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As the ultimate aim was to render humanity immortal, and the sacrificial science was based on an imaginary science of the celestial world, everything abnormal, weird, and uncanny was believed to have a special virtue. Everything human and normal was opposed to the success of the sacrifice. The opposition between the terrestrial sphere and the heavenly world was so pronounced that “no” for the gods was "aye" for men. Even at the present day many common Indian customs and practices are exactly the reverse of those in Europe.
The complication of the Brahminical rites became almost inconceivable. The great Horse - sacrifice, generally undertaken only by kings, especially to procure offspring, was said to conquer all sin, to render the sacrificer invulnerable and certain of victory over his enemies; but the risk of errors creeping in must have deterred many from attempting it, for it was a ceremony which took several years to complete, required the attendance of hundreds of priests and attendants, the recitation of thousands of prayers and mantras, endless rites, and the most lavish presents. The blessings to be gained and the evils to be avoided by the performance of appropriate rites were both material and spiritual. The Brahmanas provide the necessary mantras for destroying Rakshasas (demons), or human enemies, for the removal of sin, to recover lost property or to bring success to the gambler, and to avert the evil influence of an animal sitting down, trembling, or running away at the time of the sacrifice.
Closely allied to the sacrificial system was the practice of bodily penances, or mortification of the Aesh, which the Brahmins regarded as a sure way, leading
to immortality, and infinite worldly advantages both in this life and in the next. The Mahâbhârata mentions a princess of Benares who practised fearful penances in order to revenge herself on Bhishma, and . at last threw herself into the sacrificial fire so that she might kill him in a future existence. It also relates a story of two brothers of the race of Asuras, evil spirits, enemies of the gods, who, in order to conquer the three worlds, earth, air, and heaven, underwent frightful austerities; standing for years on their toes, with arms uplifted and eyes fixed, and throwing pieces of their own flesh into the sacrificial fire. The gods were alarmed at the powers they were thus accumulating, and tried to interfere, without success. Brahmâ, the Creator, finally appeared before them, and though he refused to grant them immortality because they had undergone the penances only from the desire of sovereignty — an unworthy motive which detracted from the merit of their penances—he was constrained to allow that they should be incapable of being killed by any other being in the universe. They forthwith proceeded to make war on the region of Indra, and vanquished the Rakshasas and every creature ranging the sky. Next they slew the Nâgas, the inmates of the ocean, and all the tribes of the Mlechchas." Finally, they slaughtered the Brahmins, destroyed their sacrifices, and desolated the earth. Brahmâ then interfered. With the help of Vishvakarma, the heavenly artificer, he created a damsel, whose surpassing charms not even gods could resist. She was sent to the two brothers, who, in a violent quarrel over her, killed one another, much to the relief of the distracted universe.
ADVENT OF BUDDHA
It was when this dismal obscurantism and thaumaturgic priestcraft seemed likely to infect the whole religious thought of the people, that a new teacher came to bring back the spirituality of the ancient Vedic faith into the Aryan religion. It must not be supposed, however, that Buddha was the first to question the authority of the priesthood and to dispute the efficacy of sacrifices and penances. The hereditary priestly families had not yet established a monopoly or undisputed leadership in religious thought. The Kshatriyas, or warrior class, still stood at the head of Aryan society, and were by no means disposed to accept the Brahmins as their superiors in spiritual knowledge. Even among the Brahmins there were many who did not follow the orthodox priestly doctrines. There were, besides, a numerous class of Bhiksus, or religious devotees, both men and women, who though living an ascetic life as wandering mendicants, yet performed no sacrifices nor practised penances. These were the forerunners of the Sadhus, byragis, or fakirs of the present day. There were thus already many schools of thought outside the orthodox priestly families when Buddha's magnetic genius came to shape their somewhat nebulous theories with a new philosophy and rule of life.
About the year B.C. 557 Siddartha Gautama, son of the chief of the Sakya clan, was born in Kapilavastu, the capital of a petty state in the Nepal Terai. The story of his early life and of the Great Renunciation, when he left his wife and child and his father's palace to adopt a religious life as a Bhiksu, is too familiar to need repetition. He first attached himself to two Brahmin teachers, who taught him the theories of
40 BENARES, THE SACRED CITY Hindu philosophy commonly accepted. Finding no satisfaction in these, he wandered farther, and spent six weary years with five disciples in the forests near the Vindhyan mountains, practising the system of selftorture and starvation which the orthodox school regarded as the road to immortality. ...
Still dissatisfied, he again resumed the ordinary life of a Bhiksu, whereupon his disciples left him in disgust and went to Benares. He himself wandered on to the neighbourhood of the present Buddh Gaya. Then there followed, under the shade of the sacred pippal tree, known hereafter as the tree of wisdom, the short period of terrible mental agony which Indian poets and artists have pictured as his struggle with the Prince of Evil, Mara, and the wiles of his voluptuous daughters. Everything he had abandoned of worldly comfort and delight, his home, a loving wife and child, wealth, power, and pleasure, seemed to beckon to him to return. But his spiritual nature, triumphed at last, and he arose, with convictions formed and mind at rest, to preach those cheerful doctrines of love and contentment which changed the entire current of Eastern thought
Having thus become the Buddha—the Enlightened -he started off to Benares “to establish the kingdom of righteousness, to give light to those enshrouded in darkness, and to open the gates of immortality to men”. He rejoined his old disciples in a deer-park, an enclosure where deer were protected from hunters, and a favourite retreat for religious devotees, at Isapattana, the modern Sarnath, 37 miles to the north of Benares. He first preached to them the fundamental principles of his doctrines: the uselessness of bodily penances
misery was a necessary accompaniment of existence -men needed no priests nor sacrifices to help them to escape from the cycle of transmigrations—the means lay in their own hearts, through the destruction of evil desires, worldliness, doubt, ignorance, and vexation..
At the time when Buddha began his preaching, or,
SITE OF DEER-PARK, excavated 1905
(Jagat Singh's stupa in the foreground.) .
as his followers put it, “to turn the wheel of the Law”, the Kâsis, the first Aryan settlers in the district of Benares, had become subject to the Kosâlas, who had their capital at Sâvatthi, in what is now Nepal. The Sakya, the clan to which Buddha himself belonged, were also subject to the kingdom of Kosala. Benares had already become celebrated as a great centre of Hindu piety and learning. The old Buddhist