 “From the three Vedas, the lord of creatures, incomprehensibly exalted, successively milked out the three measures of that ineffable text beginning with the word tad and entitled, savitri, or gayatri; whoever shall repeat, day by day, for three years, without negligence, that sacred text, shall hereafter approach the divine essence, move as freely as air, and assume an ethereal form.”3 “Studying and comprehending the Veda, practising pious austerities, acquiring divine knowledge, command over the organs of sense and action, avoiding all injury to sentient creatures, and showing reverence to a natural and spiritual father, are the chief branches of duty which ensure final happiness.”4 “Even three suppressions of breath made according to the divine rule, accompanied with the triverbal phrase, and the triliteral syllable, may be considered as the highest devotion of a Brahmen; for as the dross and impurities of metallic ores are consumed by fire, thus are the sinful acts of the human organs consumed by suppressions of the breath.”5 If we examine that highest degree of merit to which the imagination of the Hindu can ascend, that of the Sanyassi, or professor of austere devotion, we shallBOOK II. Chap. 6. find it to consist in an absolute renunciation of all moral duties, and moral affections. “Exemption from attachments, and affection for children, wife, and home;”1 nay, “the abandonment of all earthly attachments,”2 form a necessary part of that perfection after which he aspires.
It is by no means unnatural for the religion of a rude people to unite opposite qualities, to preach the most harsh austerities, and at the same time to encourage the loosest morality. It may be matter of controversy to what degree the indecent objects employed in the Hindu worship imply depravity of manners; but a religion which subjects to the eyes of its votaries the grossest images of sensual pleasure, and renders even the emblems of generation objects of worship; which ascribes to the supreme God an immense train of obscene acts; which has them engraved on the sacred cars, pourtrayed in the temples, and presented to the people as objects of adoration, which pays worship to the Yoni, and the Lingam, cannot be regarded as favourable to chastity.3 Nor BOOK II. Chap. 6. can it be supposed, when to all these circumstances is added the institution of a number of girls, attached BOOK II. Chap. 6. to the temples, whose business is dancing and prostitution,BOOK II. Chap. 6. that this is a virtue encouraged by the religion of the Hindus.
Another contrast to the tortures and death which the religion of the Hindus exhorts them to inflict upon themselves, is the sacredness which it imprints upon the life of animals. Not only are the Hindus prohibited the use of animal food, except at certain peculiar sacrifices; even the offerings to the gods consist almost entirely of inanimate objects; and to deprive any sensitive creature of life, is a heinous transgression of religious duty. Many of the inferior creatures, both animate and inanimate, are the objects of religious veneration; such, in particular, are the cow, the lotos, and cusa grass. Nor, in this enumeration, must the dung and urine of the cow be forgotten; things so holy as to be of peculiar efficacy in the ceremonies of purification. To whatever origin we may ascribe this strange application of the religious principle, it has at least been very widely diffused. It is known that many negro tribes worship animals and reptiles; and that they carry the solicitude for their preservation to a still more extravagant pitch than even the Hindus; punishing with death those who hurt them even casually.1 The sacred character in Egypt of the ox, and of many other animals, is too familiarly known to require any proof. The cow was oracular, and sacred among the Amonians.2 Not only cows, but horses, eagles, lions, bears, were divine animals among the Syrians.3 The Egyptian priests respected as sacred the life of all animals, and animal food seems to have been interdicted BOOK II. Chap. 6. not less in Egypt than in Hindustan.1 At an early period, the Greeks, and even the Romans, punished with death, the killing of an ox.2 The worship of this species of quadrupeds appears indeed to have been common to all the idolatrous nations from Japan to Scandinavia.3 That, in India, it was a worship directed to no moral end, is evident upon the slightest inspection. To renounce the benefits which the inferior animals are fitted by nature to render to man, is not humanity, any more than swinging before an idol, by an iron hook, forced through the muscles of the back, is the virtue of self-command. And that this superstition took not its rise from a sensibility to the feelings of animated creatures, is evident from the barbarous character of several of the nations where it prevails; from the proverbial cruelty suffered by the labouring animals of Hindustan; and from the apathy with which human beings are left to expire by hunger and disease, while reptiles are zealously tended and fed.4
BOOK II. Chap. 6. Religion consists of two great doctrines; that concerning the nature and service of God; and that BOOK II. Chap. 6. concerning the nature and destination of the human soul. In the complicated superstition of the Hindus, the first presented many questions which it needed a considerable accumulation of evidence to solve. Of the latter, a just idea may be speedily conveyed.
It is well known that the metempsychosis, or the transmigration of the soul into various orders of BOOK II. Chap. 6. being, reviving in one form, when it ceases to exist in another, is the tenet of the Hindus. This is a theory well calculated to present itself to the mind of the rude inquirer, when first excited to stretch his views beyond the present term of sensation and action. The vegetable life, which expires in the plant, in autumn, revives in the seed in spring. The sluggish worm, which undergoes a species of death, and buries itself in a tomb of its own formation, springs again to life, a gay and active creature, as different in appearance, as in appetites and powers. Every thing on earth is changed, nothing annihilated; and the soul of the man who expires to day, revives in something else, to which life is at that instant imparted.
Some very obvious, and very impressive appearances must have suggested the notion of the metempsychosis, since it is one of the most ancient, and one of the most general of all religious opinions. “No doctrine,” says Dupuis, “was ever more universally diffused; none claims an origin so ancient. It reigned in the East, and in the West, among rude nations, and polished nations; and it ascends to antiquity so high, that Burnet ingeniously declares, one would believe it to be descended from heaven; so much it appears without father, without mother, and without descent.”1 The Brahmens grafted upon it, in their usual way, a number of fantastic refinements, and gave to their ideas on this subject, a more systematic form than is usual with those eccentric theologians. They describe the mind as characterized BOOK II. Chap. 6. by three qualities, goodness, passion, darkness. According as any soul is distinguished by one or another of those qualities in its present life, is the species of being into which it migrates in the life to come. Souls endued with goodness attain the condition of deities; those filled with passion receive that of men; those immersed in darkness are condemned to that of beasts. Each of these conditions, again, is divided into three degrees, a lower, a middle, and a higher. Of the souls distinguished by darkness, the lowest are thrust into mineral and vegetable substances, into worms, reptiles, fishes, snakes, tortoises, cattle, shakals; the middle pass into elephants, horses, Sudras, Mlec’has, (a word of very opprobrious import, denoting men of all other races not Hindu,) lions, tigers, and boars; the highest animate the forms of dancers, singers, birds, deceitful men, giants, and blood-thirsty savages. Of the souls who receive their future condition from the quality of passion, the lowest pass into cudgel players, boxers, wrestlers, actors, those who teach the use of weapons, and those who are addicted to gaming and drinking; the middle enter the bodies of kings, men of the fighting class, domestic priests of kings, and men skilled in the war of controversy; the highest become gand-harvas, (a species of supposed aërial spirits, whose business is music,) genii, attending superior gods, together with various companies of apsarases, or nymphs. Of the souls who are characterized by the quality of goodness, the lowest migrate into hermits, religious mendicants, other Brahmens, such orders of demigods as are wafted in airy cars, genii of the signs and lunar mansions, and Daityas, another of their many orders of superior spirits; the middle attain the condition of sacrificers, of holy sages, deities of the lower heaven, genii of the Vedas, regents of stars, divinities of years, Pitris, and Sadhyas,BOOK II. Chap. 6. two other species of exalted intelligences; the highest ascend to the condition of Brahma with four faces, of creators of worlds, of the genius of virtue, and the divinities presiding over the two principles of nature.1 Besides this general description of the future allotment of different souls, a variety of particular dooms are specified, of which a few may be taken as an example. “Sinners in the first degree,” says the ordinance of Menu, “having passed through terrible regions of torture, for a great number of years, are condemned to the following births at the close of that period. The slayer of a Brahmen must enter the body of a dog, a boar, an ass, a camel, a bull, a goat, a sheep, a stag, a bird, a Chandala, or a Puccasa. He, who steals the gold of a priest, shall pass a thousand times into the bodies of spiders, of snakes, and camelions, of crocodiles, and other aquatic monsters, or of mischievous blood-sucking demons. He who violates the bed of his natural or spiritual father, migrates a hundred times into the forms of grasses, of shrubs, with crowded stems, or of creeping and twining plants, carnivorous animals, beasts with sharp teeth, or cruel brutes.”2 After a variety of other cases, a general rule is declared, for those of the four castes who neglect the duties of their order: “Should a Brahmen omit his peculiar duty, he shall be changed into a demon, with a mouth like a firebrand, who devours what has been vomited; a Cshatriya, into a demon who feeds on ordure and carrion; a Vaisya, into an evil being who eats purulent carcases; and a Sudra, who neglects his occupations, into a foul embodied spirit, who feeds on lice.”3BOOK II. Chap. 6. The reward of the most exalted piety, of the most profound meditation, of that exquisite abstemiousness which dries up the mortal frame, is peculiar: Such a perfect soul becomes absorbed in the Divine essence, and is for ever exempt from transmigration.1
We might very easily, from the known laws of human nature, conclude, notwithstanding the language held by the Hindus on the connection between future happiness and the virtue of the present life, that rewards and punishments, very distant and very obscure, would be wholly impotent against temptations to crime; though, at the instigation of the priests, they might engage the people in a ceaseless train of wretched ceremonies. The fact corresponds most exactly with the anticipation. An admirable witness has said, “The doctrine of a state of future rewards and punishments, as some persons may plead, has always been supposed to have a strong influence on public morals: the Hindoos not only have this doctrine in their writings, but are taught to consider every disease and misfortune of life as an undoubted symptom of moral disease, and the terrific appearance of its close-pursuing punishment. Can this fail to produce a dread of vice, and a desire to merit the favour of the Deity? I will still farther,” he adds, “assist the objector; and inform him, that the Hindoo writings declare, that till every immoral taint is removed, every sin atoned for, and the mind has obtained perfect abstraction from material objects, it is impossible to be re-united to the great spirit; and that, to obtain this perfection, the sinner must linger in many hells, and transmigrate through almost every form of matter.” Our informant then declares; “Great as these terrors are, there is nothing more palpable than that, with most of theBOOK II. Chap. 6. Hindoos, they do not weigh the weight of a feather, compared with the loss of a roopee. The reason is obvious: every Hindoo considers all his actions as the effect of his destiny; he laments, perhaps, his miserable fate, but he resigns himself to it without a struggle, like the malefactor in a condemned cell.” This experienced observer adds, which is still more comprehensive, that the doctrine of future rewards and punishments has, in no situation, and among no people, a power to make men virtuous.1
A crore is 100 lacs, and a lac is 100,000; so that thirty-three crore of deities is just 330 millions.
Three of these from the Vedas themselves by Mr. Colebrooke, (As. Res. viii. 404, 421, 452); another account, translated from the Puranas by Mr. Halhed, is published in Maurice's History, (i. 407); Mr. Wilford has given us another, derived from the same source, (As. Res. iii. 358.) An account of the creation is prefixed to the Gentoo code translated by Halhed; we have another, in the French translation, entitled Bagavadam, of the Bhagavat. The author of the Ayeen Akbery informs us that no fewer than eighteen opinions respecting the creation were entertained in Hindustan, and presents us three as a specimen, of which the last, taken from the Surya Sidhanta, he says, is the most common. Ayeen Akbery, iii. 6. The most important of all is that which I have referred to in the text, from the Institutes of Menu, ch. i. 5, &c.
See note A. at the end of the volume.
The length of a year of the Creator may be thus computed. A calpa, or grand period, containing the reigns of fourteen Menus, constitutes, Sir William Jones informs us (Asiat. Research. i. 237) one day of Brahma. This period comprises (see an accurate calculation, according to the books of the Hindus, in Mr. Bentley's Remarks on Ancient Eras and Dates, Asiat. Research. v. 316) 4,320,000,000 years; and such is the length of one day of the Creator. A divine year again contains 360 days; and the multiplication of these numbers produces the amount which appears in the text. Mr. Wilford (see Asiat. Research. iii. 382) makes this computation in a manner, and with a result, somewhat different. “One year of mortals,” he says, “is a day and a night of the gods, and 360 of our years is one of theirs: 12,000 of their years, or 4,320,000 of ours, constitute one of their ages, and 2,000 such ages are Brahma's day and night, which must be multiplied by 360 to make one of his years.”
In other words, he was hatched.
Vide the quotation from the Institutes of Menu, in Note A. at the end of the volume.
Asiat. Research. ii. 237 and 232.
See Note B. at the end of the volume.
Asiat. Research. viii. 352.
He states that the only practical inference the youth could draw from the accounts delivered by the poets concerning the gods was; to commit all manner of crimes, and out of the fruits of their villainy to offer costly sacrifices and appease the divine powers; αίικητεον και ϑυτεον απο των αὐικηματωυ De Repub. lib. ii. 593, 6.
Orphic. Fragm. vi. 366. Numerous passages might be produced:
Ζευς ό προ τριων Κρυνων. Ὁυτνς τη ὺλων ὶημιουργος Procl. in Platon. Tim. p. 95. It is almost needless to quote Homer's
Cæsar. de Bel. Gal. lib. vi. cap. 13.
See Henry's Hist. of Great Britain, i. 149; and the authorities there adduced.
Regnator omuium Deus: cætera subjecta atque parentia. Tacit. de Mor. Germ. cap. xxxv.
See a translation from the Edda in Mallet's Introduct. Hist. Denmark, i. ch. 5, and ii. p. 7,8.
Plutarch. de Iside et Osiride.
Euseb. Præp. Evang. lib. i. p. 42.
Herodot. lib. iv. cap. 93, 94.
Robertson's Hist. Amer. ii. 197.
“Ces peuples (les Romains) adorent un Dieu supreme et unique, qu’ils appellent toujours Dieu tres-grand, et tres-bon; cependant ils ont bâti un temple a une courtisanne nommée Flora, et les bonnes femmes de Rome ont presque toutes chez elles de petits dieus penates hauts de quatre ou cinq pouces; une de ces petites divinités est la deesse de tetous, l'autre celle de fesses; il y a un penat qu’on appelle le dieu Pet.” Voltaire, Essai sur les Mœurs et l’Esprit de Nations, iv. 373.
Forster's Travels, ii. 256.
Among the similar proofs which might be produced, of sublime theological notions, may be quoted the following remarkable passage from Garcilasso de la Vega (Royal Commentaries, book II. chap. ii.) “Besides the sun, whom they worshipped for the visible God, to whom they offered sacrifice and kept festivals, the Incas, who were kings, and the Amoutas, who were philosophers, proceeded by the mere light of nature, to the knowledge of the true Almighty God our Lord, Maker of Heaven and Earth, as we shall hereafter prove by their own words and testimonies, which some of them gave of the Divine Majesty, which they called by the name of Pachacamac, and is a word compounded of Pacha, which is the universe, and Camac, which is the soul; and is as much as he that animates the world.∗ ∗ ∗ Being asked who this Pachacamac was, they answered that it was he who gave life to the universe; sustained and nourished all things; but because they did not see him they could not know him; and for that reason they erected not temples to him; nor offered sacrifice, howsoever they worshipped in their hearts and esteemed him for the unknown God.” And in book VIII. ch. vii. he gives us the following argument of an Inca, Topac Yupanqui, “Many say that the sun lives, and that he is the maker of all things: now it is necessary that the thing which is the cause of the being of another, should be assistant and operate in the production thereof; now we know that many things receive their beings, during the absence of the sun, and therefore he is not the maker of all things. And that the sun hath not life is evident, for that it always moves in its circle, and yet it is never weary; for if it had life it would require rest, as we do: and were it free, it would visit other parts of the heavens, into which it never inclines out of its own sphere; but, as a thing obliged to a particular station, moves always in the same circle, and is like an arrow which is directed by the hand of the archer.” The Mexicans too, as we are informed by Clavigero, Hist. of Mexico, book VI. sect. 1, besides the crowd of their ordinary Deities, believed in “a supreme, absolute, and independent Being, to whom they acknowledged to owe lear and adoration. They represented him in no external form, because they believed him to be invisible; and named him only by the common appellation of God, in their language Teotl, a word resembling still more in its meaning than in its pronunciation the Theos of the Greeks; but they applied to him certain epithets which were highly expressive of the grandeur and power which they conceived him to possess. They called him Ipalnemoani, that is, “He by whom we live:” and Tloque Nahuaque, “He who is all in himself.” Clavigero adds, “But their knowledge and worship of this Supreme Being was obscured, and in a manner lost, in the crowd of deities invented by their superstition.”
This is admitted even by those whom the occasional expressions of the Hindus have most strongly convinced of the sublimity of their sentiments. Mr. Colebrooke says, “There is indeed much disagreement and consequent confusion in the gradation of persons interposed by Hindu theology between the Supreme Being and the created world.” Asiat. Research. viii. 442. Even Sir William Jones is constrained to confess that the Hindu “scheme of theology is most obscurely figurative, and consequently liable to dangerous misconception; that it is filled with idle superstitions, abounds with minute and childish formalities, with ceremonies generally absurd and ofter ridiculous.” Pref. to Institutes of Menu.
Hume's Essays, ii. 470.
Bagvat-Geeta, p. 51, 52.
Bagavadam, p. 11.
I have merely abridged the account which is given by Sir William Jones in a literal translation from the Bhagavat, Asiat. Res. i. 230.
For an account of this avatar, see an extract from the Mahabarat, Asiat. Research. i. 154; Bartolomeo's Travels, book ii. ch. 7. The peculiar description of the boar is taken from a translation by Mr. Halhed, of a passage in the Puranas, published in Maurice's Hindustan, i. 407.
It is a passage translated from the Mahabarat, by Mr. Wilkins, in one of the notes to his translation of the Bagvat-Geeta, p. 145, 146, note 76.
A name of Vishnu.
Dew, written otherwise dewa, or deva, is a general name for a superior spirit.
By twisting the serpent about the mountain, like a rope, and purlling it out first towards the one end, and then towards the other; which affords us a description of their real mode of churning. A piece of wood so formed as best to agitate the milk, was placed upright in the vessel, and a rope being twisted round it which two persons pulled alternately, one at the one end, and the other at the other, it was whirled round, and thus produced the agitation required.
Asiat. Research. i. 154.
A name of Vishnu.
