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Oriental Religions and Christianity Part 6

[Footnote 63: See _Brahmanism and Hinduism_, Monier Williams.]

[Footnote 64: Hardwick traces similarities between Hindu traditions and Christianity in such points as these: 1, The primitive state of man; 2, his fall by transgression; 3, his punishment in the Deluge; 4, the rite of sacrifice; 5, the primitive hope of restoration.--_Christ and Other Masters_, p. 209.]

[Footnote 65: The Hindus hold that "truth was originally deposited with men, but gradually slumbered and was forgotten; the knowledge of it returns like a recollection."--_Humboldt's Kosmos_, ii., p. 112.]

[Footnote 66: _Professor Wilson's Lectures_, p. 52.]

[Footnote 67: _Vishnu Puranas_, p. 45, note 4.]

[Footnote 68: Buddhism is still more disheartening, since it denies the separate conscious existence of the ego. There cannot be divine fellowship, therefore, but only the current of thoughts and emotions like the continuous flame of a burning candle. Not our souls will survive, but our Karma.]

[Footnote 69: _Christ and Other Masters_, p. 182.]

[Footnote 70: Yet in spite of Manu and the inveteracy of old custom, there gleams here and there in Hindu literature and history a bright ideal of woman's character and rank; while the _Ramayana_ has its model Sita, the _Mahabharata_, i., 3028, has this peerless sketch:

"A wife is half the man, his truest friend; A loving wife is a perpetual spring Of virtue, pleasure, wealth; a faithful wife Is his best aid in seeking heavenly bliss; A sweetly-speaking wife is a companion In solitude; a father in advice; A mother in all seasons of distress; A rest in passing through life's wilderness."

This, however, is a pathetic outburst: the tyranny of the ages remains.]

[Footnote 71: Even in the later development of the doctrine of faith (Bakti) Hinduism fails to connect with it any moral purification or elevation. See quotations from Elphinstone and Wilson in _Christ and Other Masters_, p. 234.]

[Footnote 72: See a recent _Catechism_ published by the Arya Somaj.]

[Footnote 73: The following hymn, quoted from the Arya _Catechism_, reveals the proud spirit of revived Aryanism:

"We are the sons of brave Aryas of yore, Those sages in learning, those heroes in war.

They were the lights of great nations before, And shone in that darkness like morning's bright star, A beacon of warning, a herald from far.

Have we forgotten our Rama and Arjun, Yudistar or Bishma or Drona the Wise?

Are not we sons of the mighty Duryodani?

Where did Shankar and great Dayananda arise?

'In India, in India!' the echo replies.

Ours the glory of giving the world Its science, religion, its poetry and art.

We were the first of the men who unfurled The banner of freedom on earth's every part, Brought tidings of peace and of love to each heart."]

LECTURE IV.

THE BHAGAVAD GITA AND THE NEW TESTAMENT

No other portion of Hindu literature has made so great an impression on Western minds as the Bhagavad Gita, "The Lord's Lay," or the "Song of the Adorable." It has derived its special importance from its supposed resemblance to the New Testament. And as it claims to be much older than the oldest of the Gospels or the Epistles, it carries the inference that the latter may have borrowed something from it.

A plausible translation has been published in Boston by Mr. Mohini M.

Chatterji, who devoutly believes this to be the revealed word of the Supreme Creator and Upholder of the universe.[74] He admits that at a later day "the same God, worshipped alike by Hindus and Christians, appeared again in the person of Jesus Christ," and that "in the Bible He revealed Himself to Western nations, as the Bhagavad Gita had proclaimed Him to the people of the East." And he draws the inference that "If the Scriptures of the Brahmans and the Scriptures of the Jews and Christians, widely separated as they are by age and nationality, are but different names for one and the same truth, who can then say that the Scriptures contradict each other? A careful and reverent collation of the two sets of Scriptures will show forth the conscious and intelligent design of revelation." The fact that the Bhagavad Gita is thoroughly pantheistic, while the Bible emphasizes the personality of God in fellowship with the distinct personality of human souls, seems to interpose no serious difficulty in Mr. Chatterji's view, since he says "'The Lord's Lay' is for philosophic minds, and therefore deals more at length with the mysteries of the being of God." "In the Bhagavad Gita,"

he says, "consisting of seven hundred and seventy verses, the principal topic is the being of God, while scarcely the same amount of exposition is given to it in the whole Bible;" and he adds, "The explanation of this remarkable fact is found in the difference between the genius of the Hebrew and the Brahman race, and also in the fact that the teachings of Jesus Christ were addressed to 'the common people.'"[75]

