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in order to render his solitary life more comfortable by their attentions, it is considered a mark of great devotion on their part. But whether his family are with him or not, the hermit must live perfectly chaste, and devote him. self entirely to religious meditation and sacrifices. If, after years of fasting, mortification, and prayer, he should break his vow of chastity, he loses all the fruit of his past labours. If he aims at being one of the highest order of saints, he must become still more ascetic. He must renounce his family, give up every species of property, sleep on the ground, and annihilate his body by such self-torments as ingenuity can devise. By this process he may finally attain absorption into The Divine Soul, which is the great object of devotional efforts among the Hindoos. They describe it as by no means a state of deadness, but as peaceful, free, and happy; serenely independent of all the world can give or take away; a state of unchangeable beatitude, which can only be understood by those who have experienced it. Arrived at this stage in the spiritual pilgrimage, there is no more need to offer sacrifices or study the Vedas. Truth constantly reveals itself by its own inward light, and the divine fire continually burning within the soul is sufficient worship.
This complete abstraction of the soul from the body, by solitude, prolonged fasts, and physical torture, may well be supposed to occasion strange states of nervous irritability and exaltation; but the promised bliss, the miraculous power, and the saintly renown, are so much coveted, that devotees usually endure their sufferings with great courage and perseverance. One of them told the Abbé Dubois: "Every day my spiritual master obliged me to gaze fixedly at the firmament, without changing my posture or winking my eyes. This gave me a terrible headache. I thought I saw sparkles of fire, flaming globes, and other meteors. My teacher had himself become blind of one eye by these exercises."
Another said: “I was ordered to keep awake most of the night, striving not to think of any thing at all. I was
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instructed to hold my breath as long as nature could possibly endure it. Once at midday, I found myself surrounded by thick darkness ; at another time, I saw a very clear moon that appeared to move. My master congratulated me upon my progress, and prescribed more painful exertions. But I became fatigued, and returned to my former mode of life.”
One of those hermit-schools in the forest, where pilgrims resorted, and saints served their noviciate, is thus described in the ancient poem Mahabharata, believed to have been written more than a thousand years before Christ :-"The king advanced toward the sacred grove, image of celestial regions. The river was filled with pilgrims, while the air resounded with voices of pious men repeating portions of the sacred writings. Followed by his minister of state and his grand priest, he advanced toward the hermitage, animated with desire to see the holy man, inexhaustible treasure of religious knowledge. He heard mysterious sentences, extracts from the Vedas, pronounced with rhyth. mical cadence by priests most learned in sacred maxims and religious ceremonies. This place was radiant with glory from the presence of a certain number of Bramins skilful in the preparation of sacrifices; while others of exemplary life chanted portions of the Vedas. All were men of cultivated intelligence and imposing exterior; men who possessed the principles of morality, and the science of the cultivation of the soul; men skilful to reconoile sacred texts, which do not agree together; men versed in grammar, poetry, logic, and chronology; men who understood causes and effects, who had penetrated the essence of matter, of movement, and of quality; who had studied the language of birds and bees [for omens]; who reposed their faith upon the works of Vyasa, and offered models of study from books of sacred origin. These places resemble the dwelling of Brahma."
The most ancient writings of the Hindoos teach the immortality of the soul, and its transmigration through various forms of being. Man is taught to consider the numerous evils which afflict him in this life as the inevitable consequences of sins committed, either in his present form of existence, or in some previous state. He was sent into the world again to expiate them by penances and good works. The duties of his caste are a portion of his penance, and if he performs them faithfully, he will have a certain degree of reward thereunto belonging. If he accomplishes meritorious works in addition to these, his account will stand still more favourably, and when he is born into the world again, it may be into a higher caste. If he commits sins, instead of performing duties, he must make haste to expiate them by painful pedances here, lest he receive the appropriate punishment in hell, and when that is finished, his soul be sent back to earth, to dwell in a lower caste or a barbarian nation, perhaps even in the form of a woman or an animal. The highest Bramin may gradually sink himself lower and lower, by sins and neglect of duty, until he is condemned to reappear in the world as a Pariah, or a reptile. But the desired good can be attained sooner or later by all, though it may be through manifold progressive changes. If the Soodra performs faithfully the duties of his station, he may return to earth as a Vaisya. If he fulfil this mission conscientiously, and adds meritorious works according to his knowledge, his soul may enjoy Paradise for a season, and when the recompense is completed, he may perhaps be born into the favoured caste of Bramins, bringing with him the accumulated wisdom and goodness acquired by his past experiences on earth or in Paradise. The Soodra, thus elevated to a Bramin, may finally, by annihilating his senses, and devoting himself entirely to religious contemplation, attain to complete absorption into the Universal Soul, and enjoy immortal beatitude, without any further necessity of submitting to birth or death.