Asiat. Research. i. 187.
This is spelt Emuney in the French translation.
Bagavadam, p. 60. This indeed was but a trifle; for with his 16,000 or 17,000 wives he could perform the same feat. See Halhed's translation of the Bhagavat, in Maurice's Hind. vol. ii.
He means, the provinces where he then resided, Bengal, &c.
Asiat. Research. i. 260.
Ib. i. 261. He sometimes, however, met with severe repulses. “Calijun, a prince who resided in the western parts of India, was very near defeating his ambitious projects. Indeed, Crishna was nearly overcome and subdued, after seventeen bloody battles; and according to the express words of the Puranas, he was forced to have recourse to treachery, by which means Calijun was totally defeated in the eighteenth engagement.” Wilford, on Chron. of Hindus, Asiat. Research. v. 288.
Bagavadan, p. 313. “The whole history of Chrisna,” (says Anquetil Duperron, in his Observations on the Bhagavat, in the Recherches Historiques et Geographiques sur l’Inde) “is a mere tissue of Greek and Roman obscenities, covered with a veil of spirituality, which, among the fanatics of all descriptions, conceals the most abominable enormities.” Speaking of a temple of Vishnu, at Satymangalam, in the Mysore, Dr. Buchanan says, “The rath, or chariot, belonging to it is very large, and richly carved. The figures on it, representing the amounts of that god, in the form of Crishna, are the most indecent that I have ever seen.” Buchanan's Journey through Mysore, &c. ii. 237.
A name of Vishnu.
Another name of Vishnu, vide supra, p. 306.
Asiat. Research. ii. 121.
“As to Buddha,” says Sir William Jones, (Disc. on the Gods of Greece, Italy, and India) “he seems to have been a reformer of the doctrines contained in the Vedas; and, though his good nature led him to censure these ancient books, because they enjoyed the sacrifices of cattle, yet he is admitted as the ninth avatar, even by the Brahmens of Casi.”
A controversy has been started, whether the religion of Buddha was derived from that of Brahma, or that of Brahma from the religion of Buddha. There seems little chance that data will ever be obtained, to prove either the one or the other. Clemens Alexandrinus would lead us to believe, that the religion of Buddha, in his time, must have been in high repute: Εισι δε των Ινδων, says he, (Strom. lib. i. p. 359) ὸι τοις Βουττα πενιθομενοι παραγγελμασι, ὁν δι ὺπερβολην σεμνοτητος ὼς Θεον τετιμηκασι (See also Hieronym. Cont. Jovian. lib. i. cap. 26.) This divinity was not confined to the Asiatics. There was a Butus, or Buto of Egypt, a Battus of Cyrene, and a Bœotus of Greece. (See Bryant's Analysis of Ancient Mythology, iii. 170.) One of the primitive authors of the sect of Manicheans took the name of Buddas; another that of Manes; both of them names identical with the names of gods and sacred beings among the Hindus. Beausobre Hist. de Manichse, liv. i. ch. i.
Asiat. Research. i. 236. See also Ward's View, &c. of the Hindus, (i. 3. London Ed.) for an account of the ten avatars.
Asiat. Research. iii. 374.
One of the Puranas.
This means literally the goddess.
Bagavadam, p. 96, et seq.
One of the names of his wife.
A general name of the inferior gods.
One of the devas.
See this story as extracted from the Puranas, Asiat. Research. iii. 402.
Ib. vi. 474.
Mr. Paterson, in his Discourse on the Origin of the Hindu Religion, delineates a terrible picture of this Hindu controversy. The people separated, he tell us, “into sects, each selecting one of the triad, the particular object of their devotion, in preference to and exclusive of the others: the followers of Vishnu and Siva invented new symbols, each, to ascribe to their respective divinity the attribute of creation. This contention for pre-eminence ended in the total suppression of the worship of Brahma, and the temporary submission of Vishnu to the superiority of Siva; but this did not last long; the sects raised crusades against each other; hordes of armed fanatics, under the titles of Sanyasis and Vairagis, enlisted themselves as champions of their respective faith; the former devoted their lives in support of the superiority of Siva; and the latter were no less zealous for the rights of Vishnu: alternate victory and defeat marked the progress of a religious war, which for ages continued to harass the earth, and inflame mankind against each other.” Asiat. Research. viii. 45, 46. Dr. Buchanan informs us, “That the worshippers of the two gods (Vishnu and Siva,) who are of different sects, are very apt to fall into disputes, occasioning abusive language and followed by violence; so that the collectors have sometimes been obliged to have recourse to the fear of the bayonet, to prevent the controversy from producing bad effects.” Buchanan's Journey through Mysore, &c. i. 13. The missionary Dubois observes, that “we see the two sects striving to exalt the respective deities whom they worship, and to revile those of their opponents....The followers of Vishnu vehemently insist that he is far superior to Siva, and is alone worthy of all honour....The disciples of Siva, on the contrary, no less obstinately affirm that Vishnu is nothing, and has never done any act, but tricks so base as to provoke shame and indignation,” &c. Description, &c. of the People of India, p. 58. See too the Missionary Ward, View, &c. of the Hindoos. Lond. Ed. Introd. p. 27.
The Oupnekhat, of which an ancient version into the Persian language has been found. Anquetil Duperron published first some specimens of a translation from this in the Recherches Historiques et Geographiques sur l’Inde, and has since published a translation of the whole in Latin. There is a translation of it likewise among the late Mr. Allein's manuscripts in the British Museum.
One of the many names of Siva, or Mahadeva.
Bagavadam, p. 8, 9.
Bhagvat-Geeta, p. 94: see similar strings of praises, Ibid. pp. 84 to 88; pp. 78, 79; p. 70. At p. 80 he is denominated, “The father and the mother of this world;” which affords another curious coincidence with the phraseology of other religions. The Orphic verses περι φυσεως make Jupiter the “father and mother of all things:”
Valerius Soramus calls Jupiter “the father and mother of the gods:”
Apud Augustin. de Civitat. Dei, lib. iv. cap. xi. et lib. vii. cap. ix. Synesius uses similar language:
Even Martial, in a sort of a Hymn, or eulogy upon Mercury, beginning.
Hermes omnia solus, et ter unus—Mart. Ep. lib. iv. cp. 23.
Another name for Siva.
Asiat. Research. i. 284, 285.
Institutes of Menu, ch. ix. 45.
Deo, quem summum maximumque venerantur, Adad nomen dederunt. Ejus nominis interpretatio significat unus. Macrob. Satur. lib. i. cap. 23. This reduplication Mr. Bryant, with good reason, supposes to be a superlative, but is wrong in supposing it an ordinal, i. 29.
Αδα ὴδονη· και ὑπο Βαβυλωνιων ὴ Ηρα Hesychius, ad verb. The Greeks gave it, for a feminine application, a feminine termination.
Zechariah, ch. xii. ver. 11. “As the mourning of Adad Rimmon, in the valley of Megiddon.”
Analysis of Ancient Mythology, i. 29.
Ἑις Ζευς, ις Αϊδης Ἡλιος εις Διονυσος Ἑις θεος ον παντεσσι. —Orph. Frag. iv. p. 364.
Orphic. Fragm. vi. 366.
Την ΜΟΝΑΔΑ τς ανδρας ονομαζειν Απολλωνα —Plutarch, Isis et Osiris, 354.
Orat. iv. p. 150. See note 2, in page 317, where Mercury is denominated the Thrice-one.
“The belief of One God,” says he, “and of a future state of reward and punishment, is entire and universal among them.” Park's Travels in Africa, p. 273.
Sir W. Jones says, (Discourse on the Gods of Greece, Italy, and India,) “It must always be remembered, that the learned Indians, as they are instructed by their own books, in truth acknowledge only one supreme being, whom they call Brahme, or the Great One, in the neuter gender: they believe his essence to be infinitely removed from the comprehension of any mind but his own; and they suppose him to manifest his power by the operation of his divine spirit; whom they name Vishnu, the Pervader, in the masculine gender, whence he is often denominated the first male. ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ When they consider the Divine Power exerted in creating, or in giving existence to that which existed not before, they call the Deity Brahma, in the masculine gender also; and when they view him in the light of Destroyer, or rather changer of forms, they give him a thousand names, of which Siva, Isa or Iswara, Rudra, Hara, Sambhu, and Mahadeva, or Mahesa, are the most common.” Mr. Wilford (Asiat. Research. iii. 370) says that Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahadeva, “are only the principal forms, in which the Brahmens teach the people to adore Brahm, or the great one.”
Vide supra, p. 316.