The air of intellectual superiority which is couched in these words is conspicuous. Mr. Chatterji also finds an inner satisfaction in what he considers the broad charity of the Brahmanical Scriptures. He quotes a passage from the Narada Pancharata which speaks of the Buddha as "the preserver of revelation for those outside of the Vedic authority." And he concludes that when one such revealer is admitted there can be no reason for excluding others; therefore Christianity also should be allowed a place. He declares on Vedic authority that whosoever receives the true knowledge of God, however revealed, attains eternal life. And for a parallel to this he quotes the saying of Christ, that "this is eternal life that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." "The Brahmanical Scriptures," he says, "are of one accord in teaching that when the heart is purified God is seen; so also Jesus Christ declares that the pure in heart are blessed, for they shall see God."

Our translator discards the often-repeated theory that the Christian Scriptures have copied the wise sayings of Krishna; and it is very significant that an argument to which superficial apologists constantly resort is discarded by this real Hindu, as he supports the theory that as both were direct revelations from Vishnu, there was in his view no need of borrowing. His contention is that God, who "at sundry times and in divers manners" has spoken to men in different ages, made known his truth, and essentially the same truth, both on the plains of India and in Judea. And he reminds Hindus and Christians alike, that this knowledge of truth carries with itself an increased responsibility. He says: "The man who sees the wonderful workings of the Spirit among the nations of the earth, bringing each people to God by ways unknown to others, is thereby charged with a duty. To him with terrible precision applies the warning given by Gamaliel to the Pharisees, 'Take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do ... lest ye be found to fight even against God.' If one be a Brahman, let him reflect when opposing the religion of Jesus what it is that he fights. The truths of Christianity are the same as those on which his own salvation depends. How can he be a lover of truth, which is God, if he knows not his beloved under such a disguise? And if he penetrates behind the veil, which should tend only to increase the ardor of his love, he cannot hate those who in obedience to the same truth are preaching the Gospel of Christ to all nations.

Indeed he ought to rejoice at his brothers' devotion to the self-same God, and to see that he is rendering service to Him by helping others to carry out the behests given to them by the Divine Master. If, on the other hand, he be a Christian, let him remember that while he is commanded to preach repentance and remission of sins in the Saviour Jesus, he is also warned against 'teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.'" All this seems like charity, but really it is laxity.

And here is the very essence of Hinduism. Its chief characteristic, that which renders it so hard to combat, is its easy indifference to all distinctions. To reason with it is like grasping a jelly-fish. Its pantheism, which embraces all things, covers all sides of all questions.

It sees no difficulties even between things which are morally opposites.

Contradictions are not obstacles, and both sides of a dilemma may be harmonized. And to a great extent this same vagueness of conviction characterizes all the heathen systems of the East. The Buddhists and the Shintoists in Japan justify their easy-going partnership by the favorite maxim that, while "there are many paths by which men climb the sides of Fusyama, yet upon reaching the summit they all behold the same glorious moon." The question whether all do in fact reach the summit is one which does not occur to an Oriental to ask.

This same pantheistic charity is seen in the well-known appeal of the late Chunder Sen, which as an illustration is worth repeating here: "Cheshub Chunder Sen, servant of God, called to be an apostle of the Church of the New Dispensation, which is in the holy city of Calcutta; to all the great nations of the world and to the chief religious sects in the East and West, to the followers of Moses and of Jesus, of Buddha, Confucius, Zoroaster, Mohammed, Nanak, and of the various Hindu sects; grace be to you and peace everlasting. Whereas sects, discords, and strange schisms prevail in our father's family; and whereas this setting of brother against brother has proved the prolific source of evil, it has pleased God to send into the world a message of peace and reconciliation. This New Dispensation He has vouchsafed to us in the East, and we have been commanded to bear witness to the nations of the earth ... Thus saith the Lord: 'I abominate sects and desire love and concord ... I have at sundry times spoken through my prophets and my many dispensations. There is unity. There is one music but many instruments, one body but many members, one spirit but many gifts, one blood but many nations, one Church but many churches. Let Asia and Europe and America and all nations prove this New Dispensation and the true fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of men.'"

