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Oriental Religions and Christianity Part 5

Fifth, in Hinduism there is no liberty for the free action of the human spirit. Though the life of a Brahman is intensely religious, yet it is cramped with exactions which are not only abortive but positively belittling. The code of Brahmanism never deals with general principles in the regulation of conduct, but fills the whole course of life with punctilious minutiae of observances. Instead of prescribing, as Christ did, an all-comprehensive law of supreme love to God and love to our neighbor as ourselves, it loads the mind with petty exactions, puerile precepts, inane prohibitions. "Unlike Christianity, which is all spirit and life," says Dr. Duff, "Hinduism is all letter and death." Repression takes the place of inspiration and the encouragement of hope.

There are a thousand subtle principles in Hinduism whose influence is felt in society and in the state, and to which the faith and power of the Gospel present the very strongest contrasts. For example, while Christianity has raised woman to a position of respect and honor, and made her influence felt as something sacred and potential in the family and in all society, Hinduism has brought her down even from the place which she occupied among the primitive Aryans, to an ever-deepening degradation. It has made her life a burden and a curse. Pundita Ramabai, in her plea for high-caste Hindu women, quotes a prayer of a child widow in which she asks, "O Father of the world, hast Thou not created us? or has perchance some other God made us? Dost Thou only care for men? O Almighty One, hast Thou not power to make us other than we are, that we too may have some part in the blessings of life?" Even in this last decade of the nineteenth century the priesthood of Bengal are defending against all humane legislation those old customs which render the girlhood of Hindu women a living death.[70]

In its broad influence Christianity has raised the once savage tribes of Europe to the highest degree of culture, and made them leaders and rulers of the world; but Hinduism has so weakened and humbled the once conquering Aryans that they have long been an easy prey to every invading race. Christianity shows in its sacred Book a manifest progress from lower to higher moral standards--from the letter to the spirit, from the former sins that were winked at to the perfect example of Christ, from the narrow exclusiveness of Judaism to the broad and all-embracing spirit of the Gospel, from prophecy to fulfilment, from types and shadows to the full light of Redemption; the sacred books of Hinduism have degenerated from the lofty aspirations of the Vedic nature-worship to the vileness of Saktism, from the noble praises of Varuna to the low sensuality of the Tantras, from Vedic conceptions of the creation, sublime as the opening of St. John's Gospel, to the myths of the divine turtle or the boar, or the escapades of the supreme and "adorable Krishna."[71]

Christianity breaks down all barriers which divide and alienate mankind, and establishes a universal brotherhood in Christ; Hinduism has raised the most insurmountable barriers and developed the most inexorable social tyranny ever inflicted on the human race. The Hebrew economy also recognized a priestly class, but they were chosen from among their brethren and were only a distinct family; they made no claim to divine lineage, and they were guiltless of social tyranny.

Christianity enjoins a higher and purer ethic than it has ever found in the natural moral standards of any people; it aims at perfection; it treats the least infraction as a violation of the whole law; it regards even corrupt thoughts as sins; it bids us be holy even as He is holy in whose sight the heavens are unclean. Hinduism, on the other hand, is below the ethical standard of respectable Hindu society. The better classes are compelled to apologize for it by asserting that that which is debasing in men may be sinless in the gods. The offences of Krishna and Arjuna would not be condoned in mortals; the vile orgies of the "left-handed worshippers" of Siva would not be tolerated but for their religious character. The murders committed by the Thugs in honor of Kali were winked at only because a goddess demanded them. The naked processions of Chaitanya's followers would be dispersed by the police anywhere but in India.

It is the peculiar distinction of India that it has been the theatre of nearly all the great religions. Brahmanism, Buddhism, and Mohammedanism have all made trial of their social and political power and have failed.

Last of all came Christianity. The systems which preceded it had had centuries of opportunity; and yet Christianity has done more for the elevation of Hindu society in the last fifty years than they had accomplished in all the ages of their dominion. Neither Buddhism nor Mohammedanism had made any serious impression on caste; neither had been able to mitigate the wrongs which Brahmanism had heaped upon woman--Mohammedanism had rather increased them. The horrors of the satti and the murder of female infants--those bitterest fruits of priestly tyranny--were left unchecked until the British Government, inspired by missionary influence and a general Christian sentiment, branded them as infamous and made them crimes. But now even the native sentiment of the better classes in India is greatly changed by these higher influences, and the conventional morality is rising above the teachings of the national religion. Widow-burning and infanticide belong almost wholly to the past. Child-marriage is coming into disrepute, and caste, though not destroyed, is crippled, and its preposterous assumptions are falling before the march of social progress.

