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Lecture 11. The Mythological Development of Agni.

Lecture 11.
The Mythological Development of Agni.
Tales about Agni.

AFTER having examined the religious and philosophical aspects which the concept of Fire assumed in India and elsewhere we have now to consider what are called its purely mythological aspects. The line of demarcation between religion philosophy and mythology seems often very arbitrary for the same statements about such a being as Agni may convey to one mind a religious to another a philosophical lesson while to the people at large they may be no more than a simple tale a legend or a myth. We may of course distinguish between a tale a legend and a myth and many more or less artificial definitions have been given of each of these terms.

In a general way however these names are given to ancient traditions which have neither a religious nor a philosophical purpose but simply relate more or less imaginary events. The number of such myths is very considerable and they often vary as you know from the sublime to the ridiculous. There are but few actual tales to be found in the hymns of the Rig-veda but we can discover here and there some of the elements out of which later tales were formed.
If we remember that Agni represented the light of the sun we can easily understand why he should have been called the son of Dyaus the sky (X. 45 8); or of heaven and earth (III. 25 1) or of the Dawn (VII. 78 3) or of the clouds (X. 2 7); while if he was the flash of lightning it might truly be said of him that Indra generated him from two clouds as from two flints (II. 12 3). And when Agni was obtained by the friction of two fire-sticks these were naturally called his parents. One of these fire-sticks the lower one was called his mother; the other his father. It might now be said that Agni was the child of these two pieces of wood the two aranis and thus we can understand why he was called dvimâtấ having two mothers (Rv. I. 31 2) or ‘the son of the trees’ (sûnúh vánaspátînâm VIII. 23 25). But when we are told that Agni as soon as born devoured his father and mother (Rv. X. 79 4) we have really an incipient myth. Agni lent himself less to mythological treatment because his name remained always intelligible. It is always the ancient names which are no longer understood that produce the richest mythological growth.
Euhemeristic explanations of Mythology.
Still such a statement as that a child eats his own father and mother is startling enough to take its place among mythological stories. If such a story instead of being told of Agni were told of Angiras another but no longer an understood name of fire we should have had at once one of those myths which have formed such stumbling-blocks for Mr. Herbert Spencer and other students of ethnology. These philosophers wish to account for everything in the development of the human race rationalistically. They want to discover a reason for these unspeakable atrocities of which the gods and heroes even of such progressive races as the Indians the Greeks Romans and Teutons are believed to have been guilty. Their way out of the difficulty is certainly very ingenious and very simple; but is it supported by any evidence? First of all they tell us that they see no reason why such names as Fire or Sun or Dawn should not be accepted as names of real individuals who lived a long time ago. They show that among the Karens certain people were called Evening Moon-rising &c.; that a Tasmanian lady was called Sunshine; and that among Australians names like Hail Thunder and Wind are by no means uncommon1. They prove from modern Post-Office Directories that even now some people are called Fire Dawn and Sun. As to the atrocities ascribed to these individuals they recognise in them what they call survivals (Über-bleibsel) of an earlier savage and half-brutal state when the ancestors of the Hindus Greeks Romans and Teutons were really capable of eating their parents like Agni or Mr. Fire or of eating their children like Kronos or Mr. Time. I am not exaggerating I am only abbreviating and therefore perhaps representing the theories of Mr. Herbert Spencer and other Euhemerists in a too naked and therefore in a less persuasive and attractive form.
Of course when we are carried off into prehistoric times it is very difficult for us to prove a negative. We cannot prove that there never lived a Mr. Sun and a Miss Dawn that this Mr. Sun never embraced Miss Dawn and that she never fainted away or died in his embraces. There may have been a Mr. Fire and he may have eaten his father and mother and as the Egyptians say he may actually have died of indigestion.
But on the other hand scholars and historians have a perfect right to say that it will be time to consider these theories when all other theories have failed and that in the meantime the historical footprints of language ought not to be neglected but should be interpreted as all other vestiges of creation have been interpreted. If we hear of Ushas expiring in the embraces of Sûrya we cannot forget that Ushas meant the dawn and Sûrya the sun and that as a matter of fact the dawn does expire every morning in the fiery embraces of the sun. If we read of Agni devouring his two parents we cannot forget that Agni means fire that his two parents are the two Aranîs or fire-sticks and that as a matter of fact the fire when produced by rubbing and nursed into flames is apt to consume the fire-sticks that have given him life. I cannot even make that small concession which I am told I ought to make namely that the fact of the Greeks accepting such atrocities as possible proves that once in prehistoric times they committed them themselves. The ancient Âryas may formerly have eaten their parents if Mr. Herbert Spencer can prove it; but the fact that they believed Agni to have been guilty of this breach of filial piety does not prove it to my mind any more than the unnatural treatment of his divine children by Kronos could persuade me that the earliest Greeks were in the habit of swallowing their children and what would even then on the theory of survivals remain inexplicable that they were able to bring them up again apparently intact.
I quite feel the power of the objections so often raised by anthropologists against the historical and linguistic explanations of these terrible myths. It has been said again and again and apparently with a great deal of justice that it would seem passing strange that the ancient Âryas should have spent their time in relating these strange sometimes absurd and impossible sometimes sublime and significant stories if there had been no foundation whatever for them in fact. But after all we must take man as we find him. Thus it would have seemed at first sight very unlikely that betting and gambling which have lately been held up as the vices of modern society should have belonged to the earliest amusements of man in the most distant parts of the world. Yet there can be no doubt that it was so. You remember how so ancient a philosopher as Herakleitos explains the government of the world by Zeus throwing dice2; and it is curious that Herakleitos himself is reported to have been fond of that game. At all events the game was known. Still stranger it is that in the hymns of the Rig-veda we should meet with a hymn which I read to you in one of my former lectures containing the despairing utterances of a gambler (X. 34) who accuses the dice of having ruined the happiness of his home by their irresistible attraction. Many critics would appeal to such a hymn as showing how advanced and how modern a state of society is presupposed in the Veda. But to the true critic it only conveys the lesson that our ideas of what primitive life was like must submit to be corrected by facts. The epic poetry of India may almost be said to be built up on the passion for gambling and we know how strongly addicted uncivilised races are even now to this ingrained vice of poor humanity.
Ancient Riddles.
If we study the tastes of the people as we find them represented to us in the Veda there is one peculiar feature which may help to explain the liking for wonderful mythological stories such as we find among the Âryas in India and in other parts of the world. This is their fondness for riddles. I have never dwelt on this before because it might seem that riddles also were the amusement of our modern drawing-rooms rather than of the primitive huts of the Aryan conquerors of the world. But as one out of many elements contributing to the rank growth of mythology and as a very important element I think it ought to be more carefully considered than it has been hitherto.
After the Âryas in India had once arrived at the conception that fire was apt to consume the fire-sticks or that Agni had eaten his father and mother they seem to have amused themselves by asking such questions as Who eats his own parents? The answers given would then enter upon many details more or less far-fetched and the question would continue to be asked between old and young people just as we ask our children to guess such riddles as:
‘A flock of white sheep
On a red hill
Here they go there they go
Now they stand still3.’
Or again:
‘Old Mother Twitchett had but one eye
And a long tail which she let fly;
And every time she went over a gap
She left a bit of her tail in a trap.’
This may be matched by the Mexican riddle:
‘What goes through a valley and drags its entrails behind?’ (A needle.)
Fire lent itself particularly well to the formation of riddles. Thus we find among the Zulus the following riddle published by Bishop Callaway at the end of his Zulu Nursery Tales4:
‘Guess ye a man whom men do not like to laugh for it is known that his laughter is a very great evil and is followed by lamentation and an end of rejoicing. Men weep and trees and grass; and everything is heard weeping in the tribe where he laughs; and they say the man has laughed who does not usually laugh.’
This is a very elaborate riddle and the solution is even more elaborate. What is meant is fire and the laughing of fire is intended for its crackling cackling sound not without a certain admixture of a mischievous grin.
This is how the Zulu solves his riddle: ‘Fire is called a man that what is said may not be at once evident it being concealed by the word “man.” A riddle is good when it is not discernible at once. It is not liked that the fire even indoors where it is kindled should cause its sparks (its laughter) to start out and fall on the flour clothes. The owner [of them] cries because it burns and when he sees a hole in it he cries again. Or if food is cooked if the fire is large the pot may be burned by the fire and the pot burn the food. So the man that is the fire laughs and the people cry. Again if a spark is cast into the thatch of a hut it is seen by the fire. All the men will come together when the flame of the fire appears and burns the house with the things which are in it and there is a great crying. The goats are burnt and the calves and the children. (Remark the children come last.) The cows cry for their calves; men cry for their goats; the wife and husband cry for their children. The children cry for their father who has been burnt whilst fetching precious things from the burning house and the house fell in on him. The husband cries for the wife who was burnt when fetching her child from the burning house. The trees cry crying for their beauty which is destroyed by the fire the trees being shrivelled and withered. And the cattle cry crying for the grass because they have no longer anything to eat but are dying of famine. This is the laughing of fire.’
This taste for riddles was very widely spread and most of them are so simple that we should hardly call them riddles. You remember Samson's riddle— ‘Out of the eater came forth meat and out of the strong came forth sweetness.’ No one could possibly guess such a riddle least of all the Philistines unless they had indeed ploughed with Samson's heifer.
The riddle of the Sphinx has more of the character of an old riddle being descriptive rather than in any way deceptive. ‘What has a voice and walks on four legs in the morning on two at noon and on three in the evening?’
To the same class belongs the well-known Greek riddle about Day and Night:
Eἰσὶ κασίγνηται διτταί ὧν ἡ μία τίκτει
Tὴν ἑτέραν αὐτὴ δὲ τεκου̑σ’ ὑπὀ τῆσδε τεκνου̑ται.
‘There are two sisters of whom the one bears the other; and she who bears the other is borne by her.’
That the taste for these riddles was old in India we see from such hymns as I. 164 in the Rig-veda which consists entirely of riddles some of them so obscure that even Dr. Haug5 who wrote a learned essay on that hymn could not solve them all.
This asking and answering of riddles formed in fact an essential part of the amusements connected with the performance of the early sacrifices. It is called Brahmodya which may have meant either simply the discourse or conversation of the Brâhmans the priests or a discourse on Brahman the supreme being.
We find descriptions of these priestly discussions in the Vâgasaneyi-samhitâ XXIII. 9–12; 45–62 and elsewhere. I shall translate some portions in order to give you an idea of the simple intellectual food that satisfied the taste of these ancient sages6.
The Brahman priest begins by asking the Hotri priest:
‘Who you think walks alone and who is born again? What is the medicine for cold? What is the great vessel?’
The Hotri priest answers: ‘The sun walks alone; the moon is born again. Agni fire is the medicine for cold; the earth is the great vessel.’
Here the riddles were easy to answer. But the next are more difficult.
The Hotri priest asks the Brahman priest:
‘What was the first thought? What was the large bird? Who was Pilippilâ and who was Pisangilâ?’
You see these questions are perplexing. The Brahman priest however answers them as follows:
‘The sky’ he says ‘Dyaus was the first thought.’
Now there may be some very profound truth in this. It is conceivable that these Indian sages thought that the first human concept as distinct from mere percepts must have been the sky; that the sky excited the first wonderment the first reflection the first thought and the first name. But as if this were too profound an interpretation the commentator adds that by Dyaus or sky may here be meant the rain and that it was rain as an essential condition of life itself that constituted the first thought among men.
As to the large bird the priest answers that it was the horse. This may be so but it seems more likely that in this place the large bird was meant originally as a name for the sun.
The next questions are more difficult still.
Pilippilâ is a word which occurs nowhere else one of the no doubt very numerous class of words which existed in the spoken languages of India but have found no place in their literature. The Brahman priest explains Pilippilâ as meaning the earth but the name which he uses for earth is again quite unknown elsewhere in that sense. For avi which is here supposed to mean earth means otherwise sheep and is the same word as Lat. ovis Gr. ὂϊς our ewe. It seems to me not unlikely that avis was meant originally for a name of the morning or the dawn which would then form a better pair with the next answer What is Pisangilâ7? This is answered and probably rightly by declaring that it was meant for the night. Pisanga in Sanskrit means dark red and Pisangilâ would therefore be an appropriate name for the gloaming8.
Other riddles follow but I shall only add one more because it shows that philosophical subjects also were comprehended in these riddles. Thus in verse 51 the Udgâtri priest asks the Brahman priest:
‘Into what did man (or the soul) enter? What things are placed in man? On that O Brahman we challenge thee what canst thou tell us here?’
The Brahman priest answers: ‘Man has entered into the five these five are placed in man. Thus I answer thee here thou art not above me in wisdom.’
‘The five’ are meant for the five senses the outward senses being those into which man has entered the inward senses those which are placed inside him. Simple as this conception is you see that it involves a recognition of man or the essential element in man as independent of the five senses. Man had been conceived as something different from the seeing hearing tasting smelling and feeling animal and that is a view which forms the firm foundation of all future idealistic philosophy.
I feel convinced that this ancient and widely-spread taste for riddles has been a powerful element in the production of mythology and that many strange features in the phenomena of nature were dwelt on and elaborated in order to amuse and puzzle people. After all what subjects were there for conversation and intellectual amusement in those early days? Bucolic subjects are soon exhausted and even the weather that never-failing topic could not afford much more variety to conversation than it does now. Subjects for sensational novels would not abound in the simple idyllic life of the Aryan peasants and even wars could hardly have been more than raids and plunderings. What wonder then that what we now call mythology as unconnected with religion and philosophy should have been so welcome an amusement and that the very eccentricities of the ancient mythologies and the oddities of their early riddles should have served to impress them on the minds of successive generations and thus have secured their perpetuity.
The Disappearance of Agni.
Let us now consider another peculiar feature of Agni or fire. Whether fire came from the sun or from lightning or from the friction of fire-sticks there was always the same fatality about it. It came and it disappeared again. The fire in the sun disappeared at sunset and no one knew what became of it in the water. Some people imagined they heard the sea hissing when the sun entered into it. Such is human imagination. The fire in the lightning disappeared even more suddenly. It came and went as we say like lightning. Lastly even the fire produced by friction was difficult to catch and unless constantly watched and kept alive by dry leaves sticks of wood or by fat and oil poured on it it was very apt to disappear.
This disappearance of fire was a most serious matter particularly when the art of rubbing it out of wood was not yet generally known or practised in certain priestly families only. To be without fire meant not only to be unable to perform sacrifices though that was serious enough in the eyes of the Brâhmans; in the northern regions of India it meant dying of cold and starvation. No wonder therefore that the disappearance of fire occupied the minds of the early myth-makers or riddle-makers or story-tellers and that all possible reasons were invented to account for the flight of Agni.
Dialogue between Agni and Varuna.
How old these stories must be we may gather from the fact that in the hymns which are generally free as yet from very elaborate legends we find already a dialogue between Agni and another god Varuna who tries to persuade Agni to leave his hiding-place and to return to men and gods. I shall give you a translation of the hymn though it belongs to that class which most Vedic students would look upon as comparatively recent. (Rv. X. 51.)
Varuna speaks:
‘That covering was great and stout covered by which thou hast entered the waters. O Agni all-knowing one there is one god who often perceived all thy bodies.’
Agni replies:
‘Who saw me? What god was it who often espied my bodies? Where then O Mitra and Varuna dwelt all the brands of Agni which ascend to the gods?’
‘We often longed for thee all-knowing Agni after thou hadst entered the waters and the herbs. It was Yama O brilliant one that discovered thee sparkling forth from ten coverings.’
‘I went away from the sacrifice O Varuna fearing lest the gods should employ me there. Often have my bodies been hidden there. I Agni did not like that work.’
‘Come hither the god-loving man desires to sacrifice; thou dwellest in darkness long enough. Make the ways to the gods easy and carry the offering willingly.’
‘The brothers of Agni have formerly accomplished that work as a driver his journey. Therefore O Varuna I went far away from fear I trembled like a deer before the bowstring of the hunter.’
‘We give thee a life that is without decay so that thou shouldest not suffer when employed O all-knowing Agni; then wilt thou willingly carry the share of the oblation to the gods O noble one.’
‘Give then to me alone the first and the last offerings and the vigorous portions of the oblation the best of the waters and the soul of the herbs and let the life of Agni be long.’
‘Let the first and the last offerings belong to thee alone and the vigorous portions of the oblation. May this whole sacrifice be thine and may the four regions bow before thee.’
I look upon this hymn as I said before as a later production. The concluding verses more particularly are such as we might expect in the Brâhmanas rather than in the hymns. What I translated by ‘the first and the last offerings’ are really technical sacrificial terms (prayâga and anuyâga) and probably put in in order to explain why in certain sacrifices the first and last offerings are always dedicated to Agni.
Later Accounts of the Hiding of Agni.
The kernel of this and other stories about the hiding of Agni was always the same:—Agni was apt to go out and had to be called back by some means or other. Everything else was added according to the fancies of individual story-tellers. Thus we read in the Taittirîya-samhitâ II. 6 6 19: ‘Agni had three elder brothers who fainted while carrying oblations to the gods. Agni feared lest he should incur the same fate and accordingly he disappeared and entered into the waters. The gods sought to discover him. A fish pointed him out. Agni cursed the fish saying “Since thou hast pointed me out may men slay thee whenever they like.” Men in consequence slay a fish at their pleasure because it was cursed. The gods found Agni and said to him “Come to us and bring us our oblations.” He replied “Let me ask a favour. Let whatever part of the oblation after it is taken and before it is poured out falls outside of the sacred enclosure be the share of my brothers.”’
You see how the myth goes on growing and growing. Agni has now three brothers older than himself; possibly the three fires from the sun from the lightning and from the fire-sticks. Or possibly as having gone out in former sacrifices they may have been called his elder brothers. We can easily understand why what had been spilt at the sacrifice was supposed to have been offered to these three elder brothers; for whatever had once been brought to the sacrifice had to be assigned to some god or other. Hence recipients had to be found even for what had been spilt and the three invalided brothers of Agni seemed the proper recipients for these wasted offerings10.
All this is mere refinement due to priestly influence. What is new in this account is that instead of being discovered by Yama or as we find it stated elsewhere by Indra X. 32 6 Agni is here betrayed by a fish and again in other places by a frog. These animals may possibly have been meant for the first rays of the dawn betraying the returning sun but considering how much the further development of a myth was in the hands of any silly grandmother and even of her grandchildren we are hardly justified in our expectation that there must be some reason and some meaning in every particle of these stories.
The story of the disappearance of Agni has evidently been a very popular one and we find it referred to again and again in the epic poetry and even in the latest Purânas though with ever so many modifications. It is through these modifications that the myth of the disappearance of Agni becomes so instructive to us. The original idea as we saw was simple enough. It was no more than the recording of the painful fact that fire was apt to go out. Everything else was simply an attempt to answer the very natural questions Why does fire go out? Whither does it go and how has it been recovered?
We have already seen one answer why Agni hid himself. It was because he was tired of having always to do duty at the sacrifices. Another reason is given in the Mahâbhârata III. 221. Here we read that Agni having been used for burning corpses felt contaminated and took refuge in the ocean. Atharvan was sent by the gods to persuade him to return but he declined saying that he felt too weak to carry the oblations to the gods and that Atharvan might do it in his place. Agni then found another hiding-place but was betrayed again by the fishes whom he in consequence cursed and condemned to be eaten by other creatures11. When Atharvan urged him once more to return he hid himself beneath the earth and allowed his body to be dissolved. His liver we are told became iron his bile emerald his phlegm crystal his bones the Devadâru tree and so on. While in that state he was roused by the efforts of Bhrigu Angiras and others. He blazed forth again but frightened at the sight of Atharvan he went once more to hide in the ocean. Atharvan however succeeded at last in recovering Agni and persuading him to resume his sacrificial duties.
Another explanation of Agni's disappearance is that Bhrigu a saint cursed him for having spoken the truth. The fact is that this saint had deprived the giant Puloman of his bride Pulomâ. Puloman on entering the house of the saint to recover his bride asks Agni the fire burning on the hearth whether she is not the giant's legitimate bride. Agni who cannot tell an untruth speaks the truth Puloman carries off his bride and the saint curses Agni to become a sarvabhaksha an indiscriminate eater a devourer of unclean as well as clean things; though he adds that his flames shall always purify everything. Upon this Agni fled and hid himself in a Samî-tree. The whole world then seemed in danger of perishing during the absence of Agni but Brihaspati leads the suppliant gods to the Samî-tree in which Agni was hidden and at last persuades him to return even though he must remain a sarvabhaksha or a promiscuous feeder12.
There are several other legends about Agni and his vanishings and it is easy to see that there is a certain purpose in all of them. For instance the idea that fire consumed all things whether clean or unclean would naturally stagger the mind of the Hindus who were so particular at all events in later times as to what might or might not be eaten. Hence the story of the curse of the saint pronounced against Agni and his condemnation to consume everything whether clean or unclean.
Agni's hiding in a Samî-tree is likewise intelligible. It was from that tree that one of the fire-sticks had to be taken and as fire came out of it by mere rubbing it was but a natural conclusion that Agni had been hiding in the tree.
Why Agni was supposed to have been hiding in the water is likewise intelligible. First of all he seemed to rise and to set in the clouds so far as he was embodied in the sun. Secondly in the shape of lightning he burst forth from the clouds and seemed to be the cause of rain. Thirdly it could not escape attention that the one element which was capable of overcoming fire was water so that it might well be said in that sense also that Agni had been hidden or extinguished by water.
We see a similar idea expressed in a legend which tells us that Agni was once sent out to find Indra who had been lost. When he returned from his voyage of discovery he told the gods he had explored the whole world without finding Indra; only the waters he could not explore because he would perish there for fire he says is born from water and the power of fire ceases where it had its origin.