This remarkable production--so Pauline in style and so far from Paul in doctrine--seems to possess everything except definite and robust conviction. And its limp philosophy was not sufficient to withhold even Chunder Sen himself from the abandonment of his principles not long afterward. This sweet perfume of false charity, with which he thus gently sprayed the sects and nations of mankind, lost its flavor ere the ink of his message was fairly dry; while he who in similar language announced his call to an Apostleship eighteen centuries ago, is still turning the world upside down.

"Charity" is the watchword of indifferentism in the West as well as in the East; and the East and the West are joining hands in their effort to soothe the world into slumber with all its sins and woes unhealed. Some months ago an advanced Unitarian from Boston delivered a farewell address to the Buddhists of Japan, in which he presented three great Unitarians of New England--Channing, Emerson, and Parker--in a sort of transfiguration of gentleness and charity. He maintained that the lives of these men had been an unconscious prophecy of that mild and gentle Buddhism which he had found in Japan, but of which they had died without the sight.[76]

Thus the transcendentalism of New England joins hands with the Buddhism and the Shintoism of Japan, and the Brahmanism of Calcutta, and all are in accord with Mr. Chatterji and the Bhagavad Gita. Even the Theosophists profess their sympathy with the Sermon on the Mount, and claim Christ as an earlier prophet. The one refrain of all is "Charity."

All great teachers are avatars of Vishnu. The globe is belted with this multiform indifferentism, and I am sorry to say that it is largely the gospel of the current literature and of the daily press. In it all there is no Saviour and no salvation. Religions are all ethnic and local, while the _ignis fatuus_ of a mystic pantheism pervades the world.

Mr. Chatterji's preface closes with a prayer to the "merciful Father of humanity to remove from all races of men every unbrotherly feeling in the sacred name of religion, which is but one." The prayer were touching and beautiful on the assumption that there were no differences between truth and error. And there are thousands, even among us, who are asking, "Why may not Christians respond to this broad charity, and admit this Hindu eclectic poem to an equal place with the New Testament?" More or less indifferent to all religions, and failing to understand the real principles on which they severally rest, they are ready to applaud a challenge like that which we are considering, and to contrast it with the alleged narrowness and intolerance of Christian Theism.

I have dwelt thus at length upon Mr. Chatterji's introduction, and have illustrated it by references to similar specious claims of other faiths, in order that I might bring into clearer view the main issue which this book now presents to the American public. It is the softest, sweetest voice yet given to that gospel of false charity which is the fashion of our times. Emerson and others caught it from afar and discoursed to a generation now mostly gone of the gentle maxims of Confucius, Krishna, and Gautama. But now Krishna is among us in the person of his most devout apostle, and a strange hand of fellowship is stretched out toward us from the land of the Vedas.

It behooves us to inquire, first, into the pantheistic philosophy which underlies these sayings, and to ask for their meaning as applied in real life; and second, we shall need to know something of Krishna, and whether he speaks as one having authority. It should be borne in mind that pantheism sacrifices nothing whatever by embracing all religions, since even false religions are a worship of Vishnu in their way, while Christianity by its very nature would sacrifice everything. According to pantheism all things that exist, and all events that transpire, are expressions of the Divine will. The one only existent Being embraces all causes and all effects, all truth and all falsehood. He is no more the source of good than of evil. "I am immortality," says Krishna. "I am also death." Man with all his thoughts and acts is but the shadow of God, and moves as he is moved upon. Arjuna's divine counsellor says to him: "The soul, existing from eternity, devoid of qualities, imperishable, abiding in the body, yet supreme, acts not nor is by any act polluted. He who perceives that actions are performed by Prakriti alone, and that the soul is not an actor, sees the truth aright."

