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“Heaven is a palace with many doors, and each one may enter in his own way.” The Bramins, who compiled the Code of Gentoo Laws, say in the preface, that "the Supreme Being is sometimes employed with the attendant of the mosque, in counting the sacred beads, and sometimes in the temple at the adoration of idols. He is the friend of the Hindoo, the intimate of the Mahometan, the companion of the Christian, and the confidant of the Jew." Sir William Jones says: “It is their firm opinion that the Deity has appeared innumerable times, and by innumerable avatars, not only in many parts of this world, but of all worlds, for the salvation of his creatures ; and that both Christians and Hindoos adore the same God under different forms.” Actuated by this kindly feeling, their women and children often gather fruit and flowers for the mosque and the cathedral, as well as for their own sacred groves.
When men of different creeds are brought into frequent contact, they cannot avoid mutually giving and receiving. Their prejudices gradually soften and finally melt away. The interfusing of religious ideas from various sources is conspicuous in the teaching of many modern Hindoos. One of these, named Swamee Narain, attracted considerable attention about 1820. He went through various districts teaching and exhorting the people; and many villages of bad character became virtuous and orderly under his influence. He inculcated temperance and purity, and forbade his disciples to look upon a woman. He taught the existence of one invisible God, who made and sustains all things, and whose especial dwelling is in the hearts of those that diligently seek him. But he likewise taught that there is a Spirit, who was with God from all eternity, who cometh from God, who likewise is God, and who hath made known to man the will of God. This Spirit he said came down to earth in ancient times in the form of Crishna, whom wicked men put to death by magic. He was the same as the Sun, and was to be worshipped as God's image or representative. Since his death there had been many pretended revelations and false divinities set up.
Bishop Heber, in conversation with him, remarked that he had spoken truly when he said there was but one God. He tried to convince him that one incarnation of that God was sufficient for mankind, and existed in the person of Jesus Christ, who was the Word of God, proceeding from him, and one with him from all eternity. But Swamee Narain insisted there had been many incarnations, suited to the wants of different nations; one for Christians, another for Mahometans, others for Hindoos. He said he regretted the prevailing worship of images; but symbols were necessary for the ignorant, and he feared to offend their prejudices by preaching against them.
The Hindoos are extremely averse to any change from ancient customs and opinions. The description given of them in the time of Alexander the Great, more than two thousand years ago, would nearly describe them now. But notwithstanding this strong conservative tendency, innovations of various kinds have been gradually introduced; especially in Bengal, which is more subject to a mixture with foreigners in the relations of government and commerce. When Hindoos were invited to dine with European magistrates or merchants, they ate at a table by themselves, and had their food cooked by one of their own nation, according to the rules of their religion. This scruple still remains with a majority of the people; but here and there liberal individuals have set it aside, saying: “We think the Christians are as pure as we are, and certainly some of them are wiser.” The higher castes, who formerly abstained from animal food, now eat fish, mutton, and kid's flesh; and the lower orders eat almost everything except beef. The spirit of caste still exerts a tremendously strong influence, but its barriers are thrown down in numerous instances. In the extensive districts under British control, Bramins are executed for capital crimes, the same as other men. Some of the wealthiest families are of Soodra origin, and the descendants of Bramins may sometimes be found among cooks, or serving as soldiers in the army. Though intermixture with foreigners is for
bidden as a great sin, large classes of half European parentage have sprung up, and are early accustomed to a foreign language and a foreign faith. The lower orders manifest an increasing neglect of the rules of caste, and are generally desirous to send their children to schools established by the English. It is predicted that English will become the prevailing language. The upper classes now generally speak it with fluency, and take great interest in its literature. It was formerly considered very wrong to give foreigners access to their Sacred Books; but there is now an established profession of Hindoo teachers in Bengal to instruct Europeans in Sanscrit, that they may examine the Vedas, the Shastras, and the Pouranas. Attendants on the temples begin to complain that the offerings are of little worth, compared with former times. One of them lately told a missionary that he was unable to procure means to repair the roof, in consequence of which water was dripping on the image of the god during all the rainy season. He reported this to the people, but they seemed quite indifferent about it. He thought they were all becoming unbelievers.
