studied in itself, and in its own utterances, and that we gain only a secondary aid in our investigations when we have the means of affiliating it to some other. That this mistake was committed by some of the great Orientalists of the last century, I think is now generally acknowledged; they seemed to suppose that they could learn more of the Greeks from Sanscrit books than from their own. But an extravagance which is natural to all discoverers does not make the discovery itself less valuable; in fact, we are only beginning to appreciate its importance. The more practically we learn to sympathize with our fellow-men in all countries and in all ages, to cultivate such sympathy for our own sake and for theirs, and for the glory of God, the more will all such hints respecting the relationship between different nations be reflected on and prized. And this remark suggests another and much weightier reason, why a Boyle Lecturer should address himself to the subject of Hindooism, and why we all should take an interest in it. It is the faith, to say the least, of between eighty and ninety millions of people, subjects of the British Empire. By conquests scarcely paralleled for rapidity in the annals of the world, we have obtained supremacy over them, and by civil policy we have tried to preserve it. As to the right character of this policy there has been the greatest variety of opinion; but I think intelligent men are now well agreed, that whatever it be, it must be grounded upon a knowledge

C 2

of the character, institutions, faith of the people who are to be influenced by it. Civilians, military officers, and missionaries in India, have exerted themselves to acquire this knowledge, and to make it available for us. Their theories, as well as their facts, when they seem most contradictory, are worthy of study and of comparison; they may all help us in finding the principle of Indian life and belief, and that principle, when we apprehend it, may make the differences in their observations and opinions more intelligible.


There are, unquestionably, considerable difficulties in the investigation. This ancient people is strictly speaking without a history. "No date of a public event,"I use the words of Mr. Elphinstone," can be fixed before the invasion of Alexander; no connected relation of the national transactions can be attempted until after the Mahometan conquest.' Yet it would seem that we were in the greatest need of such records to connect the phænomena which offer themselves to the eye of the traveller in this day with the early books which are still regarded with the profoundest veneration. A Hindoo will sometimes tell us in wild language that he acknowledges three hundred millions of gods; he means, of course, that the number is indefinite, that any object or power in nature, any heroic man, may be a god. And those who trace Oriental extravagance in such a description, will, nevertheless, remember, to have heard of various beings who are acknow



ledged objects of Hindoo adoration-of Brahma the Creator, of Vishnu the Preserver, of Siva the Destroyer, of Indra, the Lord of the Elements, of the fearful goddess Devi, of the beautiful hero Krishna, and a multitude more. Yet learned and trustworthy critics, Asiatic as well as European, confidently affirm that the ground of the Brahminical faith is Monotheistic; that One Being is assumed in the earliest of the sacred books to be the origin of all things; that this was no lazy, inoperative tenet, but penetrated the whole system of worship, and the life of the worshipper. Putting such facts and such statements together, you might be ready to conclude that there was no real identity between the faith of one of these periods and of the other; that either by conquest, or some strange process of degeneracy, the character and feelings of the people had become so changed as to make the notion of one Hindoo or Brahminical religion a mere delusion. But many considerations will shew us that this opinion, however plausible, is untenable. I have said, that the early Vedas, composed, perhaps, fifteen hundred years before the time of Christ, be their tenets what they may, are still regarded with unbounded veneration by the religious men among the Hindoos. The Menu code or institute, which is probably about six hundred or seven hundred years younger than these, and which indicates some, though not radical, alterations of practice and opinion during the interval, must still be the great study of every English

jurist who wishes to understand the grounds of Hindoo law and life at the present day. Five or six centuries after the composition of this code the troops of Alexander crossed the Indus. The picture which the Greeks give us of society as they observed it, accords with that which we gain from the earlier native source; but, what is still more to the point, it also accords in essentials with what our own countrymen tell us of India now. With the advantages we possess from the actual occupation of the country, from being able to examine parts of it which the Greeks never visited, and from modern habits of critical investigation, we must see many things much more clearly than they did; and therefore, even when their reports are different from the present state of things, it is not necessary to assume that there must have been really a great change. It is hardly needful, however, to take this remark into consideration, for we are assured, by those who have the best opportunties of judging, that one of the most remarkables features of Hindoo life, the constitution and government of the villages, is exhibited with surprising faithfulness in narratives which were derived from observations made more than two thousand years ago. Such permanence in social habits would surely lead us to expect something corresponding to it in the inward convictions of a people; and we are not left to conjecture. The soldiers of Alexander found a set of men whose great business was contemplation, who submitted to numerous privations and auster

[ocr errors]



ities that they might pursue it more effectually. The Brahmins they found were the leading class in the country; military, agricultural, commercial occupations were all subordinate to theirs-all society had, in fact, organized itself in conformity with their ideas. The Greek fancied they had less to do with civil affairs, than we know, from their own code, that they must have had. But the general conception which he formed of the Brahmins was singularly accurate. He called them Sophists, a name, which, in his own country, often denoted mere sceptics; here it had no such signification; it implied that the Brahmins were not merely priests, such as were to be seen elsewhere; that their first business was study, and that the purely sacerdotal office was secondary to this. As the accounts which the Greek writers give of the objects of Hindoo worship are meagre, and evidently distorted by the desire of finding resemblances to their own mythology, we might suppose that, for our purpose, we could not learn much from them. But I believe we shall find that their report of the Brahmins is, in fact, the key to the whole system; one which, if we use it

rightly, will enable us to discover its leading characteristics, and to understand, however little we may be able to trace, the varieties of form which it has assumed.

The name of Brahmin at once suggests that of Brahm. The resemblance is no accidental one; nor does it merely signify that the Brahmin is the minister or priest of Brahm. The connexion is

« ForrigeFortsett »