Perhaps the very highest tribute which Hinduism has paid to Christianity is seen in the fact that the modern Arya Somaj has borrowed its ethics and some of its religious doctrines, and is promulgating them under Vedic labels and upon Vedic authority.[72] It has renounced those corruptions of Hinduism which can no longer bear the light--such as enforced widowhood and the general oppression of woman. It denounces the incarnations of Vishnu as mere inventions, and therefore cuts up by the roots the whole Krishna cult and dissipates the glory of the Bhagavad Gita. It abhors polytheism, and not only proclaims the supremacy of one only true God, self-existent, the creator and upholder of all things, but it maintains that such was the teaching of the Vedas. But although this modern eclectic system adopts the whole ethical outcome of Christian civilization in India for its own purposes, it shows a most uncompromising hostility to Christianity. Though it claims to be positively theistic, it seems ready to enter into alliance with any form of atheism or agnosticism, Eastern or Western, against the spread of Christian influence in India.

In speaking of the movement of revived Aryanism I assume that with the more intelligent and progressive classes of India the old Hinduism is dead. Of course, millions of men still adhere to the old corruptions.

Millions in the remoter districts would retain the festival of Juggernaut, the hook-swinging, even infanticide and widow-burning, if they dared. The revolting orgies of Kali and Doorga, and the vilest forms of Siva worship, even the murderous rites of the Thugs, might be revived by the fanatical, if foreign influence were withdrawn; but, taking India as a whole, these things are coming to be discarded. The people are ashamed of them; they dare not undertake to defend them in the open day of the present civilization. All intelligent Hindus are persuaded to accept the situation, and look to the future instead of the past. The country is full of new influences which must be counted as factors. British rule is there, and is there to stay. Education has come--good, bad, and indifferent. English University training is bringing forward a host of acute thinkers of native blood. But the forces of Western infidelity are also there, grappling with Western Christianity on Indian soil, and before the eyes of the conquered and still sullen people. The vilest of English books and the worst of French novels in English translations are in the markets. All the worst phases of European commerce are exhibited. The opium monopoly, the liquor traffic, and all the means and methods of unscrupulous money-getting, with the wide-spread example of drinking habits, and unbounded luxury and extravagance.

And, in opinions, the war of aggression is no longer on one side only.

While the foreigner speaks and writes of superstition, of heathenism, of abominable rites now passing away, the native Hindu press is equally emphatic in its condemnation of what it calls the swinish indulgence of the Anglo-Saxon, his beer-drinking and his gluttony, his craze for money and material power, his disgust at philosophy and all intellectual aspiration, his half-savage love for the chase and the destruction of animal life. Educated Hindus throw back against the charge of idolatry our idolatry of pelf, which, as they claim, eclipses every other thought and aspiration, leads to dishonesty, over-reaching, and manifold crime, and sinks noble ethics to the low level of expediency or self-interest; the conquest is not yet won.

A hundred varieties of creed have sprung up beneath this banyan-tree which I have called Hinduism. There are worshippers of Vishnu, of Siva, of Kali, of Krishna as Bacchus, and of Krishna as the supreme and adorable God. There are Sikhs, and Jains, and Buddhists; Theosophists, Vedantic Philosophers, Mohammedans, Brahmos, Parsees, Evolutionists, and Agnostics; Devil-worshippers, and worshippers of ghosts and serpents; but in considering these as forces to be met by Christian influence, we must regard them all as in virtual alliance with each other. They are all one in pride of race and of venerable custom. They are all one in their hatred of foreign dominion, and of the arrogance and overbearing assumption of the European.[73]

The Hindu religions, therefore, however divided, and however weak and moribund they may be taken singly, find a real vitality in the union of common interests, in the sentiments of patriotism, in the pride of their philosophy, in the glory of their ancient history as the true and original Aryans, compared with whom Western nations are mere offshoots.

Their religious faith is mixed and involved with patriotism, politics, and race prejudice, and on the other hand Christianity in India is handicapped by political and commercial interest and a hated domination.

On both sides these combined influences must be considered in estimating the future issues of the great conflict. The question is not how Christianity and Hinduism would fare in a conflict pure and simple, unembarrassed by complications, but how Christianity with its drawbacks is likely to succeed against Hinduism with its manifold intrenchments.

But, while weighing well the obstacles, how great are the encouragements! What an auspicious fact that even a hostile organization has appropriated the Christian cultus bodily, and can find no better weapons than its blessed truths. Christianity is felt as a silent power, even though under other names. It is, after all, the leaven that is working all-powerfully in India to-day.

There was a period in the process of creation when light beamed dimly upon the earth, though the sun, its source, had not yet appeared. So through the present Hinduism there is a haze of Christian truth, though the Sun of Righteousness is not yet acknowledged as its source.

But the Spirit of God broods over the waters, and the true Light of the world will break on India.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 34: The fact that environment has to a certain extent affected the religions of mankind is entirely overworked, when men like Buckle make it formative and controlling.]