Now, if this reasoning be correct, it is not we that sin; not we that worship; and in the last analysis all religions are alike; they are only the varied expressions of the thought of God. As He manifests his power in nature in a thousand forms, producing some objects that are beautiful to the eye and others that are repulsive, so in his spiritual manifestations He displays a like variety. The ignorance and degradation of fetichism are His, as well as the highest revelations of spiritual truth. A certain class of evolutionists tell us that God contrived the serpent's poison-fang and the mother's tender instinct with "the same creative indifference." And the broad pantheism which overrides the distinctions of eternal right and wrong, and divests God of all moral discriminations, puts Vedantism and Fetichism, Christianity and Witchcraft, upon the same basis. The Bhagavad Gita and the Gospel both enjoin the brotherhood of men, but what are the meanings which they give to this term? What are their aims, respectively? One is endeavoring to enforce the rigid and insurmountable barriers of caste; the other commends a mission of love which shall regard neither Jew nor Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free. It will become apparent, I think, that there may be parallels or similarities which relate to mere phrases while their meanings are wide apart.

Judging from Mr. Chatterji's own stand-point, his work has been well done. He has shown a careful study not only of his own literatures and philosophies, but also of the scriptures of the Old and New Testament--in this respect setting us an example worthy to be followed by Christian scholars. Such a man has in the outset an immense advantage over those who know nothing of the enemies' positions, but regard them only with disdain. Before the high court of public opinion, as represented by our current literature, mere ex-parte assumption will go to the wall, even though it has the better cause, while adroit error, intelligently put and courteously commended, will win the day. This is a lesson which the Christian Church greatly needs to learn. Mr.

Chatterji's work is the more formidable for its charming graces of style. He has that same facility and elegance in the use of the English language for which so many of his countrymen, Sheshadri, Bose, Banergea, Chunder Sen, Mozoomdar, and others have been distinguished. He is a model of courtesy, and he seems sincere.

But turning from the translator to the book itself, we shall now inquire who was Krishna, Arjuna's friend, what was the origin of the "Lord's Lay," and what are its real merits as compared with the New Testament?

Krishna and Arjuna--like Rama Chandra--were real human heroes who distinguished themselves in the wars of the Indo-Aryans with rival tribes who contested the dominion of Northern India. They did not live three thousand years before Christ, as our translator declares, for they belonged to the soldier caste, and according to the consensus of Oriental scholarship the system of caste did not exist till about the beginning of the Brahmanic period--say eight hundred years before Christ. Krishna was born in the Punjab, near Merut, and it was near there that his chief exploits were performed. The legends represent him as a genial but a reckless forester, brave on the battle-field, but leading a life of low indulgence. The secret of his power lay in his sympathy. His worship, even as a heroic demi-god, brought a new and welcome element into Hinduism as contrasted with the remorselessness of Siva or the cold indifference of Brahma. It was the dawn of a doctrine of faith, and in this character it was probably of later date than the rise of Buddhism. Indeed, the Brahmans learned this lesson of the value of Divine sympathy from the Buddha. The supernatural element ascribed to Krishna, as well as to Rama, was a growth, and had its origin in the jealousy of the Brahmans toward the warrior caste. His exaltation as the Supreme was an after-thought of the inventive Brahmans. As stated in a former lecture, these heroes had acquired great renown; and their exploits were the glory and delight of the dazzled populace. In raising them to the rank of deities, and as such appropriating them as kindred to the divine Brahmans, the shrewd priesthood saved the prestige of their caste and aggrandized their system by a fully developed doctrine of incarnations. Thus, by a growth of centuries, the Krishna cult finally crowned the Hindu system.

The Mahabharata, in which the Bhagavad Gita was incorporated by some author whose name is unknown, is an immense literary mosaic of two hundred and twenty thousand lines. It is heterogeneous, grotesque, inconsistent, and often contradictory--qualities which are scarcely considered blemishes in Hindu literature.

The Bhagavad Gita was incorporated as a part of this great epic probably as late as the second or third century of our era, and by that time Krishna had come to be regarded as divine, though his full and extravagant deification as the "Adorable One" probably did not appear till the author of "Narada Pancharata" of the eighth century had added whatever he thought the original author should have said five centuries before. As it now stands the poem very cleverly weaves into one fabric many lofty aphorisms borrowed from the Upanishads and the later philosophic schools, upon the groundwork of a popular story of which Arjuna is the hero. Arjuna and his four brothers are about to engage in a great battle with their cousins for the possession of an hereditary throne. The divine Krishna, once himself a hero, becomes Arjuna's charioteer, that in that capacity he may act as his counsellor. As the battle array is formed, Arjuna is seized with misgivings at the thought of slaughtering his kindred for the glory of a sceptre. "I cannot--will not fight," he says; "I seek not victory, I seek no kingdom; what shall we do with regal pomp and power? what with enjoyments, or with life itself, when we have slaughtered all our kindred here?"