Bhagvat-Geeta, p. 84. The term Para Brahme, or Great Brahme, is applied, not once, but many times to Crishna, in the Bhagavat. See Halhed's translation in Maurice's Hindostan, ii. 342, 351, 354, 360, 375, 377, 379, 380, 417, 444. “The Sri Vaishnavam Brahmens,” says Dr. Buchanan (Journey through Mysore, &c. i. 144), “worship Vishnu and the gods of his family only, and all over the Decan are almost exclusively the officiating priests in the temples of these deities. They allege Brahma to be a son of Vishnu, and Siva the son of Brahma. Vishnu they consider as the same with Para Brahmă” (thus Dr. Buchanan spells it instead of Brahme) “or the supreme Being.” Yet of this supreme Being, this Para Brahma, they believe as follows; “One of the Asuras, or demous, named Tripura, possessed a city, the inhabitants of which were very troublesome to the inhabitants of Brahma Loka, the heaven of Brahma, who attempted in vain to take the place; it being destined not to fall, so long as the women who resided in it should preserve their chastity. The angels at length offered up their prayers to Vishnu, who took upon himself the form of a most beautiful young man, and became Budha Avatara. Entering then into the city, he danced naked before the women, and inspired them with loose desires, so that the fortress soon fell a prey to the angels.” Ibid. Even Vach, the daughter of Ambhrina, is decorated with all the attributes of divinity. Mr. Colebrooke gives us the following literal version of a hymn in one of the Vedas, which Vach, he informs us, “speaks in praise of herself as the supreme and universal soul“[the title which, it is pretended, exclusively belongs to Brahme]—“I range with the Rudras, with the Vasus, with the Adityas, and with the Viswadevas. I uphold both the sun and the ocean [metra and varuna], the firmament, and fire, &c. ∗ ∗ Me who am the queen, the conferrer of wealth, the possessor of knowledge, and first of such as merit worship, the gods render, universally, present everywhere, and pervader of all beings. He, who eats food through me, as he, who sees, who hears, or who breathes, through me, yet knows me not, is lost; hear then the faith which I pronounce. Even I declare this Self, who is worshipped by gods and men. I make strong whom I choose; I make him Brahme, holy and wise. For Rudra I bend the bow, to slay the demon, foe of Brahma: for the people I make war on their foes; and I pervade heaven and earth. I bore the father on the head of this universal mind; and my origin is in the midst of the ocean: and therefore do I pervade all beings, and touch this heaven with my form. Originating all beings, I pass like the breeze; I am above this heaven, beyond this earth; and what is the Great One, that am I.” Asiat. Research. viii. 402, 403. Mr. Colebrooke says that Vach signifies speech, and that she is personified as the active power of Brahma, proceeding from him. Ibid. There is a curious passage, descriptive of the universal soul, translated from the Vedas by Mr. Colebrooke. Several persons “deeply conversant with holy writ, and possessed of great dwellings, meeting together engaged in this disquisition; what is our soul? and who is Brahme?” Going together for information to a profound sage, they addressed him thus; “Thou well knowest the universal soul, communicate that knowledge unto us.” The sage asked each of them, “whom he worshipped as the soul.” The first answered, “the heaven.” But the sage replied, that this was only the head of the soul. The second declared that he worshipped “the sun as the soul.” But the sage told him, this was only the eye of the soul. The third said that he worshipped “air as the soul;” and the sage answered, that this was only the breath of the soul. The fourth declared that he worshipped “the ethereal element as the soul.” But the sage replied that this was only the trunk of the soul. The fifth answered, that he worshipped “water as the soul.” But the sage rejoined that this was only the abdomen of the soul. The sixth informed him that he worshipped “earth as the soul.” But the sage declared that this was only the feet of the soul. The sage next proceeds to deliver his own explanation; and utters a jargon, which has not even a semblance of meaning. “He thus addressed them collectively: You consider this universal soul, as it were an individual being; and you partake of distinct enjoyments. But he who worships as the universal soul, that which is known by its manifested portions, and is inferred from consciousness, enjoys nourishment in all worlds, in all beings, in all souls: his head is splendid like that of this universal soul; his eye is similarly varied; his breath is equally diffused; his trunk is no less abundant; his abdomen is alike full; and his feet are the earth; his breast is the altar; his hair is the sacred grass; his heart the household fire; his mind the consecrated flame; and his mouth the oblation.”
Ib. p. 107.
Asiat. Research. v. 349.
An extract from a Sanscrit commentary by Mr. Colebrooke, Asiat. Research. v. 352.
Asiat. Res. viii. 417.
Extract from the Vedas by Mr. Colebrooke, Asiat. Research. viii. 455, 456.
Bhagvat-Geeta, p. 131, 132.
Sir W. Jones seems to have found proofs of a pure theism almost every where. Speaking of the Arabs, he says, “The religion of the poets, at least, seems to have been pure theism; and this we may know with certainty, because we have Arabian verses of unsuspected antiquity, which contain pious and elevated sentiments on the goodness and justice, the power and omnipotence, of Allah, or the God. If an inscription said to have been found on marble in Yemen be authentic, the ancient inhabitants of that country preserved the religion of Eber, and professed a belief in miracles, and a future state.” (As. Res. ii. 8.) Did Sir W. not know that the wildest religions abound most in miracles, and that no religion is without a belief of a future state? Did it want an inscription in Yemen to prove to us this? Sir W. finds proofs of a pure theism as easily among the Persians as among the Arabs. “The primeval religion of Iran,” he says, “if we rely on the authorities adduced by Mohsani Fani, was that which Newton calls the oldest (and it may be justly called the noblest) of all religions: A firm belief that one supreme God made the world by his power, and continually governed it by his providence; a pious fear, love, and adoration of him; a due reverence for parents and aged persons; a fraternal affection for the whole human race, and a compassionate tenderness even for the brute creation.” Yet under Hushang, who, it would appear, was the author of this primeval religion, he tells us, that the popular worship of the Iranians was purely Sabian. (Ibid. p. 58.) At the same time he assures us, that during his supposed Mahabadian dynasty, when this Hushangism and Sabianism existed, a Brahmenical system prevailed, “which we can hardly,” he says, “doubt was the first corruption of the oldest and purest religion.” (Ibid. p. 59.) By this account three different religions must have all been the prevalent religions of Persia, at one and the same time. Unless (which is not a theory with slight presumptions in its favour) we conclude that all three were originally one and the same.—Even on the most so-ber-minded and judicious men, the lofty language of a mean superstition is calculated to impose. The industrious and intelligent Harris, in his account of the travels of William de Rubruquis, states it as his opinion, “after all the pains that he had been able to take, in order to obtain some sort of certainty on this head,” that the religion of the Tartars includes these three points: “First,—that there is one God, the fountain of being, the creator of all things, the ruler of all things, and the sole object of Divine worship. Secondly,—That all men in general are his creatures, and therefore ought to consider each other as brethren descended from one common parent, and alike entitled to all the blessings he bestows; and that therefore it is great impiety to abuse those blessings, or to injure each other. Thirdly,—That in as much as the common reason of mankind hath taught them to establish property, it is necessary that it should be preserved, and that it is therefore the duty of every man to be content with his own.” (See Harris's Collection of Voyages, vol. i.) Les Moskaniens m’ont tous assurés unanimement, qui’ils n'avoient jamais eu d’idoles, ni de divinités subalternes, mais qui’ils sacrifioient uniquement à un être suprême et invisible. Pallas, Voyage, i. 126.
Gibbon's Hist. of the Decl. and Fall of the Rom. Emp. iv. 71.
The Hindu ideas are so extremely loose, vague, and uncertain, that they are materials unspeakably convenient for workmanship of this description. “The Hindu religion,” says an Oriental scholar of some eminence, “is so pliant, that there is scarcely an opinion it will not countenance. A Tour to Shiraz by Edward Scott Waring, Esq. p. 3, note.
Gibbon's Hist. of the Decl. and Fall of the Rom. Emp. i. 52.
Besides the invincible reasons afforded by the circumstances of the case, the artful pretences and evasions of the Brahmens are evidence enough. Mr. Wilford, having stated the general opinion, that the three principal gods of Egypt resolve themselves into one, namely, the sun, says, “The case was nearly the same in ancient India; but there is no subject on which the modern Brahmens are more reserved; for when they are closely interrogated on the title of Deva or God, which their most sacred books give to the sun, they avoid a direct answer, have recourse to evasions, and often contradict one another and themselves. They confess, however, unanimously, that the sun is an emblem or image of the three great divinities jointly and individually; that is of Brahme, or the supreme one.” Asiat. Res. iii. 372.
Bryant's Analysis of Ancient Mythology, iii. 104, 105.
Mr. Halhed very judiciously condemns the project to allegorize and refine upon the Hindu mythology. “Many conjectural doctrines,” says he, “have been circulated by the learned and ingenious of Europe upon the mythology of the Gentoos; and they have unanimously endeavoured to construe the extravagant fables with which it abounds into sublime and mystical symbols of the most refined morality. This mode of reasoning, however common, is not quite candid or equitable, because it sets out with supposing in those people a deficiency of faith with respect to the authenticity of their own scriptures, which, although our better information may convince us to be altogether false and erroneous, yet are by them literally esteemed as the immediate revelations of the Almighty. ∗ ∗ ∗ It may possibly be owing to this vanity of reconciling every other mode of worship to some kind of conformity with our own, that allegorical constructions and forced allusions to a mystic morality have been constantly foisted in upon the plain and literal context of every Pagan mythology. ∗ ∗ ∗ The institution of a religion has been in every country the first step towards an emersion from savage barbarism. ∗ ∗The vulgar and illiterate have always understood the mythology of their country in its literal sense; and there was a time to every nation, when the highest rank in it was equally vulgar and illiterate with the lowest. ∗ ∗ ∗ A Hindu esteems the astonishing miracles attributed to a Brihma, a Raam, or a Kishen, as facts of the most indubitable authenticity, and the relation of them as most strictly historical.” Preface to Code of Gentoo Laws, p. xiii. xiv. On the religion of ancient nations, Voltaire says with justice, On pourrit faire des volumes sur ce sujet; mais tous ces volumes se reduisent a deux mots, c’est que le gros du genre humain a été et sera tres long-temps insensé et imbecile; et que peut-etre les plus insensés de tous ont été ceux qui ont voulu trouver un sens à ces fables absurdes, et mettre de la raison dans la folie. Voltaire, Philosophie de l’Histoire, Œuvres Completes, à Gotha, 1785, tom. xvi. p. 22. Mr. Wilkins, reprobating some other attempts at refinement on the Hindu text, says “he has seen a comment, by a zealous Persian, upon the wanton odes of their favourite poet Hafiz, wherein every obscene allusion is sublimated into a divine mystery, and the host and the tavern are as ingeniously metamorphosed into their prophet and his holy temple.” Bhagvat-Geeta, note 114.
