« PreviousContinue »
There is a set of less ancient Sacred Books, called Pou. ranas, which means Old Legends. They consist principally of traditions concerning gods and men; such as the history of the Deluge, of their holy city Benares, the adventures of Siva, and the various incarnations of Vishnu. These books form the basis of modern popular theology in India. They have nearly superseded the Vedas, and being far less spiritual, they indicate the degeneracy which they have rapidly hastened. Sir William Jones gives a list of eighteen; believed to have been composed by holy men, who, through devout contemplation and self-annihilating practices, received inspiration directly from the Divine Source. They contain internal evidence of being written at different epochs, but there are no means of arriving at correct dates. Oriental scholars suppose they were not collected together until after the time of Alexander the Great, who was born three hundred and fifty-six years before Christ. Some of them ascribe more honour to Vishnu, others to Siva, whose adventures are described with the wildest range of imagination. The ancient doctrine of One Invisible God is almost entirely lost sight of. Large portions of them are filled with rules for external ceremonies; but in some of the dialogues such questions as these are started :
"What are the Three Principal Powers? How came Brahma into existence? How did he create the world? How is the soul united to the body? How is it absorbed into the Godhead? What are the various forms assumed by Vishnu? What is holiness? What are good works? What is the object of all these things ?”
Father Bouchet, in his “Letters from Hindostan," quotes the following account from one of the Pouranas:
“ The inferior Spirits, who, ever since creation, have been multiplying themselves almost to infinity, did not at first enjoy the privilege of immortality. After numberless efforts to procure it, they had recourse to a Tree, which grew in Paradise, and by eating its fruit they became immortal. A Serpent, called Chien, appointed to guard the Tree of
Life, was so exasperated by their proceedings, that he poured out a great quantity of poison. The whole earth felt the terrible effects of it; and not one mortal would have escaped, had not the god Chiven taken pity on the human race, revealed himself under the shape of a man, and swallowed the poison.” In their old sacred places, this tradition is commemorated by representations of a Tree, a Serpent, and human figures eating of the fruit.
Menu Satyavrata, author of the Code of Menu, is repreresented as a saint who attained to such extreme spirituality, that he subsisted entirely on water. The following account of his escape from the Deluge is taken from the Bhagavat Geeta:"One day, when Brahma was inclined to slumber, the giant demon Hayagriva stole the four Vedas, swallowed them, and concealed himself in the sea. Vishnu, the Pervader and Preserver of the Universe, discovered the deed, and, assuming the shape of a small fish, he appeared to Menu. The saint recognized him to be an incarnated divinity by his immense growth in a few days. Suspecting him to be Vishnu, he thus addressed him:10 thou Lotus-eyed, let me not approach in vain the feet of a deity, whose perfect benevolence has been extended to all, when, to our amazement, thou hast shown thyself in bodies, not indeed existing in reality, but successively exhibited.'
"The Lord of the Universe, loving the holy man, and intending to preserve him from the sea of destruction, caused by the wickedness of the age, thus addressed him: 'O thou tamer of enemies, in seven days from this time, the three worlds will be plunged in an ocean of death. But in the midst of the destroying waves, a large vessel, sent by me for thy use, shall stand before thee. Then shalt thou take all medicinal herbs, all variety of seeds, and accompanied by seven saints, with your respective wives, encircled by pairs of all brute animals, thou shalt enter the capacious ship, and continue in it, on an immense ocean, secure from the flood, and without light, except from the radiance of thy holy companions. When the ship shall be agitated by impetuous winds, thou shalt fasten it with a large seaserpent to my horn; for I will be near thee. Menu Satyavrata complied with these directions; and the Primeval Male (Brabma), speaking aloud to his own Divine Essence, pronounced for the instruction of Menu a Sacred History, explaining the principle of the soul and of external being. Vishnu then slew the demon, and recovered the Sacred Books. But the appearance of the horned fish was an illusion."
The ancient temples of Hindostan contain representations of Vishnu sustaining the earth while overwhelmed with the waters of the Deluge and convulsed by demons. A rainbow is seen on the surface of the subsiding waters.