Krishna then enters upon a long discourse upon the duties of caste and the indwelling of the Infinite, showing that the soul, which is a part of deity, cannot be slain though the body may be hewn to pieces. "The wise," he says, "grieve not for the departed nor for those who yet survive. Never was the time when I was not, nor thou, nor yonder chiefs, and never shall be the time when all of us shall not be. As the embodied soul in this corporeal frame moves swiftly on through boyhood, youth, and age, so will it pass through other forms hereafter; be not grieved thereat.... As men abandon old and threadbare clothes to put on others new, so casts the embodied soul its worn-out frame to enter other forms.

No dart can pierce it; flame cannot consume it, water wet it not, nor scorching breezes dry it--indestructible, eternal, all-pervading, deathless."[77]

It may seem absurd to Western minds that a long discourse, which constitutes a volume of intricate pantheistic philosophy, should be given to a great commander just at the moment when he is planning his attack and is absorbed with the most momentous responsibilities; it seems to us strangely inconsistent also to expatiate elaborately upon the merits of the Yoga philosophy, with its asceticism and its holy torpor, when the real aim is to arouse the soul to ardor for the hour of battle. But these infelicities are no obstacle to the Hindu mind, and the consistency of the plot is entirely secondary to the doctrine of caste and of philosophy which the author makes Krishna proclaim. Gentle as many of its precepts are, the Bhagavad Gita, or the "Lord's Lay," is a battle-song uttered by the Supreme Being while the contending hosts awaited the signal for fratricidal carnage.

The grotesqueness which characterizes all Hindu literature is not wanting in this story of Krishna and Arjuna, as given in the great poem of which the Bhagavad Gita forms a part. The five sons of Pandu are representatives of the principle of righteousness, while the hundred brothers of the rival branch are embodiments of evil. Yet, when the victory had been gained and the sceptre was given to the sons of Pandu, they despised it and courted death, though the "Adorable One" had urged them on to strife.

Bishma, the leader of the hostile force, in a personal encounter with Arjuna, had been filled so full of darts that he could neither stand nor lie down. Every part of his body was bristling with arrows, and for fifty-eight days he lingered, leaning on their sharp points. Meanwhile the eldest of the victors, finding his throne only a "delusion and a snare," and being filled with remorse, was urged by Krishna to visit his unfortunate adversary and receive instruction and comfort. Bishma, lying upon his bed of spikes, edified him with a series of long and tedious discourses on pantheistic philosophy, after which he asked the tender-hearted Krishna for permission to depart. He is no longer the embodiment of evil: the cruel arrows with which the ideal of goodness had pierced him fall away, the top of his head opens, and his spirit soars to heaven shining like a meteor. How strange a reversal is here!

How strange that he who had been the representative of all evil should have been transformed by his suffering, and should have been made to instruct and comfort the man of success.

Mr. Chatterji falls into a fatal inconsistency when, in spite of his assumption that this poem is the very word of Krishna spoken at a particular time, in a particular place, he informs us that "all Indian authorities agree in pronouncing it to be the essence of all sacred writings. They call it an Upanishad--a term applied to the wisdom, as distinguished from the ceremonial, part of the Vedas, and to no book less sacred." More accurately he might have said that it is a compend of all Hindu literatures, the traditional as well as the inspired, and with a much larger share of the former than of the latter. Pantheism, which is its quintessence, did not exist in the early Vedic times. Krishna was not known as a god even in the period of the Buddha.[78] And the Epics, which are so largely drawn upon, are later still. And it is upon the basis of the Epics, and the still later Puranas, that the common people of India still worship him as the god of good-fellowship and of lust.

The masses longed for a god of human sympathies, even though he were a Bacchus.

In the Bhagavad Gita as we now have it, with its many changes, Krishna has become the supreme God, though according to Lassen his actual worship as such was not rendered earlier than the sixth century; and Professor Banergea claims that it "was not at its zenith till the eighth century, and that it then borrowed much from Christian, or at least Hebrew, sources." Webber and Lorinser have maintained a similar view. Krishna as the Supreme and Adorable One has never found favor except with the pantheists, and to this day the worship of the real Krishna as a Bacchus is the most popular of all Hindu festivals, and naturally it is the most demoralizing.

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