Even Mr. Maurice says; “The Hindu notions of the mundane system are altogether the most monstrous that ever were adopted by any beings, who boast the light of reason; and, in truth, very little reconcileable with those sublime ideas we have been taught to entertain of the profound learning and renowned sagacity of the ancient Brahmens.” Maurice, Hist. of Hindost. i. 490. I have met with nothing in Sanscrit literature in any degree to be compared with the following reflection of a Peruvian Inca, “If the heaven be so glorious, which is the throne and seat of the Pachacamac, how much more powerful, glittering, and resplendent must his person and Majesty be, who was the maker and creator of them all. Other sayings of his were these, If I were to adore any of these terrestrial things, it should certainly be a wise and discreet man, whose excellencies surpass all earthly creatures.” Garcilasso de la Vega, Royal Commentaries of Peru, book iv. ch. 19. There is a passage which I have read since this was written, (which however may well be suspected of flowing at a recent date from a foreign source) translated by Mr. Ward, from a work by Chirunjeevu, in which the inference that a God exists because the universe exists, is very distinctly expressed. Ward's View, &c. ii. 302. Lond. Ed.
In my researches concerning the religious ideas of the Hindus, I was much struck with the title of a chapter or lecture in the Bhagvat-Geeta, “Display of the Divine Nature in the form of the universe.” I seized it with eagerness! Here, I thought, will undoubtedly be found some reflections on the wisdom and order of the universe: I met with only the following monstrous exhibition: “Behold,” says Vishnu, in the form of Crishna, to Arjoon, “behold things wonderful, never seen before. Behold in this my body the whole world animate and inanimate, and all things. else thou hast a mind to see. But as thou art unable to see with these thy natural eyes, I will give thee a heavenly eye, with which behold my divine connection.”—After this Arjoon declares, “I behold, O god! within thy breast, the dews assembled, and every specific tribe of beings. I see Brahma, that deity sitting on his lotus-throne; all the Reeshees [saints] and heavenly Ooragas [serpents]. I see thyself, on all sides, of infinite shape, formed with abundant arms, and bellies, and mouths, and eyes; but I can neither discover thy beginning, thy middle, nor again thy end, O universal lord, form of the universe! I see thee with a crown, and armed with club and chacra, [the martial weapon of Crishna, a sort of discus or quoit.] a mass of glory, darting refulgent beams around. I see thee, difficult to be seen, shining on all sides with light immeasurable, like the ardent fire or glorious sun. Thou art the supreme being, incorruptible, worthy to be known! Thou art prime supporter of the universal orb! Thou art the never-failing and eternal guardian of religion! Thou art from all beginning, and I esteem the Pooroosh [literally man, but here meant to express the vital soul]. I see thee without beginning, without middle, and without end; of valour infinite; of arms innumerable; the sun and moon thy eyes, thy mouth a flaming fire, and the whole world shining with thy reflected glory! The space between the heavens and the earth is possessed by thee alone, and every point around: the three regions of the universe, O mighty spirit! behold the wonders of thy awful countenance with troubled minds. Of the celestial bands, some I see fly to thee for refuge; whilst some, afraid, with joined hands sing forth thy praise. The Maharshees, holy bands, hail thee, and glorify thy name with adorating praises. The Roodras, the Adityas, the Vasoos, and all those beings the world esteemeth good; Asween and Koomar, the Maroots and Ooshmapas; the Gandharos and the Yakshas, with the holy tribes of Soors, all stand gazing on thee, and all alike amazed. The winds, alike with me, are terrified to behold thy wondrous form gigantic; with many mouths and eyes; with many arms, and legs, and breasts; with many bellies, and with rows of dreadful teeth! Thus, as I see thee, touching the heavens, and shining with such glory, of such various hues, with widely opened mouths and bright expanded eyes, I am disturbed within me; my resolution faileth me, O Vishnu! and I find no rest! Having beholden thy dreadful teeth, and gazed on the countenance, emblem of time's last fire, I know not which way I turn! I find no peace! Have mercy, then, O god of gods! thou mansion of the universe! The sons of Dhreetarashtra, now, with all those rulers of the land, Bheeshma, Drona the son of Soot, and even the fronts of our army, seem to be precipitating themselves hastily into thy mouth, discovering such frightful rows of teeth! whilst some appear to stick between thy teeth with their bodies sorely mangled. As the rapid streams of full-flowing rivers roll on to meet the ocean's bed; even so these heroes of the human race rush on towards thy flaming mouths. As troops of insects, with increasing speed, seek their own destruction in the flaming fire; even so these people, with swelling fury, seek their own destruction. Thou involvest and swallowest them altogether, even unto the last, with thy flaming mouths; whilst the whole world is filled with thy glory, as thy awful beams, O Vishnu, shine forth on all sides!” Bhagvat-Geeta, p. 90, &c. Such is “the Display of the Divine Nature in the form of the universe!”
In the grant of land, translated from a plate of copper, (Asiat. Res. iii. 45.) among the praises of the sovereign, by whom the donation is made, it is said, “The gods had apprehensions in the beginning of time, that the glory of so great a monarch would leave them without marks of distinction; thence it was, that Purari assumed a third eye in his forehead; Pedmacsha, four arms; Atmabhu, four faces; that Cali held a cimeter in her hand; Rama, a lotos flower; and Vani, a lyre.” Sir William Jones, in the note says; “The six names in the text are appellations of the gods Mahadeva, Vishnu, Brahma, and the goddesses Durga, Lacshmi, Seraswati.” So that the three supreme deities, with their wives, were afraid of being eclipsed by an earthly king, and were obliged to assume new distinctions (of a very ingenious and imposing sort!) to prevent so lamentable an occurrence.
On the Gods of Greece, &c. Asiat. Research. i. 267.
Asiat. Research. i. 272.
Ib. viii. 397.
Vide supra, p. 323.
Asiat. Research. viii. 431, 432.
Asiat. Research. ii. 400.
Sir William Jones's Works, vi. 417.
This particular passage it is, which is pointed out by Mr. Colebrooke as the gayatri.
Asiat. Research. viii. 400.
Nations, not behind the Hindus in civilization (the most enthusiastic of their admirers, being judges) agree in these ideas. “Les nations savantes de l’Orient,” says Dupuis, (Origine de tous les Cultes, i. 4.) “les Egyptiens et les Pheniciens, deux peuples qui ont le plus influé sur les opinions religieuses du reste de l'univers, ne connoissoient d'autres dieux, chefs de l'administration du monde, que le soleil, la lune, les astres, et le ciel qui les renferme, et ne chantoient que la nature dans leurs hymnes et leurs theogonies.” The following is a curious passage: “Eutychius, apres avoir pris le Sabiisme en Chaldee, De la, dit il, il est passé en Egypte, de l’Egypte il fut porté chez les Francs, c’est a dire en Europe, d’ou il s’etendit dans tous les ports de la Mediterranée. Et, comme le culte du Soleil et des Etoiles, la veneration des ancestres, l’erection des statues, la consecration des arbres, constituerent d'abord l’essence du Sabiisme, et que cette espece de religion, toute bizarre qu’elle est, se trouva assez vite repandue dans toutes les parties du monde alors connu, et l’infecta jusqu’ à l’Inde, jusqu’ à la Chine; de sorte que ces vastes empires ont toujours esté pleins de statues adoreés, et ont toujours donné la creance la plus folle aux visions de l'astrologie judiciaire, preuve incontestable de Sabiisme, puisque ç’en est le fond, et le premier dogme; la conclusion est simple, que soit par tradition, soit par imitation et identité d’idees, le monde presqu’ entier s’est vu, et se voit encore Sabien.” Ib. 25. Memoires de l'Academie des Inscriptions, &c. xii. 25.
Adad, the name of the chief Assyrian deity, was held by ten Syrian kings in succession. Nicol. Damasc. ap. Josephum, Antiq. lib. vii. cap. 5. Even among Christians, kings and great men have received all the general titles of the deity, lord, majesty, highness, excellence, grace.
Asiat. Research. viii. 398, note.
Anquetil Duperron, Zendavesta, ii. 344.
Bhagvat-Geeta, p. 87.
Ib. p. 93.
Institutes of Menu, ch. i. 24.
A passage translated from the Veda by Mr. Colebrooke, Asiat. Research. vii. 251.
