Page images


wise men and women, took part in the discussions. The greatest freedom of thought was allowed, and the rules which regulated the debates were only those which were approved of as likely to lead to sound conclusions. The rewards for debaters who showed profound thought and argument were not less liberal than those which were given to successful composers and sacrificers, but the penalties for those who infringed the rules of logic, or spoke foolishly, were heavy.

These disputations, or “Brahmodyams", afterwards became so much a national institution, that, if we may believe the Sanskrit traditions, even kings would yield their thrones and become the servants or pupils of the wisest philosophers. The methods of the Inquisition, and the argument of the sword and stake, never became popular with Hindu religious teachers. Whatever may be urged against the Hindu system, it must be admitted that it has always stood for absolute liberty of conscience. One religious movement after another has swept over Indian soil, but until the Muhammadan conquest it was never considered justifiable, or necessary, to suppress the voice of the preacher and the argument of the philosopher with torture, bloodshed, and judicial murder.

The old Buddhist records, though referring to a considerably later time than the Vedic period, throw much light on the character of these ancient universities, and on the distinctions which were given as' rewards of learning.

A member of the Buddhist order who had thoroughly mastered one section of the philosophical books was exempted from the common drudgery of monastic


duties. As he progressed the rewards were proportionately increased. When he could expound two sections he was allowed to reside in a furnished upper room. The privileges attached to expert knowledge of the third and fourth sections were the services of a number of attendants, first of a lower class, and then of lay-disciples, called “pure men", upasakas. For the fifth section he was granted an elephant carriage, and finally when he attained to complete knowledge of all six sections he was entitled to the dignity of an escort..

When one of the members had won all that pure scholarship could gain, and had acquired a reputation as a great teacher, he had the right to call together and preside over a meeting for philosophical discussions. In this convention he would be the judge of the merit or demerit of the debaters, commending some and reproving others. If one of them should become distinguished above the rest for elegant language, profound logic, and depth of thought, he would be placed upon a splendidly-caparisoned elephant and escorted from the convent with great state and dignity. But when a member presented an ill-reasoned argument, or tried to sustain it by breaking the rules of logic, and was feeble and clumsy in his rhetoric, the assembly would paint his face, smear him with dirt, and then take him from the monastery to some deserted place, or throw him in a ditch. “Thus they distinguish between worth and demerit, between the wise and the foolish.”.

The natural evolution of Aryan thought and religion had so far produced three classes of literature—first the Vedic hymns, which I have already described; secondly



9 the Brahmanas, which embody the priestly traditions of sacrifice; and thirdly the Upanishads, or philosophical discussions. Sanskrit scholars have made widely different estimates of the periods covered by these three classes. No doubt the hymns of the Vedas reflect traditions of the Aryans long antecedent to the time when they reached India. Max Müller has fixed the date to which they belong as approximately B.C. 2000; other authorities place them as far back as B.C. 6000; while an Indian scholar, Mr. Tilak, from a study of the astronomical data given by the Rig Veda, and from the description of the dawn and sunrise, and the phenomena of the seasons, believes that some of them refer to a time when the original Aryan home must have been at or near the Arctic circle.

The Brahmanas probably represent a development of Hinduism, for the most part, if not entirely, Indian: The age of their first compilation has been put between B.C. 1300 and B.C. 1100, but there are many later additions extending to perhaps B.C. 600. They are an extraordinary compilation of ritual practice and explanation, evolved by the imaginations of the priestly families, who piled form upon form and rite upon rite, until the simple piety of the early Aryans was buried in a mass of superstitious observances.

To European readers they are chiefly interesting for the light they throw upon modern Hindu ritual, and for the Aryan legends regarding the creation and the flood which have been preserved in them. The story of the deluge is as follows:

The seventh Manu of the fourteen mythical progenitors of mankind was one day washing his hands when he caught a fish. The fish spoke and said,


BENARES, THE SACRED CITY “Take care of me, and protect me from the big fish that would eat me, and I will one day save you”. Manu asked, “ From what will you save me?” The fish answered, “A flood will come and destroy all living creatures. I will save you from that.” Manu kept the fish in a jar, until it grew so big that it begged to be put into a ditch, at the same time telling Manu to build a ship to prepare for the coming catastrophe. Manu built the ship accordingly, and as the fish grew too big for the ditch, carried it down to the sea. When the food came, Manu tied the ship to the horn of the fish, which dragged him swiftly towards the northern mountains, the Himalayas. Arrived there, the fish instructed him to tie his ship to the mountain-top, and then swam away.

As the flood subsided, the ship gradually descended the slope of the mountain, and Manu left it to perform worship and sacrifices. After a year a woman was produced from the sacrifices. Manu asked, “Who art thou?” “Thy daughter,” she replied. “How, illustrious one, art thou my daughter?” he asked. She answered, “Those offerings of ghee, sour milk, whey and curds, which thou madest in the waters, with them thou hast begotten me. I am the blessing; make use of me at the sacrifice! If thou wilt do so, thou wilt become rich in offspring and cattle.” He accordingly made use of her as the benediction in the middle of the sacrifice. “With her he went on worshipping and toiling in religious rites, wishing for offspring.

Through her he generated this race, which is the race of Manu.”

The Upanishads, like the Brahmanas, are now incorporated in the four Vedas. Their first compilation is

[ocr errors]

oman was






attributed to a time shortly after the offshoots from the first Aryan settlement of the Punjab began to spread to the Ganges valley. They form the basis of the later schools of Indian philosophy. Though deeply tinged with Oriental mysticism, they, unlike the Brahmanas, are almost free from ritualism and sectarian spirit; they are chiefly devoted to discussions as to the nature and means of realizing a knowledge of Brahman, the Universal Soul and Cause of all things.

The Brahmanas and Upanishads, in fact, seem to represent two different currents of thought, which can be traced throughout the whole development of Hinduism. The one, the exclusiveness and pedantry of the narrow-minded priest, always concerned with the interests of priestcraft; the other, the true religious feelings of the people, interpreted by their most earnest thinkers.

The ethical stand-point of the Aryan race, as put forward in the Upanishads some three thousand years ago, can hardly be surpassed in the present day:

“Having taught him the Vedas, a teacher exhorts his pupils thus: Speak the truth. Practise virtue. Do not neglect the study of the Vedas. Having paid the honorarium to your preceptor (i.e. having returned home at the close of your studies), do not cut off the line of children (i.e. marry and bring up a family). Do not swerve from the truth. Do not swerve from virtue. Do not swerve from the good. Do not be indifferent to the attainment of greatness. Do not neglect your duties to the gods and to your parents. Honour your mother as a deity. Honour your father as a deity. Honour your guest as a deity. Do those deeds which are commendable, and not those that are

( B 488)

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »