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Lecture 12. What Does It Lead To?

AT the end of my Lectures on Physical Religion I felt it necessary to answer the question What does it all lead to? The same question presents itself at the end of these Lectures on Anthropological Religion; and I shall try to answer it once more.

The Historical Proof.

You may remember how it was said that the fact that all human beings believed in gods and God was no proof whatever of the truth of that belief and of the real existence of divine beings or of one Infinite Being. I tried to show on the contrary that what I call the historical proof was really if not the only at least the strongest argument for the belief in the existence of God.

Leave man alone I said and he will believe in something beyond this world. This has been proved to be a fact by the modern study of the history of all religions. There are no exceptions anywhere except those which arise from mental idiocy and moral degradation. But as little as we take into account the large number of inmates of lunatic asylums when we maintain that two and two make four should we be obliged to consider the case of some degraded tribes supposing they existed who are said to be without a name for gods or God and whose only sign of humanity is their language a remnant and at the same time a witness of their former higher state.

History no doubt teaches us that much of what people in different stages of their historical progress believed to be true about the gods was not true was as they found out themselves unworthy of the gods. That is perfectly true but it only serves to confirm the lesson of all history that truth is never the result of a sudden communication but the reward of patient labour and honest search. The fact remains that men as Homer expresses it II. iii. 44 yearn for the gods. The metaphorical expression which Homer uses is full of meaning. As birds open their beaks to be fed because they are hungry men open χατέουσι their hearts and minds; because they are hungry because they hunger and thirst after God because they want to be fed. It is this hunger this weakness if you like this incompleteness of human nature attested by universal history which is the best proof nay more than a proof which is the very fact of the existence of something beyond all finite knowledge call it by any name you like in all the numberless languages and dialects and jargons of the world. Those who maintain that this is a delusion must admit at all events that it is a universal delusion and a really universal delusion must be accepted as true in the only sense in which anything can be true to human beings such as we are. We may readily admit that our senses are imperfect; but for all that all our knowledge must begin with the senses. We know that our senses have often deceived us; but for all that we also know that our senses themselves have helped us to discover and correct their errors. What is quoted as one of the most glaring instances of universal delusion the belief in the central position of the earth and the movement of the sun round the earth was after all an imperfect expression only of the facts before us. In the same sense many of the ancient religions many of our modern theologies also may be called imperfect and yet by no means utterly false. As the sun rises and sets and gives us light and warmth whether we call it by central or eccentric names the light of the world the Infinite behind all finite phenomena remains. Our vision may be clouded by human ignorance nay the light that shines upon us may be so bright and fierce that unless veiled in passing clouds it would burn and blind the human eye. Yet the light is there; we feel and know it. Clouds dark or radiant may come and go but the light reflected in ever so many marvellous shapes is and remains our light.

The Two Lessons of History.

History teaches us two lessons. The Jews represent their God as jealous of all false or imperfect gods. This is the first lesson: Man ought to be jealous of all untruth in whatever form it meets him. The Hindus on the other hand represent their Supreme Being as saying ‘Even those who worship idols worship me.’ This is the second lesson that we ought to be tolerant and try to discover some grains of truth in all untruth some honest endeavour in all failures; nay what has been called a hidden and divine education of man in the whole history of the world.

If we confine our study of history and especially of the history of religion to one sacred book only say the Old Testament we can never learn from that single book that a belief in God is universal and that it becomes more and more pure and perfect not by casual revelation but by slow and irresistible evolution. Here is a lesson which nothing but a comprehensive study of the sacred books of the world an exploration of all the religions of mankind can possibly teach us. And yet that lesson seems to me the only safe and sound foundation of a belief in God. That belief may be very indefinite—and how can human belief in the Infinite ever be anything but indefinite? And yet what can be more convincing than that simple argument if it is not an intuition rather than an argument which underlies all religions from beginning to end and in every part of the world viz. that where there is an act there must be an agent where there is something finite there must be something beyond the finite by whatever name we like to call it. This then is the historical proof of the existence of God; this was the outcome of our Lectures on Physical Religion.

Recapitulation of Anthropological Religion.

If now we apply exactly the same reasoning to the facts placed before us by a study of what I call Anthropological Religion; if we ask once more What does it all lead to? my answer is the same.

Man if left to himself has everywhere arrived at the conviction that there is something in man or of man besides the material body. This was a lesson taught as we saw not so much by life as by death. Besides the body besides the heart besides the blood there was the breath. Man was struck by that and when the breath had left the body he simply stated the fact that the breath or the psyché had departed. The speculations on the true nature of that psyché within belong to the domain of Psychological Religion which will form the subject of my next course of Lectures.

A mere study of language sufficed to show us how general nay how universal is the belief in something beside the body in some agent within or in what in Sanskrit is called by a very general name the antahkarana the agency within. Every kind of internal agency was ascribed to that something which showed itself not only as simply breathing and living but as feeling and perceiving soon also as naming conceiving and reasoning.

In these Lectures on Anthropological Religion we have had chiefly to deal with the speculations which arose from that psyché as no longer within but as after death without the body. Here also language began with the name of breath. The breath had gone the psyché had departed. That psyché however was soon conceived not as mere breath or air but as retaining most of those activities which had been ascribed to it during life such as feeling perceiving naming conceiving and reasoning.

So far I do not see what can be brought forward against this primitive and universal form of belief. If there was a something in man that could receive perceive and conceive that something whatever name we call it was gone with death. But no one could think that it had been annihilated—nusquam nihil ex aliquo. So long therefore as the ancient philosophers said no more than that this something called breath or psyché had left the body and had gone somewhere else I do not see what counter-argument could be advanced against them.

Even during life the body alone though it could live by itself could not be said to see or hear or perceive by itself. The eye by itself does not see it requires something else to receive and to perceive and that something though itself invisible was as real as the invisible Infinite and the Divine behind the agents in nature whom the ancient nations called their gods. It became in turn the soul the mind the agent the subject till at last it was recognised as the Infinite and the Divine in man1.

The ancients knew all this as well as we do nay they saw it and pronounced it more clearly than we do. Thus Epicharmos said without hesitation:

Νόος ὁρῃ̑ καὶ νόος ἀκούϵι᾽ τἄλλα κωϕὰ καὶ τυϕλά.

‘The mind sees and the mind hears all the rest is deaf and blind’

—all the rest including the body with eyes and ears and other organs of sense.

So long again as these psychés or souls were spoken of in the plural and were supposed after death to be somewhere the argument would still remain unassailable. Remember we are dealing here not with schooled metaphysicians but with the so-called sons of nature though before these universal problems of the world even the best-schooled metaphysicians are not much wiser than these so-called sons of nature. If the ancient nations had been satisfied with this simple faith that the psychés or souls of their departed friends continued to exist somewhere there could have been no opposition of any kind to this as an article of the universal faith of mankind. It might have been called a self-evident proposition.

But man as we say does not only reason. He has also a heart and that heart will believe many things that cannot be proved if only they cannot be disproved.

First of all came the question where do the souls of the departed exist? All the answers returned are equally natural all are equally unobjectionable but likewise equally not proven because they are beyond the reach of proof. The best answer was perhaps that contained in the most ancient Greek language and mythology that the souls had gone to the house of the Invisible of Aides. No one has ever said anything truer. That house of the Invisible was placed as we saw either beneath the earth or beyond the earth in the west in the land of the setting sun; while others who looked upon heaven as the abode of the gods placed the souls of the departed also in the same abode.

With regard to these fond hopes and imaginations all we can say is that they may be true that they may all be fulfilled but that we are no better off than the Vedic poets or the lowest of savages for pronouncing a definite opinion.

Next came the question how the souls fare after death. We are inclined to smile at the idea that the next life will be much the same as this that there will be hunting-fields battle-fields music poetry sweet discourse with our friends meditation and adoration. And yet there is again nothing utterly unreasonable in all this. It is a deduction it is true based on one precedent only namely on the precedent of this present life. But as there can be no other precedent the belief so widely entertained that the next life will be much like this seems in reality the most reasonable conclusion at which man whether in his childhood or in his old age could have arrived.

This conclusion was strengthened by two influences one purely imaginative the other however by no means unreasonable.

It has generally been supposed that bows and arrows pots and pans playthings and medicine bottles at last even wives and servants were burnt or buried with the dead because people believed that the next would be some kind of continuation of the present life. I tried to show on the contrary that what is here represented as the cause may far more likely have been the effect that many things were placed on the funeral pile or in or on the grave from a mere desire to give up something to those whom one had loved and served during life. When afterwards a reason was asked to account for what was originally a mere impulse an unreasoning act a belief was expressed and very soon defended against all gainsayers that all these things down to the dolls and medicine bottles of children were not merely thrown away but would for ever prove useful in another life.

And when these offerings to the dead took in time a more settled form and became part of the religious ceremonial among many nations both civilised and uncivilised the idea that the dead were cognisant of the honours paid to them and could enjoy the gifts offered to them grew stronger and stronger2. Soon also the thought arose that the dead resented the neglect of what was due to them that they would find no rest till they had received their funeral honours and that they would haunt the abodes of their relations and bring misfortune on their families till their just demands had been fulfilled.

By this process of reasoning if reasoning it may be called the question how the souls of the departed existed in their new abodes answered itself. They were of necessity supposed to be capable of knowing what passed in this life of enjoying offerings of appreciating praise of rewarding those who cared for them and punishing those who neglected them. Thus without actually ascribing to them a body like the body that had been burnt or buried they were supposed to be conscious to retain their names and to have what we call the faculties of feeling perceiving conceiving and reasoning. We then saw how an even mere powerful impulse sprang from the belief in a moral government of the universe by whatever name it might be called. The mere conviction that no deed can die that there must be an effect to every cause would irresistibly lead to the conclusion that crimes unpunished in this will be punished in the next life and that the good deeds unrewarded here will receive their reward there. This idea soon received an enormous development. It led to the invention of sunny isles in the west of a paradise in the east and of glorious abodes in heaven. It also inspired both ancient and modern poets in their descriptions of the terrors of the lower world the fire of hell and the tortures of the Inferno.

We can distinguish three stages in the growth of this belief. With some people as with the Jews and with some of the Greeks life after death was hardly more than mere existence without joy but likewise without suffering without rewards and without punishments. It was a sleep with their fathers.

With others as the Vedic Indians for instance life after death was conceived chiefly as a happy life a state of enjoyment in company with the gods.

Then by the side of those who reaped the reward of their virtues in heaven was imagined another place for the punishment of the wicked. This took place at a later time both in India and in Greece.

And lastly a more philosophical theory prevailed that by a succession of new births the soul would assume new bodies having thus an opportunity given it for rising to higher and higher perfection and reaching in the end the supreme goal nearness to nay likeness or even oneness or atone-ness with God.

In all these thoughts which we find not only in India Greece and Italy but scattered all over the world wherever human beings have been living together we can distinguish between what is true true for us to-day as it was for the earliest thinkers and speakers on earth and what is merely imagination often quite harmless but having no claim to be called either true or untrue.

What is true to us as it was to our earliest ancestors is that the soul does not die. In many languages even the expression ‘He is dead’ is avoided partly it may be because it is an inauspicious expression but partly also because it is felt to contain an untruth. I am told that in some parts of Scotland also you will never hear that a person has died. You are told that he has been taken away. Mr. Macdonald a missionary remarked the same among the Zulus in Africa. They never say ‘He is dead’ they say. ‘He is not here’ and they speak of the departed spirits as ‘ascending to heaven’ or as ‘gone home3.’

It seems to me that they are right in this at least to a certain point. To die applies to the body; it has really no sense as applied to the soul if only we distinguish rightly between what we mean by body and what we mean by soul. The soul is neither born as the body is born nor does it live as the body lives; nor can it die therefore as the body dies. We do not say that the soul is blind because the eyes of the body have been injured or that it is deaf because the tympanum has been pierced or even that the soul is mad because the central organ whether we call it heart or brain has been injured. The soul is the witness only it may be the compassionate witness of all that passes in the body. It perceives what it perceives without eyes and without ears and even madness is only like a darkening of the light like a deep sleep that falls on the body and cannot be shaken off.

And what applies to the soul within applies also to the souls without I mean to the souls after the decay and death of the body. It is because the ancient and many of the modern philosophers also cannot distinguish between what is body and what is soul because in fact they do not believe in a soul but only talk about it that they become involved in endless contradictions in their utterances about the souls of the departed. In our longings for the departed we often think of them as young or old we think of them as man or woman as father or mother as husband or wife. Even nationality and language are supposed to remain after death and we often hear expressions ‘Oh if the souls are without all this without age without sex without national character without even their native language what will they be to us?’

The answer is they will really be the same to us as they were in this life. Unless we can bring ourselves to believe that a soul has a beginning and that our soul sprang into being at the time of our birth the soul within us must have existed before.

‘Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting The soul that rises with us our life's star Has had elsewhere its setting And cometh from afar.’

But however convinced we may be of the soul's eternal existence we shall always remain ignorant as to how it existed. And yet we do not murmur or complain. Our soul on awakening here is not quite a stranger to itself and the souls who as our parents our wives and husbands our children and our friends have greeted us at first as strangers in this life but have become to us as if we had known them for ever and as if we could never lose them again. If it were to be so again in the next life if there also we should meet at first as strangers till drawn together by the same mysterious love that has drawn us together here; why should we murmur or complain? Thousand of years ago we read of a husband telling his wife ‘Verily a wife is not dear that you may love the wife but that you may love the soul therefore a wife is dear.’ What does that mean? It means that true love consists not in loving what is perishable but in discovering and loving what is eternal in man or woman. In Sanskrit that eternal part is called by many names; the best seems that which is used in this very passage Âtmâ. We translate it by soul but it is even higher and purer than soul and it is perhaps best translated by the word Self. That which constitutes the true Self the looker on the witness within us that which is everywhere in the body and yet nowhere to be touched that which cannot die or expire because it never breathed that is the Infinite in man which philosophers have been groping for though ‘he is not far from every one of us.’ It is the Divine or God-like in man.


It might seem as if such speculations belonged to modern times only when there is leisure for the few at least to think not of this life only but also of the next. But that is not the case. The curiosity as to what awaits us in the next life is very old. We find among the Vedic Upanishads one that is entirely devoted to this subject. It is called the Katha-upanishad. We may I believe safely say that this Upanishad is older than Buddha and that for our present purposes is enough. It is a strange mixture of mythology and philosophy. Some portions of it are probably later additions and some scholars have attempted more or less successfully to separate these more modern from the more ancient parts. I shall only attempt to give you a short abstract and to select those passages which are universally intelligible and can appeal to our own sympathies.

The Upanishad consists chiefly of a dialogue between Yama the ruler of the dead who has become identified with Mrityu or death and a young Brâhmanic student of the name of Nakiketas.

We are told in the beginning that the father of this young Brâhman performed a sacrifice in which he professed to give away everything he possessed. The son is represented as taunting his father that after all he had not given away everything because he did not give away his own son. The father becomes angry at last and exclaims:

‘Well I shall give thee unto Death.’

The son at once accepts his fate and says:

‘Look back how it was with those who came before look forward how it will be with those who come after. A mortal ripens like corn like corn he springs up again.’

It so happens that when the young Brâhman enters the abode of Death Yama the lord of the departed is absent. For three nights no hospitality is shown to Nakiketas and this was looked upon as so great an offence that Yama when he returns has to offer him three boons to avert his anger. Nakiketas asks as his first boon that his father may not be angry with him when he returns from the mouth of death. This is granted.

He then asks for the knowledge of a sacrifice by which he may attain immortality in heaven where there is no death no old age no hunger or thirst and no sorrow. This too is granted.

And now it might be supposed that no more could be asked for. But Nakiketas is not satisfied with the ordinary immortality in heaven though it gives everlasting peace and happiness. He wants to know more and to have more and says:

‘There is that doubt when a man is dead some saying he is; others he is not. This I should like to know taught by thee; this is the third of my boons.’

Then a fierce struggle begins between the young Brâhman and Death. Death offers him anything rather than to tell him this mystery which as he says even the gods do not know. He offers him health and wealth children and chariots fair maidens and music but all in vain. Nakiketas will have his third boon he will know what happens to man after he is dead and Yama has at last to yield.

Then follows the answer of Yama or Death:

‘Fools’ he says ‘dwelling in darkness wise in their own conceit and pulled up with vain knowledge go round and round staggering to and fro like blind men led by the blind.’

‘The Hereafter never rises before the eyes of the careless child deluded by the delusion of wealth. “This is the world” he thinks “there is no other;” and thus he falls again and again under my sway (the sway of death).’ II. 5 seq.

Then follows the explanation of what constitutes the true being and the true immortality of man what is called Âtmâ in. Sanskrit and is generally translated by the soul but which is better rendered by the self the self that lies behind the Ego behind the mere personality of man and which is really when fully known the same as Brahman the universal Self.

Yama continues:

‘The knowing (Self) is not born it dies not; it sprang from nothing nothing sprang from it. The ancient is unborn eternal everlasting he is never killed though the body is killed.’ II. 18.

‘The Self smaller than small greater than great is hidden in the heart of the creature. A man who is free from desires and free from sorrow sees the majesty of the Self by the grace of the Creator (or through the tranquillity of the senses).’ II. 20.

‘That Self cannot be gained by the Veda nor by understanding nor by much learning. He whom the Self chooses by him the Self can be gained. The Self chooses him as his own.’ II. 23.

Then follows a parable which reminds one of a well-known passage in Plato's Phaedros:

‘Know the Self to be sitting in the chariot the body to be the chariot the intellect (buddhi) the charioteer and the mind the reins.’

‘The senses they call the horses the objects of the senses their roads. When he (the Highest Self) is in union with the body the senses and the mind then wise people call him the Enjoyer.’

‘He who has no understanding and whose mind (the reins) is never firmly held his senses (horses) are unmanageable like vicious horses of a charioteer.’

‘But he who has understanding and whose mind is always firmly held his senses are under control like good horses of a charioteer.’

‘He who has no understanding who is unmindful and always impure never reaches that place but enters into the round of births.’

‘But he who has understanding who is mindful and always pure reaches indeed that place from whence he is not born again.’ III. 3-8.

‘Rise awake! having obtained your boons understand them! The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; and thus the wise say that the path (that leads to the Self or to Self-knowledge) is hard.’ III. 14.

‘He who has perceived that which is without sound without touch without form without decay without taste eternal without smell without beginning without end beyond the Great and unchangeable is freed from the jaws of death.’ III. 15.

Here ends the first chapter. Then follows a second which contains a collection of verses all bearing on our subject but full of allusions to minute points of Indian philosophy. It would require more time than we can spare to make their real meaning quite clear and I must be satisfied with quoting a few of the more simple and telling verses:

‘No mortal lives by the breath that goes up and by the breath that goes down. We live by another in whom these two repose.’ V. 5.

‘He the Highest Person who is awake in us while we are asleep shaping one lovely sight after another that indeed is the Bright that is Brahman that alone is called the Immortal. All words are contained in it and no one goes beyond. This is that.’ V. 8.

‘As the one fire after it has entered the world though one becomes different according to whatever it burns thus the one Self within all things becomes different according to whatever it enters and exists also without.’ V. 9.

‘As the sun the eye of the whole world is not contaminated by the external impurities seen by the eyes thus the one Self within all things is never contaminated by the misery of the world being himself without.’

‘There is one ruler the Self within all things who makes the one form manifold. The wise who perceive him within their Self to them belongs eternal happiness not to others.’

‘There is one eternal thinker thinking non-eternal thoughts who though one fulfils the desires of many. The wise who perceive him within their Self to them belongs eternal peace not to others.’ V. 11-13.

‘Beyond the senses is the mind beyond the mind is the highest (created) Being higher than that Being is the Great Self higher than the Great the highest Undeveloped.’

‘Beyond the Undeveloped is the Person the all-pervading and entirely imperceptible. Every creature that knows him is liberated and obtains immortality.’

‘His form is not to be seen no one beholds him with the eye. He is imagined by the heart by wisdom by the mind. Those who know this are immortal.’ VI. 7-9.

‘He (the Self) cannot be reached by speech by mind or by the eye. How can it be apprehended except by him who says He is?”’

‘By the words “He is” is he to be apprehended and by (admitting) the reality of both (the invisible Brahman and the visible world as coming from Brahman). When he has been apprehended by the words “He is” then his reality reveals itself.’

‘When all desires that dwell in his heart cease then the mortal becomes immortal and obtains Brahman.’

‘When all the ties of the heart are severed here on earth then the mortal becomes immortal—here ends the teaching.’ VI. 12-15.

We are then told that the young Brâhman after having received this instruction became free and obtained Brahman and that everybody who knows all this about his true Self will be like him.

I doubt whether any literature and more particularly any ancient literature has produced anything to match this Upanishad. To those who can enter into the spirit of its teaching or as Yama said to those whom the Self has chosen it is perfectly marvellous. But even those who shrink from following its doctrine must admit that the discovery of such a work among the so-called niggers of India composed at a time when neither Roman nor Saxon had as yet set foot on these isles is an important discovery as important at least as what has been discovered in the hieroglyphic records of Egypt and in the cuneiform inscriptions of Babylon and Nineveh. We may not find in the Veda so many names of kings so many accounts of battles and conquests so many dates carrying us back to three or four thousand years before our era. But we find in the Veda and more particularly in the Upanishads what has occupied the thoughts of man at all times what occupies them now and will occupy them for ever—a search after truth a desire to discover the Eternal that underlies the Ephemeral a longing to find in the human heart the assurance of a future life and an attempt to re-unite the bond which once held the human and the divine together the true atone-ment between God and man. How this old problem was solved in certain religions we shall see in our next and last Lecture.

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