Page images
PDF
EPUB

low, with a coronet on his head, containing a jewel of inestimable value. He is adorned with garlands of flowers, and rich strings of pearls. He is the favourite deity of Hindoo women, who are enamoured with the accounts of his beauty and tenderness of heart. Throughout India, he is worshipped with enthusiastic devotion. He is believed to have been Vishnu himself, perfectly and entirely incarnated in a human form; whereas other avatars were only endowed with portions of his divinity. They ascribe to him all the wisdom and power of the Supreme Creator and Ruler of the Universe.

In the Bhagavat Geeta, Crishna is represented as saying to his friend and disciple Arjun: “Both thou and I have passed through many births. Mine are known unto me, but thou knowest not of thine. Although I am not in my nature subject to birth or decay, and am the Lord of all created beings, yet having command over my own nature, I am made evident by my own power; and as often as there is a decline of virtue, and an insurrection of vice and injustice in the world, I make myself evident. Thus I appear from age to age, for the preservation of the just, the destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of virtue."

“I am the creation and the dissolution of the whole universe. There is nothing greater than I. All things hang on me, even as precious gems on a string. I am moisture in the water, light in the sun and moon, inspiration in the Vedas, sound in the atmosphere, fragrance in the earth, human nature in mankind, glory in the source of light. I am all things; I am Life. I am the eternal seed of all nature. I am the understanding of the wise, the glory of the great, the strength of the strong. I am free from lust and anger; and in animals I am desire, regu. lated by moral fitness."

“He who adores with sincere faith any object whatsoever, infallibly obtains from me the object of his belief. Firm in his faith, he seeks by his own means such or such a favour, and I grant the object of his desires. Worshippers VOL. I.-7

D

of the inferior Deities are with the inferior Deities; worshippers of the souls of their ancestors are with the souls of their ancestors; they who sacrifice to Spirits are with those Spirits. But these fruits, sought by men but little endowed with science, are limited in their duration. Those who worship the inferior Deities with faith, worship me also; but not in the true manner. I enjoy their sacrifices. I am the Lord to whom return all the works of religion. But they do not know me according to the truth ; therefore they fall back into the world of mortals. The ignorant believe me visible, whilst I am invisible. They do not know my superior, imperishable nature. I am animated with equal benevolence toward all beings. I know neither hatred nor predilection. But those who adore me devoutly are in me, and I in them. Even he who has led a bad life, if he adores me without adoring any other thing, is to be reputed virtuous. It is entirely accomplished. He will immediately have a just soul, and obtain eternal tranquillity. Have faith in me. No one who worships me can perish. Forgetting all other duties, address thyself to me as the only asylum. I will deliver thee from all sin."

The same book declares: “Crishna is at all times present everywhere; just as fire, though concealed, is always present in wood. Whoever is night and day thinking of him becomes exalted above all the three worlds. Whoever, at the moment of expiring, shall retain him in remembrance, will infallibly be thrice blessed."

Hindoo Sacred Writings abound with allusions to an age of innocence and bliss, long passed away, and prophesy an age of holiness and happiness, that will come at the end of all things. Strabo, the Greek geographer, records that

philosopher, named Onesicritus, was sent into India, by Alexander the Great, to learn the doctrines and mode of life of the hermit sages in that region. He found a Bra- . min, named Calanus, who taught him that in the beginning of the world, milk, wine, honey and oil flowed spontaneously from fountains, and peace and plenty reigned over all nature. But men having made bad use of this felicity,

the Creator deprived them of it, and condemned them to labour for subsistence.

In consequence of the disorders produced by Evil Spirits, leagued with men, Vishnu was obliged to appear on earth, at various epochs, in different forms; as a fish, a lion, a dwarf, and holy sages among men. His eighth incarnation in Crishna was the most perfect that has yet been; but more glorious still will be his tenth and last avatar. Their Sacred Books declare that in the last days, when the fixed stars have all apparently returned to the point whence they started, at the beginning of all things, in the month Scorpio, Vishnu will appear among mortals, in the form of an armed warrior, riding a winged white horse. In one hand, he will carry a scimetar, “ blazing like a comet," to destroy all the impure, who shall then dwell on the face of the earth. In the other hand, he will carry a large shining ring, to signify that the great circle of Yugs, or Ages, is completed, and that the end has come.