Hetopadesa, book I., Sir William Jones's Works, vi. 7. A personification, and mysterious deification of some very abstract idea, as Time, or Space, is by no means unnatural to rude nations. It is remarkable that the Scandinavians had a notion of some mysterious power, superior to their gods; for after the great catastrophe, in which Odin, Thor, and the other deities, lose their lives, “comes forth The Powerful, The Valiant, He Who Governs All Things, from his lofty abodes, to render divine justice. In his palace the just will inhabit, and enjoy delights for evermore.” (See extracts from the Edda, the Sacred book of the Scandinavians, in Mallet's Introduct. to the Hist. of Denmark, vol. i. ch. vi.) That historian observes in a style which almost appears to be copied by those to whom we owe the specimens of the Hindu religion, that a capital point among the Scythians was, the pre-eminence of “One only, all-powerful and perfect being, over all the other intelligences with which universal nature was peopled.” The Scandinavians, then, were on a level with all that is even claimed for the Hindus. But these same Scandinavians draw terrible pictures of this perfect One; describing him as a being who even delights in the shedding of human blood; yet they call him, the Father and creator of men, and say, that “he liveth and governeth during the ages; he directeth every thing which is high, and every thing which is low; whatever is great, and whatever is small; he hath made the heaven, the air, and man who is to live for ever; and before the heaven or the earth existed, this god lived already with the giants.” Ibid. But what this god was, whether matter, or space, or time, the Scandinavian monuments are too imperfect to determine.
Bernier, one of the most intelligent and faithful of all travellers, who spent a number of years in great favour at the court of Aurengzebe, formed an opinion of the religion of the Hindus, with which respect was little connected; for one of his Letters he thus entitles, “Lettre, &c. touchant les superstitions, etranges façons de faire, et doctrine des Indous ou Gentils de l’Hindoustan. D’ou l’on verra qu’il n’y a opinions si ridicules et si extravagantes dont l’esprit de l’homme ne soit capable.” (Bernier, Suite des Memoires sur l’Empire du Grand Mogol, i. 119.) He appears to have seen more completely through the vague language of the Brahmens respecting the divinity, (a language so figurative, and loose, that if a man is heartily inclined, he may give it any interpretation,) than more recent and more credulous visitors. After giving a very distinct account of the more common notions entertained of the three deities, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, he says, Touchant ces trois Estres j'ai vu des Missionaires Européens qui pretendent que les Gentils ont quelque idée du mystere de la Trinité, et qui diseut qu’il est expressement portè dans leurs livres que ce sont trois Personnes un seul Dieu; pour moy j'ai fait assez discourir les Pendets sur cette matiere, mais ils s’expliquent si pauvrement que je n'ai jamais pu comprendre nettement leur sentiment; j’en ai meme vu quelques-uns qui disent que se sont trois veritables creatures tres parfaites qu’ils appellent Deutas; comme nos anciens idolatres n’ont à mon avis jamais bien expliqué ce qu’ils entendoient par ces mots de Genius, et de Numina, qui est, je pense, le même que Deuta chez les Indiens; il est vrai que j’en ai vu d'autres, et des plus sçavans, qui disoient que ces trois Etres n’estoient effectivement qu'un meme dieu consideré en trois façons, a sçavoir, en tant qu’il est Producteur, Conservateur, et Destructeur des choses, mais ils ne disoient rien des trois personnes distinctes en un seul Dieu. Ibid. p. 173.—“The history of these gods” (says Mr. Orme, Hist. of the Milit. Trans. &c. in Indostan, i. 3,) “is a heap of the greatest absurdities. It is Eswara twisting off the neck of Brahma; it is the Sun who gets his teeth knocked out, and the Moon who has her face beat black and blue at a feast, at which the gods quarrel and fight with the spirit of a mob.” In the Zendavesta, as translated by Anquetil Duperron, many passages are as expressive to the full of just ideas of the Divine Nature as any in the Vedas. The absurdities too, with which they are mixed, are certainly not greater, they are many degrees less, than those with which the sublime phrases in the Vedas are mingled. The ancient magi, we are told, had a most sublime theology.—Nunquam adorabant solem: et mox addiderunt, se non adhibere aliquam adorationem soli, aut lunæ, aut planetis, sed tantum erga solem se convertere inter orandum. Hyde, p. 5. Je vois, ma sœur, says the Guebre in Montesquieu, (Lettres Persanes, Let. lxvii) que vous avez appris parmi les musulmuns à calomnier notre sainte religion. Nous n'adorons ni les astres ni les elemens; et nos peres ne les ont jamais adorés.....Ils leurs ont seulement rendu un culte religieux, mais inferieur, comme à des ouvrages et des manifestations de la divinité. Beausobre, with his usual critical sagacity, said, in regard to the pictures drawn by Hyde, Pococke, and Prideaux, of the religious system of the magi, Rien de plus beau, rien de plus orthodoxe que ce systême. Je crains seulement qu’il ne le soit un peu trop pour ces tems-la. Hist. de Manich. lib. ii. ch. ii. Voltaire thus expresses himself; “On ne peut lire deux pages de l'abominable fatras attribué à ce Zoroastre, sans avoir pitié de la nature humaine. Nostradamus et le medecin des urines sont des gens raisonables en comparison de cet energumene. Et cependant on parle de lui, et on ne parlera encore.” He had however remarked a little before, that the book contained good precepts of morality, and asked, “Comment se pourraitil que Zoroastre eut joint tant d’enormes fadaises à cet beau precepte de s'abstenir dans les duutes si on fera bien ou mal?” Dictionuaire Philosophique, Mot Zoroastre.
See Note C. at the end of the volume.
That one campaign in the court is better than two in the field, has passed into a proverb under the monarchies of modern Europe.
The performance (e. g.) of the five daily sacraments, of which no one, not even that which is falsely rendered hospitality, has, properly speaking, any reference to the duties of humanity. A few general precepts respecting the acquisition of the means of subsistence, in the modes prescribed to the different orders of the Hindus, are in fact of the ceremonial and religious cast. Laws of Menu, ch. iii. and iv. where the duties of the householder are described.
Laws of Menu, ch. xi. 236, &c.
Ibid. ch. vi. 75.
Asiat. Res. v. 371.
Institutes of Menu, ch. v. 58.
Ib. 85, 87.
The Hindus, among whom the idea of delicacy, in regard either to physical or moral objects, appears never to have taken rise, describe these occasions of purification, in the plainest, or in other words the grossest terms. There is a long series of precepts about voiding the excrements, (Laws of Menu, ch. iv. 45 to 52): And for purification afterwards, “Let each man,” says the law, “sprinkle the cavities of his body, and taste water in due form when he has discharged urine or feces: First, let him thrice taste water; then twice let him wipe his mouth, but a woman or servile man may once respectively make that ablution;” (Ibid. ch. v. 138, 139.) “Having vomited, or been purged, let him bathe and taste clarified butter: for him who has been connected with a woman, bathing is ordained by law;” (Ibid. 144.) In one instance there is a curious contrariety: It is declared, (Ibid. 108.) “A woman whose thoughts have been impure is purified by her monthly discharge.” Yet this same peculiarity of the female constitution is a cause of impurity; from which she is separated by bathing. Ibid. 66.
Laws of Menu, ch. v. 134, 135.
Ibid. xi. 200.
Laws of Menu, ch. v. 124.
Ibid. 115, 118.
Solon asks Cræsus why he interrogates him about human happiness— Ω Κροισε, επιςαμενον με το θειον παν εον φϑονερον και ταραχωδες;Herodot. lib. i. cap. xxxii.
“Tis evident we must receive a greater or less satisfaction or uneasiness from reflecting on our own condition and circumstances, in proportion as they appear more or less fortunate or unhappy; in proportion to the degrees of riches and power, and merit, and reputation, which we think ourselves possessed of. Now, as we seldom judge of objects from their intrinsic value, but form our notions of them from a comparison with other objects; it follows, that according as we observe a greater or less share of happiness or misery in others, we must make an estimate of our own, and feel a consequent pain or pleasure. The misery of another gives us a more lively idea of our happiness, and his happiness of our misery. The former, therefore, produces delight; and the latter uneasiness.” Hume's Treatise of Human Nature, ii. 174. If this principle have a real existence in human nature; and if the rude mind invariably fashion the divine mind after itself, the belief, so wonderfully common, that the Divine being is delighted with the self-inflicted torment of his worshippers, is sufficiently accounted for.
Institutes of Menu, ch. xi. 46.
Ib. 48 to 54.
Institutes of Menu, ch. xi. 91, 92.
Ibid. 165, 213.
See the Institutes of Menu, ch. xi. 171 to 179, where every species of sexual abomination is dehberately specified.
Institutes of Menu, ch. xi. 198. “When a twice-born man performs the penance prajapati, he must for three days eat only in the morning; for three days only in the evening; for three days food unasked, but presented to him; and for three more days, nothing.” Ibid. 212.
C’est une superstition tres dangereuse que le pardon des crimes attaché a certaines ceremonies. . . . . . Vous pensez que Dieu oubliera votre homicide, si vous vous baignez dans un fleuve, si vous immolez une brehis noire, et si on prononce sur vous des paroles. Un second homicide vous sera donc pardonné au meme prix, et ainsi un troisieme, et cent meurtres ne vous couteront que cent brebis noires et cent ablutions! Faites mieux, miserables humains, point de meurtres, et point de brebis noires. Voltaire, Diction. Philos, au mot Superstition.
