Page images






We have brought down the development of modern Hinduism to the time when the great epics began to assume their present shape, and when speculation as to the future life and the origin of the soul had culminated in the philosophy of the Upanishads.. We now arrive at the time, which may be fixed roughly from Soo to 500 B.C., when we begin to get on firmer historical ground, and approach to the great parting of the ways which came with the advent of Buddha. It is necessary to explain briefly the differences which led to the breach between Buddha and the orthodox teaching of his day. In the basis of his philosophic teaching Buddha was a Hindu of the Hindus. The Brahmins of his time taught the whole theory of the transmigration of souls; Buddha's doctrine was but a slight modification of it. They held that human suffering was to be destroyed by the termination of the cycle of re-births; Buddha taught practically the same. The main point of difference between the two was, that whereas the Brahmanas, which contain the essence of the sacerdotal doctrine, declare that “sacrifice in its totality is the bark which carries one to heaven”, and that the Brahminical teaching is the only means of

[merged small][ocr errors]

salvation, Buddha denied the divine authority of the l'edas, rejected the theory of sacrifice, and declared that the Eight-fold Path was the way by which all suffering was annihilated, through right views, right resolve, right speech, right actions and living, right effort, right self-knowledge, and right meditation.

To realize the revolution which Buddha effected in the whole development of Hinduism, it is necessary to understand something of the tyranny of rites and penances, with which the priestly class had then enveloped the spiritual teaching of the people. The original process of Vedic sacrifice was based on the theory that gods and men shared between them the ordering of the universe, and that the one party was bound to assist the other. If no rain fell on the earth, it was because the gods needed refreshment. They were refreshed with Soma, the nectar of the gods, and with milk from the earthly cows, which had their counterpart in the heavenly catile—the clouds of the sky. The god Agni — Fire and Light — was brought down to the earth by the friction of two sticks, and refreshed with oblations of clarified butter (ghee), which he licked up with his seven tongues. The gods came down from heaven to attend the sacrifices, and took their seats on the place spread with the sacred kusha grass. The Brahmanas declare that formerly the gods and men on one side, and the pitris, ancestors of men, on the other, sat and feasted there together. At one time the gods and pitris were visible; they still are present, but invisible. “The gods subsist on what we offer them here below, just as men. subsist on the gifts which come from heaven.” As nourishment for the gods, and as thank-offerings for

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

favours received, men must give presents of what.
they valued most, both to the gods themselves and to
the priests whose knowledge of the sacred lore brought
the gods to earth.

The presents to the gods were the victims which were sacrificed. The Aryans at some very remote period of their history offered human victims, the firstborn of the family, as the supreme sacrifice. The horse was next in value, and after that the cow. As the science of the Aryan ritual became more developed, it was not considered necessary to actually sacrifice the victims. They were formally offered and then released. The Brahmanas describe the gradual development of a more humane ritual as follows:-" The gods, at the beginning, sacrificed man as victim; when he was sacrificed, the sacrificial virtue which was in him left him. It entered into the horse. They sacrificed a horse; when it was sacrificed, the sacrificial virtue left it and entered into a cow. When the cow was sacrificed, the sacrificial virtue which it had left it and entered into a sheep. When the sheep was sacrificed, the sacrificial virtue which it had left it and entered into a goat. The sacrificial virtue has remained in the goat the longest.” The goat is the victim now most frequently offered to Durgâ and Kalî. I

Another passage in the Brahmanas describes how the sacrificial virtue passed from the goat into the earth. The gods dug in the earth to get it, and found it in rice and barley. This is the explanation given for the oblations of rice and barley now made to Shiva the Destroyer.

The essential accompaniments to the sacrifices were,

[merged small][ocr errors]



first, suitable prayers, the correct composition of which was a matter of vital importance. The gods did not enter into communication with everybody, but only with a Brahmin, a Kshatriya, or a Vaisya.? The next were the presents to the priests. These gave the sacrifice the force which carried it to the abode of the gods. The value of the presents was regulated by the importance of the sacrifice, and the scale for the more important sacrifices was so high that none but the richest could undertake them. The third essential was faith in the efficacy of the sacrifice.

The nature of these sacrificial rites had gradually been corrupted from the simple Aryan forms of offerings and prayers into a science of divine magic, practised both by gods and men, through which it was believed that the whole creation originated, and the whole universe was controlled. The gods had become gods through sacrifice, and men were also capable of becoming immortal if they acquired sufficient knowledge of the sacred wisdom. To protect their dominions from the invasions of men, the gods concluded a bargain with Death that no man should become immortal without first surrendering his body to him. They were constantly watching to introduce errors into the sacrifices performed on earth. Hence the necessity for extreme care and attention to every detail. Finally, sacrifice itself became a god, and the greatest of all gods. .

The recitation and chanting of the hymns or man. tras, which accompanied and formed part of the sacri. fices, was no less abstruse and complicated a science than the sacrifice proper. The Vedic hymns were first

The three highest classes, afterwards castes. (B 488)


[ocr errors][merged small]

arranged in a series according to metre, which had a mystic significance and power in each of the three worlds, the earth, the atmosphere, and the abode of the gods. The Brahmanas compare the imaginary journey of the sacrifice and sacrificer to the heavenly regions to an earthly journey which the traveller makes by stages, taking fresh horses and oxen at each stage. In the same way the sacrificer must use fresh metres at every stage of the sacrifice to carry him on his journey heavenwards. The number of verses used together, the accent and intonation, all had a share in the efficacy of the rites.

A form of recitation is given in the Aitareya Brahmana which is called the rite of dûrohana, or the ascent into heaven. “After the invocation, the ascent of dûrohana is made. At first the reciter makes a pause at every quarter-verse. He thus starts from this world. Then he makes a pause at every halfverse; by this means he reaches the atmosphere. Then he makes a pause at every three-quarters of a verse. He arrives now in the celestial regions. By then reciting the whole verse without pausing he arrives in the solar world which shines up above."

The priest now reverses the order of recitation, and brings the sacrificer back to earth, “just as one who seizes the bough of a tree". If the sacrificer, however, prefers to remain in the solar world after his arrival there, the priest omits the last part of the rite, but the sacrificer is sure to die soon afterwards. The solar world, according to Hindu theories, is the abode of spirits who have completed their earthly incarnations.

1 Ait xviii. 7.

« PreviousContinue »