Page images

abundance, the sacred horse Sajam, and the wbite elephant Airavata. Indra and his wife are seated on a throne of gold, blazing with gems. They are surrounded by Spirits of Singing Stars, called Gandbarvas, and by the Genii of Musical Instruments, called Ginarers, who make celestial harmony with the voices of dancing nymphs, called Asparas; and as they sing, the air is perfumed with their fragrant breath. They mingle together in dances, and delight the eye with graceful evolutions.

Kalaisa, the palace of Siva, is on a silver mountain above the lofty peaks of Himalaya. “It is surrounded by an infinite variety of trees, which yield delicious fruit all the year round. Roses and other flowers fill the air with fragrance. The lake at the foot of the mountain is enclosed with pleasant groves of umbrageous trees. Peacocks and beautiful women delight the eye, and birds charm the ear with multifarious melody. The surrounding woods are filled with saints, who spend their time in contemplation and sacrifices to the gods. They are fair to look upon, with long white beards and graceful drapery. Round about the mountain are seven ladders, by which you ascend to a spacious plain, over which hangs a silver bell, self-sustained in the air, and a table too brilliant for mortal sight, with nine precious stones of various colours. Upon this table lies a silver rose, which contains two women, bright and fair as pearls. In the centre of the rose is the Sacred Triangle, that mysterious emblem, of which no mortal tongue may declare the significance."

The Mahabharata describes the Paradise of Vishnu as " eighty thousand miles in circumference, and formed of pure gold. The pillars of his palace, Vaicuntha, are entire gems; its architraves and pediments blaze with jewels. On a throne, radiant as the meridian sun, sits Vishnu, with his wife Lacshmi, reposing on lotus-blossoms. The goddess shines like a continued blaze of lightning, and her beautiful form exhales a fragrance which is diffused through Paradise. Lovely lakes surround the palace, and on their surface float myriads of red, blue, and white water-lilies. The praises of Brahma are continually chanted by beautiful spirits, and the gods sometimes unite their voices with the worshippers. Garuda, the eagle god, guards the door.”

The Hindoos, endowed by nature with keen susceptibility to pleasure, are eager to arrive at these paradisaical regions, where life is not for penance, and enjoyment is no sin. To obtain the promised rewards, they go through an immense number of religious ceremonies and severe penances. Almost every event of human life, and every portion of the day, has some prescribed prayer or sacrifice. They attribute an inherent value to acts of devotion, entirely independent of the spiritual state of those who perform them. If not accomplished exactly according to prescription, the desired effects will not follow. Even if this happen by some unavoidable accident, the reward will be lost, whatever might have been the purity of intention. But if the ceremony be performed strictly according to rule in every particular, the gods are unable to prevent the recompense thereunto belonging, however wicked the petitioner may be, or however bad his purpose in the power he wishes to acquire. An eternal necessity binds every act to its effect, which must manifest itself sooner or later. Their Sacred Books declare: “If fire is touched without thinking of fire, it burns him who touches it; poison will kill, though taken by accident; thus the name of God contains in itself essentially the virtue to consume sing." But each effort has its limited consequences, and can receive no more than belongs to it. When two giants asked Brahma for immortality, as a reward for terrible self-inflictions, he replied: "Your object in undertaking these penitential enterprises was to rule over three worlds. You have secured that object; but immortality cannot be granted you."

The three attributes of Brahm, called Brahma, Vishnų, and Siva, are indicated by letters corresponding to our A. U. M., generally pronounced Om. This mystic Word is never uttered except in prayer, and the sign which represents it in their temples is an object of profound adoration. Their

Vol. I. 3*

Sacred Books declare it to be the first Word uttered by Brahma, and call it " the first-born of the Creator.” “Like the pure ether, it encloses in itself all the qualities, all the elements of Brahma. It is the name and the body of Brahma. It is consequently infinite, like him, and is the Creator and Ruler of all things.” “Brahma, meditating upon this Divine Word, found therein primitive water." "All ordained rites, such as oblation to fire, and solemn offerings, pass away; but A. U. M. passes not away; since it is a symbol of the Most High, the Lord of all created things." In the Sacred Books called Vedas, The Word utters a soliloquy, in which he praises himself as "the Universal Soul.”