Institutes of Menu, ch. vi. 3 to 8, and 16 to 32. There is a certain stage in the progress from extreme barbarity to some degree of intellectual improvement, in which worship by self-inflicted torments seems naturally to suggest itself. Thus, the priests and people of Mexico come next, perhaps, to the Hindus, though certainly at a prodigious distance behind them, in the devotion of pain and suffering. “It makes one shudder,” (says Clavigero, book vi. sect. 22.) “to read the austerities which they exercised on themselves. They mangled their flesh, as if it had been insensible, and let their blood run in such profusion, that it appeared to be a superfluous fluid of the body.” Their fastings, watchings, and other efforts of abstinence, were pushed to the greatest extremities. Ibid.
See a curious description in the Asiat. Res. v. 49, of a fakeer, seea at Benares by Mr. Duncan, who had used this bed for 35 years.
See Fryer's Travels, pp. 102, 103.—Sonnerat's Voyage, i. 121, 149, 153, 176.—Hamilton's Voyage to the East Indies, i. 274.—Voyage de Tavernier, iv. 118. Mr. Richardson, in his Arabic and Persian Dictionary, under the work Fakeer, says, “Every invention of perverted ingenuity is exhausted in deforming and distorting nature.” And Mr. Wilkins (Note 113, subjoined to his translation of the Bhagvat-Geeta) says, “The word zeal, in the vulgar acceptation, signifies the voluntary infliction of pain, the modes of doing which, as practised to this day by the zealots of India, are as various as they are horrible and astonishing.” Bernier who describes most of the penances alluded to in the text, mentions their standing on their hands, with the head down and the feet up; “D'autres qui se tenoient les heures entieres sur leurs mains sans branler, la tete en bas et les pieds en haut, et ainsi de je ne scai combien d'autres sortes de postures tellement contraintes et tellement difficiles, que nous n'avons de bateleurs qui les pussent imiter; et tout cala, ce semble, par devotion comme j'ai dit, et par motif de religion, ou on n’en scauroit seulement decouvrir l’ombre.” Lettre des Gentils de l’Hindoustan, p. 153, 154.
Sacontala, Act vii. in Sir William Jones's Works. One of the Mahommedan travellers, whose voyages are described by Renaudot, says of these recluses, “They for the most part stand motionless as statues with their faces always turned to the sun. I formerly saw one in the posture here described, and returning to India about sixteen years afterwards, I found him in the very same attitude, and was astonished he had not lost his eyesight by the intense heat of the sun.” Renaudot's ancient Account of India and China, p. 32. Bernier describes them thus; “On en voit quantité de tout nuds assis ou couchés les jours et les nuits surtes cendres, et assex ordinairement dessous quelques uns de ces grands arbres, qui sont sur les bords des Talabs ou reservoirs, ou bien daus des galeries qui sont autour de leur Deuras on temples d’idoles. . . . . . Il n’y a Megere d’enfer si horrible a voir que ces gens-la tout nuds avec leur peau noire, ces grands cheveux, ces fuseauz des bras dans la posture que j'ai dit, et ces longues ongles entortilles. Lettres des Gentils de l’Hindoustan,” p. 151. Orme accounts in part at least, and that very satisfactorily, for these astonishing efforts of patience and self-denial. “The many temporal advantages which the Brahmens derive from their spiritual authority, and the impossibility of being admitted into their tribe, have perhaps given rise to that number of Joguees and Facquires, who torture themselves with such various and astonishing penances, only to gain the same veneration which a Brahmen derives from his birth.” Orme's Hist. Milit. Trans. Indostan, i. 4.
Bhagvat-Geeta, p. 60, 63.
Ibid. p. 67.
Ibid. p. 76.
It is agreed among the Sanscrit scholars that the Puranas are modern, compared with the Vedas and other ancient monuments of the Hindus. Mr. Colebrooke is of opinion that the worship of heroes is altogether unknown to the author of the Vedas; though it was evidently part of the popular belief at the time the Puranas were composed. A sacrifice, therefore, enjoined in the Puranas, must have prevailed at a pretty late period.
See a translation of what is denominated “The Sanguinary chapter” of the Calica Purana, by Mr. Blaquiere, Asiat. Res. v. 371., and Wilkins's Hetopadesa, note 249, and p. 211. In the Bhawishya Purana, it is declared that the head of a slaughtered man gives Durga a thousand times more satisfaction than that of a buffalo. This sacrifice however is forbidden in the Brahma and the Bhagawat Puranas. Asiat. Res. iii. p. 260.
An instance of this, in which an old woman was the victim, was attempted at Benares, so late as the year 1788. See the account by Lord Teignmouth, Asiat. Res. v. 333.
Papers, relating to East India affairs, ordered by the House of Commons to be printed, June 3, 1813, p. 427.
A distinct description of this human sacrifice, performed at the feas of Juggernaut, is to be found in the voyage, (i. 121) of Sonnerat, who was an eye-witness. It is also described by that faithful traveller Bernier, Lettre sur les Gentils de l’Hindoustan, p. 128. It attracted in a peculiar degree the attention of the Rev. Dr. Buchanan: see his work, entitled, Christian Researches in Asia. The Missionaries have given us several descriptions, published in the Transactions of the Missionary Societies.
Such was the instance witnessed by one of the Arabian travellers of Renaudot. See Ancient Relations, p. 80.
Orme, on the Government and People of Indostan, p. 434.
See Richardson's Dictionary at the word Fakeer.
The place where the Jumna and the Ganges meet, is a spot of peculiar sanctity. “Some of the victims of superstition,” says Dr. Tennant, “annually drown themselves at the junction of the streams; and this being the most acceptable of all offerings, it is performed with much solemnity. The rapidity with which the victim sinks, is regarded as a token of his favourable acceptance by the god of the river. To secure the good inclination of the deity, they carry out the devoted person to the middle of the stream, after having fastened pots of earth to his feet. The surrounding multitude on the banks are devoutly contemplating the ceremony, and applauding the constancy of the victim, who, animated by their admiration, and the strength of his own faith, keeps a steady and resolute countenance, till he arrives at the spot, when he springs from the boat, and is instantly swallowed up, amidst universal acclamations.” Indian Recreations, ii. 250.
The Brahmens are always audacious enough to form a peremptory opinion. We have seen, before, that they never hesitated to assign a fixed number to the veins and arteries of the human body, though they are totally unacquainted with dissection. They here assign, with perfect confidence, a determinate number to the hairs on the human body.
Sanscrit text, quoted by Mr. Colebrooke, in his discourse on the duties of a faithful Hindu wife, Asiat. Res. iv. 208. The custom of burning wives on the funeral piles of their husbands, was common to the Hindus with the northern nations. See Jamieson's Scottish Dictionary, ad verb. Bayle-Fire.—The principal among the wives of a Scandinavian chief accompanied him to the funeral pile. Mallet. Introd. Hist. Denmark, vol. i. c. 13.—The Scandinavians did not scruple to expose their children. Ibid.—Robertson, who informs us that the wives of the chiefs of the Natchez, an American tribe, were burnt along with them at their death, says that the custom arose from the excessive veneration in which they were held, as brothers of the sun, and representatives of the deity; and that from this impulse, the wives, as well as the domestics who shared the same fate, welcomed death with exultation. Hist. of America, ii. 140.
Asiat. Res. iv. 210. See the whole of that discourse, where a number of authorities are collected. The circumstances of the transaction can be so easily conceived; that, horrid as they are, I have not thought proper to describe them. The prayers and ceremonies are exactly of the usual character. See an account by Bernier, of several cases of which he was an eye-witness, (Lettre sur les Gentils de l’Hindoustain, p. 131); and a variety of cases in the works of the Missionaries, Ward, and Dubois.
Institutes of Menu, ch. vi. 91, 92.
Ibid. ch. xii. 3, 5, 6, 7.
Institutes of Menu, ch. iv. 202.
Ibid. 170 to 177.
Discourse on the Philosophy of the Asiatics, Asiat. Res. iv. 166.
Discourse on the Tartars, Asiat. Res. ii. 33.
Few states of society are more low and degraded than that of the Mussulmans in modern Egypt. Hear what is said of their ethics: “On remarque chez les principaux chefs de la religion, nommés en Egypte cheiks de la loi, l'astuce commune à tous les prêtres, qui, pour mieux dominer, cherchent à s’emparer de l’esprit des hommes. Leur conversation est remplie de belles sentences morales, et de grandes images poetiques qu’ils pillent dans les livres Arabes, c’est tout leur savoir; ou ne doit pas chercher en eux d'autres connoissances sur la politique, les sciences, &c.; ils n’en soupçonnent pas plus l’existence que l'utilité.” (De l’Egypte par le Gen. Reynier, p. 63.) Voltaire remarks, with that felicity with which he sometimes touches an important truth; “La religion de ce Siamois nous prouve que jamais legislateur n’enseigna une mauvaise morale. Voyez, lecteur, que celle de Brama, de Zoroastre, de Numa, de Thaut, de Pythagore, de Mahomet, et meme du poisson Oannes, est absolument la même. J'ai dit souvent qu’on jeterait des pierres à un homme qui viendrait prècher une morale relâchée.” Dictionnaire Philosophique, au mot Sammonocodom.
