The Relation of Psychological to Physical and Anthropological Religion
The Constituent Elements of Religion.
ONE of the greatest difficulties in studying ancient religions is the entire absence of any systematic arrangement in their Sacred Books. We look in vain for anything like creeds, articles of faith, or a well-digested catechism. It is left therefore to ourselves to reduce the chaos of thoughts which they contain to some kind of order.
This has been attempted in various ways.
Sometimes the doctrines contained in them have been arranged in two classes, as dogmas to be believed (theology), and as rules of conduct to be obeyed (ethics). Sometimes scholars have collected all that refers to the outward ceremonial, and have tried to separate it from what was believed about the gods. But in most religions it would be almost impossible to separate ethics from dogma, while in its origin at least ceremonial is always the outward manifestation only of religious belief. Of late these outward or sacrificial elements of religion have received great attention, and a long controversy has been carried on as to whether sacrifice was the real origin of all religion, or whether every sacrifice, if properly understood, presupposes a belief in gods to whom the sacrifices were offered.
The theory, supported chiefly by Professor Gruppe, that sacrifice comes first and a belief in gods afterwards seems to me utterly untenable, if not self-contradictory. An offering surely can only be an offering to somebody, and even if that somebody has not yet received a name of his own, he must have been conceived under a general name, such as celestial, immortal, divine, powerful, and all the rest.
It is no new discovery, for instance, that many of the hymns of the Rig-veda presuppose the existence of a highly developed ceremonial, but to say that this is the case with all, or that no hymns were composed except as auxiliary to a sacrifice, betrays a strange ignorance of palpable facts. Even the hymns which were composed for sacrificial purposes presuppose a belief in a number of gods to whom sacrifices are offered. If a hymn was to be used at the morning sacrifice, that very morning sacrifice owed its origin to a belief in a god manifested in the rising sun, or in a goddess of the dawn. The sacrifice was in fact as, spontaneous as a prayer or a hymn, before it became traditional, technical, and purely ceremonial. On this point there cannot be two opinions, so long as we deal with facts and not with fancies.
My own Division.
In my Lectures on Natural Religion, I have preferred a different division, and have assigned one course to each of what I consider the constituent parts of all religions. My first course of Lectures was purely introductory, and had for its object a definition of Natural Religion in its widest sense. I also thought it necessary, before approaching the subject itself, to give an account of the documents from which we may derive trustworthy information about Natural Religion as it presents itself to us in the historical growth of the principal religions of the world.
My second course, which treated of Physical Religion, was intended to show how different nations had arrived at a belief in something infinite behind the finite, in something invisible behind the visible, in many unseen agents or gods of nature, till at last, by the natural desire for unity, they reached a belief in one god above all those gods. We saw how what I called the Infinite in nature, or that which underlies all that is finite and phenomenal in our cosmic experience, became named, individualised, and personified, till in the end it was conceived again as beyond all names.
My third course, which treated of Anthropological Religion, was intended to show how different nations arrived at a belief in a soul, how they named its various faculties, and what they imagined about its fate after death.
While thus my second course was intended as a history of the discovery of the Infinite in nature, my third course was intended to explain the discovery of the Infinite in man.
It remains for me to treat, in this my last course, of the relation between these two Infinites, if indeed there can be two Infinites, or to explain to you the ideas which some of the principal nations of the world have formed on this relation between the soul and God. It has been truly said, and most emphatically by Dr. Newman, that neither a belief in God by itself, nor a belief in the soul by itself, would constitute religion, and that real religion is founded on a true perception of the relation of the soul to God and of God to the soul. What I want to prove is that all this is true, not only as a postulate, but as an historical fact.
Nor can it be doubted that our concept of God depends to a great extent on our concept of the soul, and it has been remarked that it would have been better if I had treated Anthropological before Physical Religion, because a belief in the Infinite in nature, in invisible powers, behind the great phenomena of the physical world, and at last in a soul of the Universe would be impossible, without a previous belief in the Infinite in man, in an invisible agent behind the acts of man, in fact, in a soul or a spirit. The same idea was evidently in the mind of Master Eckhart, when he said, ‘The nearer a man in this life approaches to a knowledge of the nature of the soul, the nearer he approaches to a knowledge of God1.’
From an historical point of view, however, the great phenomena, perceived in the objective world, seem to have been the first to arouse in the human mind the idea of something beyond, of something invisible, yet real, of something infinite or transcending the limits of human experience. And it was probably in this sense that an old Rabbi remarked: ‘God sees and is not seen; so the soul sees and is not seen2.’ The two processes, leading to a belief in an invisible God, the Infinite in its objective character, and to a belief in an invisible soul, or the Infinite in its subjective character, are really so intimately connected that it is difficult to say which of the two ought to be treated first, or which of the two came first in the historical development of religion. What is quite clear, however, is this, that Psychological Religion presupposes both Physical and Anthropological Religion, and that before the soul and God can be brought into relation with each other, both the concept of God and the concept of soul had to be elaborated. Nay, God had to be conceived as soul-like, and the soul of man as God-like, for like only can know like, like only can love like, like only can be united with like.