The following is translated from the Padma Pourana:"To Menu Satyavrata, that sovereign of the whole earth, were born three sons. The oldest was Sherma, then Charma, then Jyapeti. They were all men of good morals, excellent in virtuous deeds, skilled in the use of weapons, either to strike with, or be thrown, brave men, eager for victory in battle. But Satyavrata, being continually delighted with devout meditation, and seeing his sons fit for dominion, laid upon them the burden of government, whilst he remained honouring and satisfying the gods, and priests, and kine. One day, by the act of destiny, the king, having drunk mead, became senseless and lay asleep naked. Thus was he seen by Charma, and by him were his two brothers called. To whom he said: "What now has befallen? In what state is this our sire ?' By those two was he hidden with clothes, and called to his senses again and again. Having recovered his intellect, and perfectly knowing what had passed, he cursed Charma, saying: “Thou shalt be the servant of servants; and since thou wast a laughter in their presence, from laughter shalt thou acquire a name.' Then he gave to Sherma the wide domain on the south of the snowy mountains; and to Jyapeti he gave all on the north of the snowy mountains. But he himself, by the power of religious contemplation, attained supreme bliss.”
One of the Pouranas contains the following description
of the wedding between Siva the Generator, and Parvati, Goddess of Enchantments. It is probably a poetical allegory, to commemorate the beautiful phenomena of Nature's renovation in the Spring. “All the inhabitants of the celestial regions were summoned to arrange the ceremonials of marriage between Siva and Parvati. First came Brahma, mounted on his swan; next, Vishnu, riding his eagle. The rivers Ganges and Jumna, and the seven seas; the Gandharvas, and the Asparas; Vasooke, and other serpents; all ornamented with superb chains and ceremonial dresses, in obedience to the commands of Siva, were to be seen in the glittering cavalcade. Siva set out from the mountain Kailasa with the utmost pomp and splendour. His third eye flamed like the sun, and the crescent on his forehead assumed the form of a radiated diadem. His snakes were exchanged for chains of pearls and rubies, his ashes for sandal-wood and perfumes, and his elephant's skin for a silken robe. The Gandharvas and the Asparas joined in melodious songs, and the Ginarers with the magic of their musical instruments. Nature assumed the appearance of renovated youth; the earth exulted with acclamations of glory and triumph; fresh moisture invigorated the withered victims of time ; a thousand happy and animating conceptions inspired the hearts of the intelligent, and enlightened the wisdom of the thoughtful; the kingdom of external forms obtained gladness; the world of intellect acquired brightness. The dwellers upon earth filled the casket of their ideas with jewels of delight, and reverend pilgrims exchanged their rosaries for pearls. The joy of those on earth ascended up to heaven; and the tree of bliss in heaven extended its branches downward to the earth. The eyes of the gods flamed like torches at sight of this enrapturing scene, and the hearts of the just kindled like touchwood while they listened to the ravishing symphonies. Siva set off like a garden in full bloom, and Paradise was eclipsed by his procession."
In relation to the amours of the gods, the Pouranas say: " Adultery is a sin against the laws established in our societies; but Divine Beings are not subject to our laws of convenience. The incomprehensible views of God ought not to be confounded with those of men. There are ac. tions of which the end is unknown, which would be criminal for us, but would not be so for either gods or saints ; for holiness, like fire, purifies all things."
The episode from the Mahabharata, called BhagavatGeeta, forms one volume of the Pouranas. It is more beautiful in style, and more spiritual in its teaching, than any of the others. According to the triple division of duties common among Hindoos, it prescribes three kinds of penance. “Penance of the body, to be chaste, and free from all offences ; penance of words, to speak always with kindness and truth, and to read the Sacred Books diligently; penance of thoughts, to subdue one's self, to purify the soul, to be silent, and disposed to benevolence."
“ To practise penance to obtain dignity or fame, or to give one's self an air of sanctity, is a penance little worth, and has its source in inferior influences on the soul. Penances performed by a man attached to foolish doctrines, or those which consist in self-torment, or those whose end is to do injury to another, these have their source in the region of shadows."
"God resides in the heart of all creatures."
“When thy spirit shall have become perfectly free from the labyrinths in which it is involved, then thou wilt arrive at indifference concerning the Vedas and the sacred traditions."
It is stated in the Pouranas that the Vedas were carried from India to Egypt, by a noble and blameless race of men, called Yadavas, who emigrated thither on account of the persecutions of a tyrant named Cansa; and that afterward a race of men called Pali, or Shepherds, went from India and conquered Egypt.
The idea that a dead uniformity of opinion prevails in Asiatic countries, is a mistake, originating in our ignorance of their internal history. There is certainly far less acti