Bramins strive to reconcile themselves to this state of things, on the ground that they are living in the Cali Yug, when religion is reduced to naught by decrees of Deity, and therefore it is useless to try to screen their Sacred Books from the profanation of foreign bands. Atrocious murders have often been confessed and extenuated in their courts, on the plea that it is the Cali Yug, when crimes must abound.
No priesthood in the annals of the world have retained so much power, for such a long series of centuries, as the Bramins. That as a class they have abused this power, is the inevitable result of possessing it; but there are among them intelligent, learned, and exemplary men, whose characters would do honour to any nation. Bishop Heber says: “In one of the temples I saw a Bramin who passed the whole day on a little pulpit, about as high and large as a dressing-table. At night, he sleeps on the pavement
beside it. His constant occupation is reading or lecturing on the Vedas, which he does to as many as will hear him, from eight in the morning till four in the evening. He asks for nothing; but a small copper basin stands near the pulpit, and he subsists entirely on the alms which the charitable are disposed to drop into it. He is a small, pale man, of an interesting countenance, said to be eloquent and extremely learned in the Sanscrit.” Some of the Bramins of Malabar wrote to the Danish missionaries: “God alone rules all the world, and all that is therein. It is he who rules the eight hundred and forty thousand kinds of living creatures; but because of his various appearances, he has different names. Hence we say Brahma creates, Vishna rules, Siva destroys; all which different expressions denote but One Supreme Being. And when we attribute the protection of towns and villages to tutelar gods, our meaning is that the Great God does mediately protect towns and countries by his vicegerents and governors. For there is not the least motion in the world without the will of the First Cause. Indeed there are many gods, but they cannot so much as move a straw out of its place, without the assistance of the First Cause; therefore, he is justly called the Lord of the World; for it is his power that rules all things, and he is infinite and incomprehensible." This statement doubtless represents the general views of enlightened classes of Hindoos at the present time; but they cannot yet believe that ideas which elevate priests and princes would also elevate the people. They argue that to present the doctrine of a purely spiritual Deity to men absorbed in the cares of animal existence, would inevitably make them atheists. Strongly attached to their ancient religion, from force of education, Bramins maintain that it is entirely misunderstood by Europeans, whose modes of thought prevent them from having any conception of the spiritual significance of their allegorical writings and sacred ceremonies. Intelligent worshippers of every age and nation might urge the same plea with perfect justice; for every symbol, even the rudest, was originally made sacred
First Causes move a strawe; therefore, he
as the embodiment of some idea, and the spiritual-minded long continue to reverence the adulterated form for what it originally signified.
A transition state, when society is preparing to cast its old skin, is unpleasant and difficult for timid and reverential temperaments. Sacred laws appropriate to one age, do not supply the wants of another age. They become inconvenient or impossible of application when progressive centuries have introduced manifold changes. Theologians of India have expended great learning and patience to make some old maxims of their Sacred Books harmonize with the new wants of society, gradually, though slowly, changing. In the process, several of those maxims have been formally abrogated by legal enactment; others have fallen into disuse, with the remark that “they were doubtless intended for a more perfect state of the world.”
Some of the Bramins manifest great earnestness and candour in examining other modes of faith. Among these none have been so remarkable as Rammohun Roy, a wealthy Bramin, born in Bengal, in 1780. He was well acquainted with Sanscrit, Hebrew, Persian, Arabic, Greek, Latin, and English. While quite young, he published a book, "Against the Idolatry of All Religions.” In this he gave great offence to Hindoos and Mahometans, by the freedom with which he animadverted upon what he considered the defects in both their religious systems. His gentle nature was pained but not discouraged by the enmity he excited. In 1816 he translated the more spiritual portions of the Vedas from Sanscrit into Hindostanee and Bengalee, two of the most widely spread languages of Hindostan, and circulated them wherever he could, free of cost. In the Preface he says: “I have never ceased to contemplate with the strongest feelings of regret the obstinate adherence of my countrymen to their fatal system of idolatry; violating every humane and social feeling, for the sake of propitiating their supposed deities, especially by dreadful acts of self-destruction, and the immolation of nearest relatives, under the delusion of conforming to sacred