At his approach, the sun and moon will be darkened, the earth will tremble, and the stars fall from the firmament. The great serpent Seshanaga will pour forth flames from his thousand mouths, which will set the universe on fire, consume the spheres, and all living creatures. The white horse is represented as standing with one foot raised. When he stamps it upon the earth, it is predicted that the dissolution of nature will take place. Some Oriental scholars consider this as an astronomical allegory; a white horse being the uni. versal symbol of the sun among ancient nations.

A Sacred Book, called the Barta Shastra, contains the following prophecy: “At the end of the Cali Yug, a Bramin will be born, who will understand the Divine Writings, and all the sciences, without spending any more time to learn them than is sufficient to pronounce a single word. They will give him a name signifying He who excellently understands all things. By conversing with those of his own race, he will purge the earth of sinners; a thing impossible to any other than himself. He will cause justice and truth to reign everywhere, and will subject the universe to the Bramins. When he becomes old, he will retire into the desert and suffer penance. He will confirm the Bramins in virtue and truth, and keep the four castes within the bounds prescribed by Sacred Laws. Then will the First Age return again. All the virtues will march in the train of truth ; and the Light of the Divine Writings will be diffused everywhere. The earth will be inebriated with prosperity and gladness, and all people enjoy ineffable delights."

So strongly is this hope of a blissful future impressed on the minds of the people, that they commemorate the prophecy by a festival, during which they sacrifice a sheep, and repeat, with a loud voice: “When will the Helper come? When will the Deliverer appear ?"

The more spiritual portion of the Vedas represent absorption in God as the great end and aim of all human exertions; and this absorption is to be attained by pure life, devout contemplation, and a complete withdrawal of the senses from all outward things. It attaches little value to works in themselves, and none at all, unless performed with purity of intention, and a heart devoted to God.

But the less spiritual portion of the Vedas prescribe many works and ceremonies, and promises appropriate rewards in Paradise for each; though it represents as unwise those who prefer such rewards to the eternal beatitude gained by pious sages. It is said :-"For a spirit selfinterested as thine, there is no other means of salvation than the observance of rites. Continue to practise them as long as you feel a desire to enjoy the rewards they can procure. It is the way to obtain the recompense you expect for your works."

These two aspects of the Vedas produced theological schools of opposite tendency. The word karma, in the sig. nification of which they include words and thoughts as well as works of the body, has given rise to endless disputations. A sect founded by Djaimini is called Parva; sometimes Karma Mimansa, or Investigators of the doctrine of Works, because they occupy themselves much with proring, both from reason and the Vedas, the efficacy of the works and ceremonies of religion. Their teachers define with great exactness how these works ought to be performed, and what degree of reward must follow each, by inevitable necessity. They present religion like a sum in arithmetic; so many merits subtracted from so many faults, and so much of punishment still remains due. This sect not only allows the killing of animals for food, but prescribes it, provided a portion be first offered to the gods. They elevate the worship of the symbolical deities to great importance, and thus express the popular tendency to Polytheism, or the worship of many distinct gods, rather than Pantheism, or the worship of all things in One God. Some of this sect consider works of expiation as efficacious only in cases of involuntary sins; others think the testimony of the Vedas prove them to be effectual in case of those that are voluntary.

An extreme reaction from this tendency to overvalue works, and overload religion with ceremonies, exists in the mystical sect called Vedantins, said to be founded by Vyasa, collector of the Vedas. In common with all Hindoos, they prescribe penances as aids to holiness, such as painful postures, holding the breath while repeating Om, &c. But they discountenance those terrible bodily inflictions, to which the popular mind of Hindostan is so exceedingly prone, and dwell more on the force of will, by which a holy man subdues his passions and directs his thoughts. They represent the worship of the symbolical deities as useful for those who cannot rise above it; but speak almost disdainfully of those who consider pleasure and power, and the joys of Paradise, a desirable recompense for their multitude of works. Their favourite theme is the surpassing excellence and supreme beatitude of that state of absorption, in which the soul of man floats serenely above all desire for reward, all reliance upon works, all necessity of instruction from the Vedas.

This spiritual reaction was inevitably produced by the popular tendency to bury religious feeling under a mass of

Vol. I.-7*

« PreviousContinue »