There is likewise a prayer in the Vedas, called Gayatree, which consists of three measured lines, and is considered the holiest and most efficacious of all their religious forms. Sir William Jones translates it thus: “Let us adore the supremacy of that Spiritual Sun, the godhead, who illuminates all, who re-creates all, from whom all proceed, to whom all must return; whom we invoke to direct our undertakings aright in our progress toward his holy seat.” He gives the following paraphrase as expressive of the meaning it conveys to a devout Hindoo: “What the sun and light are to this visible world, the Supreme good and truth are to the intellectual and invisible universe; and as our corporeal eyes have a distinct perception of objects enlightened by the sun, thus our souls acquire certain knowledge, by meditating on the light of truth, which emanates from the Being of beings. That is the light, by which alone our minds can be directed in the path of beatitude.” One of the celebrated Hindoo saints thus expounds the Gayatree: “We meditate on the Supreme, Omnipresent, Internal Spirit of this splendid sun, who is earnestly sought for by such as dread further mortal birth; who resides in every body, as the all-pervading soul and controller of the mind, and constantly directs our intellect toward the acquisition of virtue, wealth, physical enjoy. ment, and final beatitude."

" whoever lobtain bliss ineditate on him was observances.

shall ap them every ng to their have been

This prayer should be pronounced with Om at the beginning, and Om at the end. If omitted at the beginning, the desired reward will fail; if at the end, the reward will be of short duration. Their commentators affirm that “whoever repeats these once, or ten times, or a hundred times, shall obtain bliss in a proportionate degree. After the repetition let him meditate on him who is One only, and all-pervading; thereby all religious observances, though not performed, shall have been virtually performed." According to their Sacred Books, “whoever repeats them every day for three years, without negligence, shall approach the Most High God, become free as air, and after death acquire an ethereal essence." This form of worship is deemed so holy that it shocks a Bramin to hear it uttered by a foreigner, or one of inferior caste. An English gentleman, who had learned the Gayatree in Sanscrit, began to repeat it, unconscious of doing harm, in the presence of a pious Bramin, who, with terrified aspect, instantly stopped his ears, and hurried from the room. No people in the world manifest greater veneration for religious subjects than the Hindoos. A learned Bramin, reading a sacred poem to Sir William Jones, omitted the portions relating to Brabma, because it was deemed profanation to make them known to any but priests; and so sincere were his devout feelings, that his voice was often interrupted by tears:

The most ancient and honoured of all their Sacred Books are the Vedas; a name signifying Laws, or Ordinances, and derived from a root meaning Light, Fire. They be. lieve them to have existed in the mind of Brahma himself, before the creation, and that the first man received them directly from his mouth. They are divided into four books, called the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda, and the Atharva Veda. Portions of the last contain fewer obsolete terms than the other volumes, and are therefore supposed to be less ancient. Few, even of the most learned Bramins, can read all passages in the three oldest Vedas. Copies of the original manuscripts are now

exceedingly scarce. Numerous commentaries have been written upon them, from time immemorial, called Shas. tras; a common designation for all their Sacred Writings.

The Vedas are written in Sanscrit, which means The Perfect; it is likewise called Deva Nagara, or the Divine Language. Scholars pronounce it the most copious and excellent of all the ancient tongues; and this fact is a plain indication that it was formed by a people considerably advanced in civilization, who had many ideas to express. But its origin extends too far back into the darkness of antiquity to be traced by history. The people who spoke it passed away from the face of the earth such a very long time ago, that it has been a dead language beyond the memory or the records of man. The knowledge of it was confined to learned Bramins, until it attracted the attention and employed the industry of European scholars, in the last century.

The Hindoos believe that the Vedas are as old as the creation of the world. Learned Bramins profess to find traces of their existence as far back as two hundred and sixty years after our date of the Deluge; that is, two thou. sand and eighty-eight years before the Christian era. Sir William Jones says: “That the Vedas were actually written before the Flood, I shall never believe; but they are very ancient, and far older than other Sanscrit compositions.” He thinks the Yajur Veda can be traced as far as one thousand five hundred and eighty years before Christ; that is, one hundred years before the birth of Moses. He arrived at this conclusion from certain astronomical statements therein contained. The learned Heeren says : “ There is no reliable data by which to ascertain the precise period, either when the separate parts were written, or when they were arranged in their present order. Their origin is involved in deepest obscurity. They are without doubt the oldest works composed in Sanscrit. This is sufficiently attested by the obsolete idiom in which they are written. Another proof is derived from the fact that all the Sanscrit writings, even the most ancient, allude to the

« PreviousContinue »