One of their sacred poems represents the Supreme Being as saying: "Those who seek refuge near me shall not perish. Though they be born of ignoble parents, though they be women, or Vaisyas, or Soodras, they are upon the road to
supreme felicity; much more the pure Bramins and pious royal sages."
They believe that every man is accompanied from birth to death by two attendant Spirits, one of whom keeps record of his good actions, the other of his sins. That within the external mortal body is a subtile invisible body, the seat of the spiritual faculties, the mediator between the soul and the senses. At death, this interior body is not laid aside with the material form. It accompanies the human soul through all its transmigrations, until the soul is finally absorbed into the Supreme Being, from whom it emanated. This invisible interior body, after successive sojourns on earth, in paradise, or hell, for ages, is finally cast off by the soul's complete absorption into Brahm.
Then the spiritual body returns to be again born on earth, and the organization of the external body it takes depends on the character of the soul it had previously accompanied. It is a common assertion among Hindoos that “Brahma inscribes the destiny of every mortal on his scull, and the gods themselves cannot avert it.”
However, man is not entirely a passive machine in the hands of fate. Various spiritual influences act upon him while he is in the body. Some will lead him into the illusions of the passions, some into the shadows of ig. norance and lethargy, and some to the calm regions of truth and virtue. By resolute efforts, they say, man can turn away from the shadows and illusions, and follow the real and unchangeable.
The Sacred Books describe fourteen spheres, the abodes of souls, many of whom have fallen from their original glory, and are returning to their primeval home, more or less slowly, through manifold transmigrations. This earth is one of the scenes of expiation and progress. It has six spheres above it, successive gradations of Paradise, and seven spheres below it, successive gradations of punishment, for purposes of purification. These abodes are dreary and dark, each more horrible than the other. In some, the ground is composed of deep mud, in others it is made of
are the of liquid witable are tmins are to iron; and despis downwarcil Spirits Cher
kot copper, or planted thick with thorns, or crowded with venomous reptiles, such as serpents and vipers. The cruel are to be tormented by snakes; drunkards thrown into baths of liquid fire ; seducers embraced by images of red-hot iron; the inhospitable are to have their eyes torn out by vultures; and despisers of Bramins are to stick fast in filthy mire with their heads downward. The seventh and deepest pit is of red-hot charcoal. Evil Spirits come up thence to receive the souls of wicked men. When souls come into the presence of Yama, Judge of the Dead, two attendants place before him the records of their lives; one of which enumerates their good deeds, the other their sins. If wicked thoughts and actions predominate, Yama delivers the trembling souls to Evil Spirits with orders to scourge them, or drag them over rocky paths, or expose them to be torn by awful beasts, or gnawed by fiery worms, or plunged into pits of flame. These abodes of suffering are always described as situated in the South, and the blessed regions in the North.
The first sphere above this earth is the Paradise of Indra, appropriated to those who have been charitable to the poor and zealous in the performance of religious ceremonies. Aboye this, are successive ascending spheres, for men of greater and greater degrees of holiness. Those who have died martyrs for religion, or performed very extraordinary acts of piety, inhabit the Paradise of Vishnu, in the fifth sphere. The sixth and highest is the Paradise of Brahma, reserved for men who never uttered a falsehood, and for women who burn themselves on the funeral pile of their husbands, a voluntary self-sacrifice, to expiate the sins of the deceased.
Indra's Paradise is more frequently described than the higher ones, perhaps because it is more generally hoped for, being attained by the easiest process. His resplendent palace, called Vaijayanta, is in the midst of blooming gardens, where grows the celestial fruit Amrita, which confers immortality on whoever tastes it. Ever-playing fountains preserve perpetual verdure. There is Camada, the cow of