[Footnote 35: Instead of the later and universal pessimism, there was in the Vedic religion a simple but joyous sense of life.]

[Footnote 36: _Hinduism_, p. 31.]

[Footnote 37: _Chips from a German Workshop_, vol. i., p. 15.]

[Footnote 38: _Aryan Witness_, p. 204; also _Hinduism_, p. 36.]

[Footnote 39: Ibid., p. 37.]

[Footnote 40: A son of Hariscandra. _Hinduism_, p. 37.]

[Footnote 41: This is in strong contrast with the Old Testament precepts, which everywhere had greater respect to the heart of the offerer than to the gifts.]

[Footnote 42: The Brahmans had found certain grades of population marked by color lines, shaded off from the negroid aborigines to the Dravidians, and from them to the more recent and nobler Aryans, and they were prompt also to seize upon a mere poetic and fanciful expression found in the Rig Veda, which seemed to give countenance to their fourfold caste distinction by representing one class as having sprung from the head of Brahma, another from the shoulders, the third from his thighs, and a fourth from his feet. Altogether they founded a social system which has been the wonder of the ages, and which has given to the _Brahmans_ the prestige of celestial descent. The _Kshatreych_ or soldier caste stands next, and as it has furnished many military leaders and monarchs who disputed the arrogant claims of the Brahmans, conflicts of the upper castes have not been infrequent.

The _Vaishya_, or farmer caste, has furnished the principal groundwork of many admixtures and subdivisions, until at the present time there are endless subcastes, to each of which a particular kind of employment is assigned. The _Sudras_ are still the menials, but there are different grades of degradation even among them.]

[Footnote 43: _Hindu Philosophy_, Bose, p. 47.]

[Footnote 44: _Indian Wisdom_ on the Brahmanas and Upanishads. Also _Hindu Philosophy_, Bose.]

[Footnote 45: _Colebrook's Essays_, foot-note, p. 85.]

[Footnote 46: See _Introduction to the Sacred Books of the East_, vol. i.]

[Footnote 47: Vaiseshika Philosophy, in _Indian Wisdom_.]

[Footnote 48: Mimansa Philosophy. Ibid.]

[Footnote 49: Sir Monier Williams assigns the Code of Manu _in its present form_ to the sixth century B.C. _Indian Wisdom_, p. 215. Other Oriental scholars consider it older.]

[Footnote 50: These tendencies were more intensely emphasized in some of the later codes, which, however, were only variations of the greater one of Manu.]

[Footnote 51: See p. 82.]

[Footnote 52: Quoted on p. 76.]

[Footnote 53: See note, p. 80.]

[Footnote 54: Sir Monier Williams declares that some of Mann's precepts are worthy of Christianity. _Indian Wisdom_, p. 212.]

[Footnote 55: It should be set down to the credit of the Code of Manu that with all its relentless cruelty toward woman it nowhere gives countenance to the atrocious custom of widow-burning which soon afterward became an important factor in the Hindu system and desolated the homes of India for more than two thousand years.

There would seem to be some dispute as to whether or not widow-burning is sanctioned in the Rig Veda. Colebrooke, in his _Essays_ (Vol. I., p, 135), quotes one or two passages which authorize the rite, but Sir Monier Williams (_Indian Wisdom_, p. 259, note) has shown that changes were made in this text at a much later day for the purpose of gaining Vedic authority for a cruel system, of which even so late a work as the Code of Manu makes no mention, and (page 205 Ibid.) he quotes another passage from the Rig Veda which directs a widow to ascend the pyre of her husband as a token of attachment, but to leave it before the burning is begun.]

[Footnote 56: As the spread of Buddhism had owed much to the political triumph of King Ashoka, so the revival of Hinduism was greatly indebted to the influence of a new dynasty about a century B.C.]

[Footnote 57: _Indian Wisdom_, p. 314.]

[Footnote 58: Ibid., p. 317.]

[Footnote 59: Brahmanism and Hinduism are often used interchangeably, but all confusion will be avoided by confining the former to that intense sacerdotalism which prevailed during the Brahmana period, while the latter is used more comprehensively, or is referred particularly to the later and fully developed system.]

[Footnote 60: _Hinduism_, pp. 12, 13.]

[Footnote 61: The Brahmans were careful, however, to brand the Buddha, while admitting him as an avatar. Their theory was that Vishnu appeared in Gautama for the purpose of deluding certain demons into despising the worship of the gods, and thus securing their destruction. This affords an incidental proof that Gautama was regarded as an atheist.--See _Indian Wisdom_, p. 335.]

[Footnote 62: See _Aryan Witness_, closing chapter; also _Christ and Other Masters_, p. 198, notes 1, 2, and 3.]

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