Institutes of Menu, ch. iv. 204.
Ib. v. 52.
Ib. ii. 77, 82.
Ib. xii. 83.
Ib. vi. 70, 71.
Bhagvat-Geeta, p. 102.
Institutes of Menu, ch. vi. 81.
See a fanciful account of the origin of this worship by Mr. Paterson, Asiat. Res. viii. 54. His description of the moral effects of this superstition is more to our purpose: “It is probable,” says he, “that the idea of obscenity was not originally attached to these symbols; and, it is likely, that the inventors themselves might not have foreseen the disorders which this worship would occasion amongst mankind. Profligacy eagerly embraces what flatters its propensities, and ignorance follows blindly wherever example excites: it is therefore no wonder that a general corruption of manners should ensue, increasing in proportion as the distance of time involved the original meaning of the symbol in darkness and obhvion. Obscene mirth became the principal feature of the popular superstition, and was, even in after times, extended to, and intermingled with, gloomy rites and bloody sacrifices. An heterogeneous mixture which appears totally irreconcileable, unless by tracing the steps which led to it. It will appear that the ingrafting of a new symbol, upon the old superstition, occasioned this strange medley. The sect of Vishnu was not wholly free from the propensity of the times to obscene rites; it had been united in interest with that of Siva, in their league against the sect of Brahma, as was expressed by an image, called Har-Heri, half Siva, and half Vishnu. This union seems to have continued till the time when an emblem of an abstract idea, having been erected into an object of worship, introduced a revolution in religion, which had a violent and extended effect upon the manners and opinions of mankind. It was then that a gloomy superstition arose, which spread its baneful influence with rapidity amongst mankind; which degraded the Deity into an implacable tyrant; which filled its votaries with imaginary terrors; which prescribed dreadful rites; and exacted penances, mortifications, and expiatory sacrifices.” (Ibid. p. 55.) See also a picture of these religious immoralities by Bernier, Lettre sur les Gentils, pp. 129, 130. But the writer who, above all others, has furnished superabundant evidence of the immoral influence of the Hindu religion, and the deep depravity which it is calculated to produce, is Mr. Ward, in his “View of the History, Literature, and Religion of the Hindoos.” From the facts which he records in great detail, the following are the results: “The characters of the gods, and the licentiousness which prevails at their festivals, and abounds in their popular works, with the enervating nature of the climate, have made the Hindoos the most effeminate and corrupt people on earth. I have, in the course of this work, exhibited so many proofs of this fact, that I will not again disgust the reader by going into the subject. Suffice it to say, that fidelity to marriage vows is almost unknown among the Hindoos; the intercourse of the sexes approaches very near to that of the irrational animals. . . . But to know the Hindoo idolatry, as it is, a person must wade through the filth of the thirty-six pooranŭs, and other popular books—he must read and hear the modern popular poems and songs—he must follow the Bramnŭn through his midnight orgies, before the image of Kalēē, and other goddesses; or he must accompany him to the nightly revels, the jatras, and listen to the filthy dialogues which are rehearsed respecting Krishnŭ and the daughters of the milkmen; or he must watch him, at midnight, choking with the mud and waters of the Ganges a wealthy relation, while in the delirium of a fever; or, at the same hour, while murdering an unfaithful wife, or a supposed domestic enemy; or he must look at the Bramhŭn hurrying the trembling half-dead widow round the funeral pile, and throwing her like a log of wood by the side of the dead body of her husband, tying her and then holding her down with bamboo levers, till the fire has deprived her of the power of rising and running away . . . . . . This system of heathenism communicates no purifying knowledge of the divine perfections, supplies no one motive to holiness while living, no comfort to the afflicted, no hope to the dying; but, on the contrary, excites to every vice, and hardens its followers in the most flagrant crimes.” (Introductory Remarks, pp. 94, 95.)
Edward's Hist. of the West Indies, ii. 77. 4to. Ed.
Bryant's Analysis of Ancient Mythology, i. 323.
Lucian, De Syria Dea.
The priests of Egypt, says Herodotus, account it unholy to kill any thing which has life, saving what they use in sacrifice; Herod. Hist. lib. 1. cap. 140: and Porphyry informs us that it was not till a late period of their history that animal sacrifices were introduced. De Abstin. lib. ii. et iv.
Ab hoc antiqui manus ita abstinere voluerunt, ut capite saux erint, si quis occidisset. Varro. De Re Rustica, lib. ii. cap. 5.
See the satisfactory proofs adduced in the very learned and instructive, though erroneous work, of Dupuis, Origine de tous les Cultes. liv. iii. ch. viii.
“Although the killing an animal of this” (the ox) “kind is by all Hindus considered as a kind of murder, I know no creature whose sufferings equal those of the labouring cattle of Hindustan.” (Buchanan, Journey, &c. i. 167.) See also Ward on the Hindus, Introd. p. xliii. An hospital for the sick poor, says Dr. Tennant, was never known in India, before the establishment of the British; though there were for dogs, cats, &c. (Indian Recreations, i. 73.) The authors of the Universal History inform us gravely, on the authority of Ovington, that the Hindus have a care for the preservation of fleas, bugs, and other vermin, which suck the blood of man: for in a hospital near Surat, built for their reception, a poor man is hired now and then to rest all night upon the kot or bed where the vermin are put; and lest their stinging should force him to take his flight before morning, he is tied down to the place, and there lies for them to glut themselves with human gore.” (Modern Univ. Hist. vi. 262.) Anquetil Duperron, who describes a temple near Surat, full of those sacred animals, adds: “La vue de l’hopital des animaux, entretenu par des etres raisonables avec tout l’ordre, le soin, le zele meme que l’on pourroit exiger d’eux, s’il etoit question de leur semblable, et cela meme dans un pays, ou il n’y a d’etablissemens publics, ni pour les malades, ni pour les vieillards; la vu d'un pareil hopital auroit de quoi etonner, si l’on ne sçavoit pas que la nature se plait aux disparates en Asie comme en Europe. (Voyages aux Indes Orient. Disc. Prelim. Zendavesta, i. ccclxii.) “The Gentoos, though they will not kill their neat, make no conscience to work them to death, allowing them hardly food to keep them alive. Neither are they less inhuman towards their sick, a woman being brought to die among the tombs in my sight.” Fryer's Travels, ch. v. sect. 3. See to the same purpose, the Abbé Dubois, p. 132; Ward on the Hindoos, Introd. p. lv. It is worth observing that Milton, the universality of whose knowledge is not the least remarkable particular of his wonderful mind, was acquainted with the disgusting superstition of letting the vermin devour the man: “Like the vermin,” says he, “of an Indian Catharist, which his fond religion forbids him to molest.” Tetrachordon, Milton's Prose Works, ii. 122, 8vo. Edit. Tenderness to animals was a part of the religion of Zoroaster. We are informed in the Sadda, that he obtained from God a view of the regions of infernal torment, where he saw a number of kings, and among the rest one without a foot. He begged to know the reason, and God said to him; “that wicked king never performed but one good action in his life. He saw, as he was going to the chase, a dromedary tied at too great a distance from its provender, endeavouring to eat, but unable to reach it: he pushed the provender towards it with his foot. I have placed that foot in heaven; all the rest of him is here.” Voltaire, Essai sur les Mœurs et l’Esprit de Nations, ch. v. The following, Porphyry tells us, (De Abstin. lib. iv. p. 431) were laws of Triptolemus, 1. To honour our parents; 2. To offer nothing to the gods but the fruits of the earth; 3. Never to hurt animals. “The inhabitants of Miniana,” (a place not far from Sego, in the heart of Africa) “eat their enemies, and strangers, if they die in the country. They eat the flesh of horses. But such is their veneration for the cow, that she is never killed.” Park's last Mission to Africa, p. 166.
Dupuis, Origine de tous les Cultres, tom. ii. par. 2, p. 181; where the reader will find authorities to prove the antiquity and diffusion of this peculiar doctrine. See too the learned Beausobre, Hist. de Manich. tom. ii. liv. vii. ch. 5, sect. 4. For its existence among the Mexicans, see Clavigero, book vi. sect. 1.
Institutes of Menu, ch. xii. 24, 40 to 51.
Ib. 54 to 58.
Ib. 71, 72.
Institutes of Menu, ch. xii. 125.
“To this,” he says, “may be added, what must have forced itself on the observation of every thoughtful observer, that, in the absence of the religious principle, no outward terrors, especially those which are invisible and future, not even bodily sufferings, are sufficient to make men virtuous. Painful experience proves, that even in a Christian country, if the religious principle does not exist, the excellence and the rewards of virtue, and the dishonour and misery attending vice, may be held up to men for ever, without making a single convert.” Ward, “View, &c. of the Hindoos,” Introd. p. lxxxiv. Here, however, Mr. Ward ought to have explained what he meant by the “religious principle,” by which different persons mean very different things. This was the more necessary, that, having taken away all efficacy from the doctrine of future rewards and punishments, he strips religion of all power over the lives and actions of men, except in so far as good effects may be expected from the “religious principle,” which, whatever else it may not be, is at any rate, in his estimation, not the expectation of future rewards and punishments.