« PreviousContinue »
in the present day, and bearing in mind that the founder of Buddhism commenced his ministry at this spot, it seems indisputable that, in those early times preceding the Buddhist reformation, the city must have exerted a powerful and wide-spread religious influence over the land. Throughout the Buddhist period in India,—a period extending from seven hundred to a thousand years, she gave the same support to Buddhism which she had previously given to the Hindu faith. Buddhist works of that era have abundant allusions to Benares, and clearly establish the fact that the Buddhist of those days regarded the city with much the same kind of veneration as the Hindu does now. The sacred writings of Ceylon, called the Játakas, which contain an immense number of tales relating to the life of Buddha and to the early history of his religion, are replete with references to Benares; indeed, each Játaka is almost invariably connected with a Brahmadatta, king of Benares. When Buddha delivered his first discourse at ĺśipattana, near Benares, not only the five Bhikshus, as already stated, but also Yasu, son of Sujáta, and his fifty-four royal companions or princes, embraced the new religion, and became believers in Buddha. Thus these sixty persons were the first, or amongst the first, disciples of this remarkable personage; and to them he gave instructions to proceed in different directions, and announce to the world that the Supreme Buddha had appeared. Starting from the sacred city, these emissaries of Buddhism, in obedience to his injunctions, went forth, and became the forerunners and pioneers of that wonderful missionary enterprise to other cities and
towns, and to other and distant lands, which terminated in the conversion to the Buddhist creed of the vast and densely-peopled countries of Eastern Asia.
When the immense influence which he has exerted upon mankind is considered, it may be safely affirmed that the career of S'ákya Muni or Buddha is unparalleled in mere human history. That he, a solitary man, prince of a royal house, becoming an ascetic, and, seating himself down under a tree, should have remained there in meditation for five years and upwards, pondering over the religion, the priestcraft, false dogmas, loose morality, uncertainty, doubt, and confusion of his times, under which the nation groaned; that he should have come to the conclusion that the existing religion was a delusion, baseless and pernicious; that he should have devised an entirely new system, of which himself was the centre, should have thought it out and put it in order, so as to be able to meet objectors and to overcome their arguments; that, at the expiration of this period, he should have risen up and journeyed to Benares, and there delivered his primary discourse respecting the new doctrine; should have thence gone forth to the gradual conquest of India, until the whole land substantially became converted to Buddhism, and sent forth missionaries to Ceylon and other parts, by whose agency that island, the empire of China, Japan, Burmah, Nepal, and Tibet, with their four or five hundred millions of people, received the extraordinary dogma, the gigantic blasphemy, that there was no separate, self-existent Supreme God, but that each individual man, by contemplation, could rise into the divinity; that all this
was the ultimate result of that one man's energy, sagacity, and resoluteness of will, is, assuredly, one of the most astounding events in the annals of the world. Buddha surpasses immeasurably every other mere uninspired man in the extent and consequences of his achievements. Mahomet cannot compare for a moment with him. He forced his religion on mankind by the sword; and, after all, his adherents are much less than half as numerous as the devotees of Buddhism. Buddha was a philosopher, a reasoner, a calm disputant, employing no physical force whatever; while the morality which he enforced was the purest the world ever saw, apart from the sublime code found in the Sacred Scriptures.
Although Buddhism continues to be the paramount religion of most of the countries to which it was carried by the agency of its missionaries, yet, strange to say, with the exception of Nepal, where it maintains a struggling existence, it has long been expelled from the land whence it originally sprang. Benares, however, notwithstanding this circumstance, has not ceased to retain her position as the sacred city. From the period of the revival of Hinduism down to the present moment, her influence has continued undiminished. It is exceedingly difficult to convey a correct idea of either the nature or extent of this influence. Throughout the country, Benares is regarded with superstitious reverence by every genuine Hindu; and the name produces in his breast a kind of fascination and charm. "Holy Káśí! would that I could see the eternal city, favoured of the gods! Would that I might die on its sacred soil!" Such are his thoughts and aspirations.
There is no other city which so appeals to his sympathies, which so entwines itself round his spirit, which so stirs his soul to its inmost depths.
As Benares is the religious centre of India, it is natural that priestly influence should there be exceedingly powerful. Everywhere in India, and not merely in this city in particular, the Brahman is a character, a study. No one, not even a foreigner newly arrived in the country, can make a mistake in regard to him. Light in complexion in comparison with the rest of the people, frequently tall in stature, with the marks of a clear, penetrating intelligence depicted plainly and sometimes in a striking manner upon his countenance, erect, proud, self-conscious, he walks along with the air of a man unlike any I have ever seen, in which selfsufficiency, a sense of superiority, and the conviction of inherent purity and sanctity are combined. He needs not the upavita or sacred Brahmanical cord thrown over the right shoulder, or even the streaks, in honour of his favourite deity, painted upon his forehead, to point him out. In his very gait and step you trace his claim to his superiority; and, did we but know the thoughts dwelling in his mind, we should possess the real secret of his majestic demeanour. With the idea constantly before his inner self, that he is himself a god, and deserves divine honours,-which is not a mere freak of a deluded imagination on his part, but is acknowledged by all Hindus, some of whom, as he pursues his way, will stop him, and then offer to him the adoration due only to the Almighty, which he receives complacently, as his right, how is it possible he should comfort himself
otherwise than as though the earth were hardly worthy of his tread, and the crowd about him were, in his presence, a vile, unclean, and abominable race? Though mingling with the vulgar herd, he takes care to avoid contact with them, lest he should contract some ceremonial impurity. He is most particular on this point. Should a low-caste man, by mistake, or from the pressure of the throng, approach too near to him, he cries out sharply and decisively, though not angrily; and, in case brazen vessel in his hand, filled with water from the the Ganges, which he is taking to drink or for sacrifice, be touched by such a person, he immediately throws the water away, and scours the vessel thoroughly before using it again. When he prepares his food,- for he cooks it himself,-should a man of inferior caste, by inadvertence, or from any cause, happen to touch it, the whole is considered as spoiled, and is thrown away. Indeed, so rigidly observant of the rules of their order are some of the Brahmans, that, even should the shadow of such a man, or of a Christian, fall upon their food while being cooked, it is altogether rejected. This mysterious notion of divinity, permeating the entire life of the Brahman, originates, not only in the minds of the people, but also in his own mind, a marvellous idea of his spiritual authority and power. power. Let Let any man be so infatuated as to cherish a real conviction within him that he is in some sense divine, and he will of necessity assume a bearing and demeanour different from those of ordinary mortals.
In Benares there are not fewer than from twenty to twenty-five thousand Brahmans. They have control