Page images

tion. So we agreed to treat as Sacred Books all those which had been formally recognised by religious communities as constituting the highest authority in matters of religion, which had received a kind of canonical sanction, and might therefore be appealed to for deciding any disputed points of faith, morality, or ceremonial.

We should not treat the Homeric poems, for instance, as Sacred Books, because, though Herodotus tells us that Homer and Hesiod made the gods of the Greeks—whatever that may mean—neither the Odyssey nor the Iliad was ever intended to teach religion. There are many books which have exercised a far greater influence on religious faith and moral conduct than the Bibles of the world. Such are, for instance, the Imitatio Christi by Thomas à Kempis, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Dante's Divina Comediu, or in Southern India the Kural. But none of these works received any canonical sanction; their doctrines were not binding, and might be accepted or rejected without peril.

The Five Birthplaces of Sacred Books. There are five countries only which have been the birthplace of Sacred Books: (1) India, (2) Persia, (3) China, (4) Palestine, (5) Arabia.

Survey of Sacred Books. I can do no more to-day than give you a very short account of the Sacred Books of the East. I may hope that by this time no one will ask what some thirty years ago an eminent London publisher asked Professor Wilson, when he offered him a translation of the Rig-veda. “And pray, Sir,' he said, " What is the Rig-veda ?' The collection of translations of the Sacred Books of the East, which through the liberal patronage of the Indian Government and the University of Oxford I have been enabled to publish during the last twelve years amounts now to thirty-six volumes.

It seems a long list, and yet it is only a beginning, though I trust that the next generation will carry on the work, and thus render the religious thoughts of the ancient world more and more accessible and intelligible to all who care for the sacred records of Natural Religion—for the Bibles of the whole human race.

India. India holds no doubt the foremost rank as the mother of four great religions, each with its own code of sacred writings.

The Veda. We have in India, first of all, the Vedic religion, the most ancient faith of the Aryan race of which we have any literary records.

Its records have been preserved to us in four collections of sacred poetry (mantras), called the Rig-vedasamhitâ, the Yagur-veda-samhitâ, in two texts, the mixed (Taittirîya) and the unmixed (Vâgasaneyi), the Sâma-veda-samhitâ, and the Atharva-veda-samhitâ. The most important by far is the Rig-veda-samhitâ, the original collection of sacred hymns, as preserved in different Brahmanic families. The Yagur-veda and Sâma-veda-sam hitâs are collections made for liturgical purposes. The Atharva-veda contains, besides large portions taken from the Rig-veda, some curious remnants of popular and magical poetry. These deserve

more attention, particularly from the students of folk-lore, than they have hitherto received.

Next to these collections of ancient poetry, and representing a later and far more advanced period, come the Brâhmanas, all written in archaic prose, and teaching everything connected with the performance of the ancient Vedic sacrifices. The more important are the Aitareya and Kaushîtaki-brâhmana for the Rig-veda, the Taittirîya and Satapatha for the two Yagur-vedas, the Tândya for the Sâma-veda, the Gopatha for the Atharva-veda.

The Aranyakas or Forest-books form part of the Brâhmanas, and contained originally the famous Upanishads, the philosophical treatises on which the Vedânta philosophy was founded.

The latest productions of the Vedic period are the Sútras, concise treatises on sacrifices, customs, laws, also on grammar, metre, etc.?

The periods which succeed the Vedic in the history of the Brahmanic religion are of much smaller interest to us. They can be studied in the two epic poems, the Mahâbhârata and Râmâyana, in the later Law-books, the six systems of philosophy, and the Purâ nas.

The Vedic religion seems to have ruled supreme from 1500 B. C. (if not earlier) to about 500 B.C.

Buddhism. At that time a reaction took place against the exclusive claims of the Vedic faith and its privileged representatives, and out of numerous dissenting

For fuller information see M. M., History of Ancient Sanskrit


schools, three acquired political importance and historical permanence : (1) Southern Buddhism, (2) Northern Buddhism, or, more correctly, Bodhism, and (3) Gainism.

Each of these religions is represented by a large body of sacred literature :

Southern Buddhism has to be studied in the famous Tripitaka ?, the three baskets or collections, as they are called, (1) the Vinaya-Pitaka, the book of discipline ; (2) the Sutta-Pitaka, the book of sermons; (3) Abhidhamma-Pitaka, the book of metaphysics ? ;

Northern Buddhism has for its sacred books the Nine Dharmas 3; and

Gainism the Siddhânta, consisting of the forty-five Âgamas 4.

Specimens of each of these canons can be found translated in the Sacred Books of the East.

Influence of the Kshatriyas, the Nobility. It is important to observe that the founder of Southern Buddhism and the founder of Gainism both belonged to the second caste, the aristocracy or nobility of India, not to the priestly caste of the Brâhmans, who had hitherto enjoyed the exclusive privilege of religious teaching and of performing sacrificial acts. The founder of Buddhism was a prince, or, at all events, a nobleman, who lived about 500 B.C.; and so was Mahâvîra, the son of Siddhârtha of Kundagrâma (Kotîggâma), the founder of Gainism, his contemporary. He is mentioned in the Buddhists' canon by the name of Nigantha Nâta-putta, i.e. the Nirgrantha of the Gñâtrika clan. Buddha means the Awakened or Enlightened, Gina, the conqueror, a name applied to Buddha also. Their systems share much in common, but they are kept apart both in doctrine and in ethics. The followers of the Gina number at present half a million only, those of the Buddha, who may be called the Southern Buddhists, are estimated at about 29 millions.

i See M. M., Selected Essays, ii. p. 177 ; Rhys Davids, Buddhism, p. 18; Hardy, Eastern Monachism, p. 166.

2 They were reduced to writing during the reign of Vatta Gâmani, who reigned from 88 B.C., but the canon had been closed at the second council in 377 B.C.

3 M. M., Selected Essays, ii. p. 183.

4 These 45 Âgamas consist of the 11 Angas, 12 Upångas, 10 Pakinnakas, 6 Khedas, 4 Mûlasûtras, and two other books. See Jacobi, Bhadrabâhu's Kalpa-sûtra, 1879; Gaina-sûtras, in Sacred Books of the East, vol. xxii. The sacred canon or Siddhanta was not reduced to writing and collected before 454 (467) or 514 (527) A. D., by Devarddhi Ganin ; but the canon is supposed to have been closed in the third century B.C. ; see S. B. E., vol. xxii. p. xliii.

The name of the founder of Northern Buddhism is not known, and we shall probably be not far wrong in looking on this branch of Buddhism as a combination of Buddhist doctrines, then prevalent in Northern India, with religious and philosophical ideas imported into the country about the beginning of the Christian era by its Turanian conquerors, the IndoScythian races, under Huvishka, Kanishka 1, and other semi-barbarous sovereigns. The number of these Northern Buddhists is estimated at 470 millions 2.

So much for India, as the mother of four religions, to say nothing of its smaller offspring, the religion of the Sikhs, and many other still living sects.

Media and Persia. In a wider sense India, or, at all events, the Aryan conquerors of India, may even claim some share in

Kanishka convoked the famous council under Vasubandhu, as president.

2 Selected Essays, ii. p. 230.

« PreviousContinue »