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ing the nature of the soul and the origin of the universe had resolved themselves into definite shape as the six schools or darsanas of philosophy, all taking for their foundation the axiom that ex nihilo nihil fit, and all directed to one end-the cessation of the cycle of re-births and absorption of the soul of man into the one Supreme Soul. They also agree in recognizing the operation of the law of karma, adopted by Buddha, through which every human action is held to entail a consequence upon the agent, good or evil accord ing to the character of the action, which follows him or her through the whole cycle of transmigrations.
The caste system had become firmly established, and the Brahmins had assumed extravagant pretensions to spiritual superiority, but the creed of the lower classes had been raised to a distinctly higher plane by the doctrines of the Bhagavat Gita, “ The Song of the Blessed One"; incorporated with the Mahâbhârata, probably in the first few centuries of the Christian era. The idea of a personal God, as creator and preserver of the universe, its high moral standard and the similarity of some of its passages to the New Testament, have caused many Christian missionaries to attribute the Bhagavat Gita to the influence of early Christian converts, and to intellectual intercourse between India and the schools of Alexandria. Max Müller and other Sanskrit authorities reject this theory. However this may be, the Bhagavat Gita is now by far the most popular of all Brahminical sacred writings. It is translated into all the principal vernaculars. Pocket editions of it are carried about by Hindus of all classes, just as devout Christians may carry the Bible. It has unHINDUISM ABSORBS BUDDHISM 63 doubtedly profoundly influenced the ethical and spiritual ideas of modern Hinduism.
Sankaracharya waged relentless war against the superstitions of the Buddhists of his time, and against the loathsome practices of some of the Hindu sects; but convinced of the futility of attempting to supersede entirely the ancient forms of popular worship by the high philosophic doctrines of the intellectual Brahmins, he effected a compromise. Buddha had established an ethical code which afforded a common meetingground for all races, classes, and sects of Hindus, but nad left untouched the problems of the first Cause and the directing Power of the Universe. Sankaracharya and other Brahmin teachers provided a com mon metaphysical basis for all popular religious beliefs, while allowing the widest latitude for various forms of worship.
It is not to be supposed that Sankaracharya was the first to teach the pantheistic doctrines of Hinduism. The idea of the One Supreme Being manifested in the many had been clearly indicated centuries before in the Upanishads, and developed in the Vedanta school of philosophy, but Sankaracharya's preaching marks the final absorption of Buddhism into the Brahminical system, and the development of the worship of Shiva into one of the most popular cults. Shiva-worship had indeed existed long before the eighth century, and perhaps is older than Hinduism itself. One of Shiva's names, Rudra, is the name of the Vedic stormgod. Shiva is mentioned several times in the Mahabharata, and we learn from Hiuen Thsang that in the first half of the seventh century Shiva was already the principal deity of Benares. Nevertheless it was
Sankaracharya's teaching and philosophy which established Shivaism, for the time being, as the principal sect of Hinduism.
The Buddhist monasteries continued to exist at Sarnath, and elsewhere in India, until they were finally destroyed by the Muhammadan invaders of the thirteenth century; but in the eighth century Buddhism as a separate religion was already discredited, and the Brahmins were reinstated in their position as the spiritual leaders of the people. After the establishment of Muhammadan rule the popularity of the cult of Shiva, as expounded by Sankaracharya, diminished, and many new sects successively developed in which the worship of Vishnu and the idea of a personal God became more prominent. It is, however, impossible to follow the further development of Hinduism through all the different phases which have originated, and are still creating, new sects and schools of thought. We must now pass on to a brief study of the ideas of modern Hinduism as conveyed in the worship of Shiva, the presiding deity of Benares.
It will be understood from the preceding sketch that, through the absorption of many primitive faiths and modes of worship into the Brahminical system, there is often a very wide difference between the popular views regarding the various Hindu divinities and the esoteric teaching of the Brahmin philosophy. The stories told in the Puranas and other later Sanskrit literature embody the wildest legends and superstitions, and attribute to Hindu gods and goddesses an abundant share of earthly passions and weaknesses. Many of these seeming fantastic stories are, however, metaphysical ideas conveyed in the form of allegory.
According to the esoteric doctrine of Hinduism, first propounded in the Rig Veda, the universe was originally Soul only, nothing else whatsoever existed, active or inactive. The origin of Creation, described in the famous hymn of the Rig Veda (X, 129), proceeded from this Supreme Spirit, the Eternal Essence, or Brahman. • The first manifestation of this neuter Brahman-the Unknowable—when passing into a conditioned state, comparable to the passing of a human being from a state of profound sleep to a state of dreaming and then of waking, is known as Ishwara—the Self-the Lord and Cause of all things. The glory of Ishwara as Purusha, or Spirit, makes manifest Prakriti, the Essence of Matter, inherent in Brahman, but until now unmanifested. Ishwara, then, by means of his divine power, called sakti, causes Prakriti to take form. The forms of Prakriti thus evolved are the Trimurti, or Three Aspects of Ishwara-Brahmâ, who in the world of Matter performs the functions of Creator, and represents the condition of activity or motion; Vishnu, who is the Preserver, representing equilibrium and rhythm; and Shiva, who is the dissolving power. In Hindu painting and sculpture this act in the great drama of creation is represented by Ishwara, under the name of Narayana, floating on the waters of chaos and sleeping on the serpent Sesha, or Ananta, “the endless"—the symbol of eternitywhile Brahmâ, the Creator, springs from a lotus flower which is growing from Ishwara's navel.
The Trimurti, as representing Spirit-essence, have different qualities or conditions (gunas). Brahmå represents the quality of Being; Vishnu, Thought
66 BENARES, THE SACRED CITY power; and Shiva, the quality of Bliss, the perfect beatitude of Nirvana. Purusha and Prakriti being . inert by themselves, each of the Trimurti have their saktis, or divine powers, which enable them to perform their functions in the universe. In popular Hinduism the saktis are regarded as the wives of the Trimurti. The sakti of Brahmâ is deified as Saraswati, the goddess of learning and wisdom; the sakti of Vishnu is Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity; and the sakti of Shiva, Durga, Gauri, or Káli, terrible goddesses to whom bloody sacrifices, and sometimes human victims, are offered.
The worship of Brahmâ has almost ceased as a popular religion, because his work in the universe is considered to be finished. Shiva is the presiding deity at Benares, and all the principal temples are dedicated to him. But Shiva at Benares is Mahadeva, the great god, or Ishwara, representing the powers of all the Trimurti; for the followers of particular cults, like that of Shiva, Vishnu, or of Kâli, generally ascribe to their special deity the exercise of all the divine functions. It must also be noted that each one of the Trimurti, besides the two main qualities, or gunas, attributed to him, has countless sub-manifestations corresponding to the infinite subdivisions of their duties in the cosmic order. Thus there are hundreds of temples and shrines at Benares with names ending in “-eshwar” (Ishwara), such as Tarak-eshwar, Ratn. eshwar, Som-eshwar, &c., all of which are Shiva temples dedicated to some particular manifestation of the Supreme Ishwara. The Hindu pantheon is estimated to contain 300,000,000 deities, but the Brahminical teaching clearly explains them as indicating the infinite manifestations of the One Supreme.