Again there is some sense in the story that Agni when hidden in the earth was changed into iron and other metals. It shows that the igneous origin of the metals had been guessed and that traces of the action of volcanic fire had probably been discovered.
Lastly as fire was conceived as heat and heat as life the idea that Agni was hidden in all living beings and that even the growth and ripening of plants were dependent on his presence was not unnatural.
The Meaning or Hyponoia of Mythology.
What I wished to put clearly before you in this collection of mythologic sayings about Agni is this that there are grains of reason in all that heap of unreason which we call mythology. The constituent elements of mythology when we can still discover them are always perfectly natural. Their supernatural appearance is the result of growth and decay of fancy and fun of misunderstanding sometimes though rarely of a wilful perversion. This is what Comparative Mythology teaches us. It depends on us to draw from it those practical lessons which comparative studies will always convey if only they are carried out in a truly philosophical and comprehensive spirit.
Lessons of Comparative Mythology.
There are two prejudices at all events which a comparative study of the religions of the world and of the inevitable corruptions of those religions may help to eradicate. The one is that the ancient dwellers on earth were so different from us that they can teach us nothing that they cannot be judged by the same standards as we ourselves and that even if they say the same thing they do not mean the same thing.
The second prejudice prevalent more particularly among a certain class of scholars is that if poets and prophets belonging to different countries say the same thing they must have borrowed it one from the other.
With regard to this second prejudice where is there any excuse for it? We can see how most of the thoughts in the Veda have grown up naturally and intelligibly. I tried to show this in the case of Agni or fire and its gradual development into a god of fire and at last into a supreme god. If then we find the same development or the same final result elsewhere also as for instance in Babylon why should we say that Babylon has borrowed from India or India from Babylon? Surely what was possible in one country was possible in another also; what was intelligible in India is intelligible in Babylon also. When there is a real historical intercourse between two nations in antiquity that intercourse cannot easily be mistaken. For instance the very name of Alphabet proves better than anything else that the Phenicians were at one time the schoolmasters of the Greeks. But when as in the case of the Veda there is no trace so far as we know at present of any foreign influence whether Semitic or Egyptian why should we look to Babylon Nineveh Egypt or China for the antecedents of what shows to us its perfect natural development on Indian soil? On our maps the North of India may seem very near to Babylon yet it is a far cry from Loch Awe and the roads from India to Babylon are even now by no means easy or pleasant. I know there are coincidences sometimes very startling coincidences between the religion of the Vedas and those of other races. There are startling coincidences as you have often heard of late between Buddhism and Christianity. But to the scholar these coincidences are nothing as compared with the enormous dissimilarities between these religions. There are some stray coincidences even between Sanskrit and Hebrew between English and Chinese but what weight have these in the midst of a totally different body of words and grammar? This is a point that has strangely been neglected though in the eyes of the scholar it is strong enough to make him unwilling to enter at all on such useless controversies.
If I have tried to show you how the human mind unassisted by anything but the miraculous revelation of nature arrived in India from the concept of fire at the highest concept of deity my object was to show by one instance that could not be gainsayed that such a process was not only possible but was real. That is the only answer which the scholar can give to those who hold for some reason which they have never explained that it is impossible for unassisted human reason to arrive at the idea of God. But I hope that no one could have so far misunderstood me as to suppose that I wished to maintain that all other Aryan nations had borrowed their concept of deity from the hymns of the Veda or from the concept of Agni. All I wished to prove was that what was real in the Veda was possible elsewhere also. There is a parallelism between the religions as there is between the languages of the Aryan race but the distant source from which these streams spring is not to be looked for in India. Yet there was such a source and that source had a truly historical character.
When on the contrary we find similarities between any of the Aryan and any of the Semitic religions there is no common historical source for these parallel streams. Their only common source so far as we know at present is our common inward nature and that common outward nature by which we are surrounded. In all the lessons which the human mind learnt in that common school-room of the world we share in the same truth and we are exposed to the same errors whether we are Aryan or Semitic or Egyptian in language and thought. Or to put it in clearer language in all the fundamentals of religion we are neither better nor worse than our neighbours neither more wise nor more unwise than all the members of that great family who have been taught to know themselves as children of one and the same Father in Heaven.
This is the lesson which nothing can teach so powerfully as a comparative study of the religions of the world. It teaches by facts not by theories. I must often be satisfied with placing before you the dry facts: but I have no doubt that these facts will speak like texts even without a sermon.

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