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proselytizing; nevertheless, Islam makes little or no material progress throughout eastern Asia. A vast majority of the population inhabiting that side of the continent adhere to older beliefs, which differ profoundly from the creed of Islam.
The dividing line, the religious frontier between east and west Asia, runs, therefore, through India; for the two great religions of the East, Brahminism and Buddhism, are both of Indian origin; and it may be broadly affirmed that, while all the dominant religions of the world are derived from Asia, the whole eastern side of that continent, including Japan, has been profoundly and permanently affected by the teaching and traditions of an Indian ascetic, Sakya Muni, the Buddha. Yet, although Brahminism has exercised a vast influence over the beliefs and worships of Asia during many centuries, and still numbers, at the lowest calculation, more than two hundred million votaries, it is not a faith that can itself be traced back to an epoch or a founder; nor can any concise narrative be here attempted of its course, its changes, or general development. The utterances of certain semi-divine sages, the philosophic systems of some great thinkers and commentators, have authoritatively shaped the leading conceptions upon which the religion now rests; we know, also, that different ideas and rituals have been dominant at different periods, that there have been degradations and revivals, and that the doctrines and practices of north India have varied, and still vary, from those of the south. But here it is impossible to attempt more than a sketch in outline of the general characteristics of Brahminism.
In the first place, it is neither militant nor aggressively missionary; it does not openly attempt to make proselytes, in the sense of persuading them or compelling them to come in. Secondly, it is not historic; it has sacred books, but no sacred history. And, thirdly, it has never been defined by formal creeds, nor has it ever accepted a single personal deity. The general character of Indian religion is that it is unlimited and comprehensive, up to the point of confusion; it is a boundless sea of divine beliefs and practices; it encourages the worship of innumerable gods by an infinite variety of rites; it permits every doctrine to be taught, every kind of mystery to be imagined, any sort of theory to be held as to the inner nature and visible operation of the divine power.
Now, at first sight, this is not unlike the old polytheism of Greece, Rome, and the pre-Christian world generally, with its multitude of divinities and multifarious ceremonials. There are passages in Augustine's Civitas Dei, describing the worship of the unconverted folk among whom he lived, the deification of every natural object and even of physical functions, that might have been written yesterday by a Christian bishop in India. But then, one might ask, why was not all this paganism swept out from among such an intellectual people as the Indians, as it was out of the Western countries, by some superior and more highly organized faith? Undoubtedly, the permanent conditions and the course of events which contrive to stamp a particular form of religion upon any great people are complex and manifold; but into an analysis of these elements I cannot go. It is sufficient for my present purpose to point out that the two sheet-anchors of Brahminism are the institution of caste and the sacred books, both of which were unknown to European paganism. The effect of caste is to give all Hindu society a religious basis; and the sacred books provide Brahminism with a theology—that is, with a science or philosophy of religion. I believe I may say that the old polytheism of the Roman Empire had neither of these two things. According to Greek ideas, the business of framing laws for all departments of human life, of laying down rules of conduct, belonged to politics; while the philosophers of Greece and Rome were rationalists and teachers of morals, they seem to have regarded the popular superstitions with good-natured contempt. They conformed to public worship that they might avoid odium and accusations of impiety, but they gave it no help or countenance; and in philosophic discussions they treated the ordinary polytheism as unworthy the notice of serious men. They never, or very rarely, gave an inner meaning to myths and fables, or read the minds of the people through their fanciful beliefs.
But the Indian philosophy does not ignore or hold aloof from the religion of the masses; it underlies, supports, and interprets their polytheism. This may be accounted the key-stone of the fabric of Brahminism, which accepts and even encourages the rudest forms of idolatry, explaining everything by giving it a higher meaning. It treats all the worships as outward, visible signs of some spiritual truth, and is ready to show how each particular image or rite is the symbol of some aspect of universal divinity. The Hindus, like the pagans of antiquity, adore natural objects and forces-a mountain, a river, or an animal. The Brahmin holds all nature to be the vesture or cloak of indwelling, divine energy, which inspires everything that produces awe or passes man's understanding. Again, it is very common in India, as it was in Greece and Rome, to deify extraordinary men, and the Brahmin does not tell his disciples that this is absurd; he agrees that such persons must have been special embodiments of all-pervading divine power. In short, he accepts every variety of cult and objective worship as symbolical; it is merely the expression or emblem, suited to the common intelligence, of mysterious truths known to the philosophic theologian. In this manner, the gross idolatry of the people is defended, and connected with the loftier ideas. It is maintained that God is a pure spirit, but to make Him wholly impersonal is to place Him beyond the reach of ordinary human interest and imagination, so it is well for the less advanced minds to be encouraged by forms and signs of His presence. All worship, it is said, is expressed through the senses symbolically. A temple or church is a visible mark of our belief that the divinity abides among us; an image is the mystical token of the indwelling spirit; while prayer and sacrifice are the preparatory training towards more intelligent devotion. What we can conceive in our minds we may well picture to our eyes; and, by this method, the innumerable shapes and sacred places of Hindu polytheism are consecrated and adopted into the higher theology. It is on this principle that all the innumerable signs and carved images of divinity are accounted for among the upper classes.
Each form, and every detail of that form, they say, is the outer clothing of some idea or impression; pictures and sculpture represent some mode of the divine presence: although the high doctrine is that knowledge, not worship or ritual, is the true way that opens the door to the soul's complete emancipation.
Above and beyond the miscellaneous crowd of things and persons, living or inanimate, unseen or embodied, that are worshipped as possessed by divine power, we have the great deities of Brahminism, from whom all this divine power proceeds, and in whom the principal energies and the fundamental laws of nature are personified. Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva are the realistic abstractions of the understanding from objects of sense. They