The meaning of Psychological Religion.
If I use the name of Psychological Religion in order to comprehend under it all attempts at discovering the true relation between the soul and God, it is because other names, such as Theosophic, Psychic, or Mystic, have been so much misused that they are sure to convey a false impression. Theosophic conveys the idea of wild speculations on the hidden nature of God; Psychic reminds us of trances, visions, and ghosts; Mystic leaves the impression of something vague, nebulous, and secret, while to the student of Psychological Religion the true relation of the two souls, the human soul and the divine, is, or ought to be, as clear as the most perfect logical syllogism. I shall not be able to avoid these names altogether, because the most prominent representatives of Theosophy and mystic religion have prided themselves on these names, and they are very appropriate, if only clearly defined. Nothing, of course, is easier, and therefore to certain minds more tempting than to use the same word in its opprobrious sense, and thus by a mere name to condemn doctrines which have been held by the wisest and best of men. This kind of criticism need not detain us, or keep us from adopting the name of Theosophy for our own purposes.
In most of the religions of the ancient world, the relation between the soul and God has been represented as a return of the soul to God. A yearning for God, a kind of divine home-sickness, finds expression in most religions. But the road that is to lead us home, and the reception which the soul may expect in the Father's house, have been represented in very different ways, in different countries and different languages.
I. Return of the Soul to God, after death.
We can divide the opinions held, and the hopes expressed on this subject into two classes. According to some religious teachers, a return of the soul to God is possible after death only, and we shall see ever so many attempts, ever so many bridges thrown by hope and faith across the gulph which seems to separate the Human from the Divine. Most of these bridges, however, lead only to the home, or to the throne of God, and there leave the soul wrapt in intuition and adoration of an unrelated objective deity. Everything is still more or less mythological. The deity sits on a golden throne, and the souls, though divested of their material bodies, are still like the shadows of their earthly bodies, approaching the foot of the throne, but always kept at a certain distance from its divine occupant.
II. Knowledge of the unity of the Divine and the Human.
According to other religious teachers, the final beatitude of the soul can be achieved even in this life, nay must be achieved in this life, if it is to bear fruit in the next. That beatitude requires no bridges, it requires knowledge only, knowledge of the necessary unity of what is divine in man with what is divine in God. The Brahmans call it self-knowledge, that is to say, the knowledge that our true self, if it is anything, can only be that Self which is All in All, and beside which there is nothing else. Sometimes this conception of the intimate relation between the human and the divine natures comes in suddenly, as the result of an unexplained intuition or self-recollection. Sometimes, however, it seems as if the force of logic had driven the human mind to the same result. If God had once been recognised as the Infinite in nature, and the soul as the Infinite in man, it seemed to follow that there could not be two Infinites. The Eleatics had clearly passed through a similar phase of thought in their own philosophy. ‘If there is an infinite,’ they said, ‘it is one, for if there were two, they could not be infinite, but would be finite one towards the other. But that which exists is infinite, and there cannot be more such (ϵ̓όντα). Therefore that which exists is one3.’
Nothing can be more decided than this Eleatic Monism, and with it the admission of a soul, the Infinite in man, as different from God, the Infinite in nature, would have been inconceivable. In India the process was not quite the same, but it led in the end to the same result. The infinite in nature or Brahman had been recognised as free from all predicates except three, sat, being, kit, perceiving, ânanda, blessedness. When it was afterwards discovered that of the infinite in man also, the soul, or rather the self, Âtman, nothing could be predicated except the same triad of qualities, being, perceiving, and rejoicing, the conclusion was almost irresistible that these two, Brahman and Âtman, were in their nature one. The early Christians also, at least those who had been brought up in the schools of Neo-platonist philosophy, had a clear perception that, if the soul is infinite and immortal in its nature, it cannot be anything beside God or by the side of God, but that it must be of God and in God. St. Paul gave but his own bold expression to the same faith or knowledge, when he uttered the words which have startled so many theologians: ‘In Him we live and move and have our being.’ If anyone else had uttered these words, they would at once have been condemned as pantheism. No doubt they are pantheism, and yet they express the very key-note of Christianity. The divine sonship of man is only a metaphorical expression, but it was meant originally to embody the same idea. Nor was that sonship from the first restricted to one manifestation only of the Divine. The power at all events to become the sons of God was claimed for all men. And when the question was asked how the consciousness of this divine sonship could ever have been lost, the answer given by Christianity was, by sin, the answer given by the Upanishads was, by avidyâ, nescience. This marks the similarity, and at the same time the characteristic difference between these two religions. The question how nescience laid hold of the human soul, and made it imagine that it could live or move or have its true being anywhere but in Brahman, remains as unanswerable in Hindu philosophy as in Christianity the question how sin first came into the world4.
Veda and Vedânta.
If for the study of Physical Religion, more particularly of the initial phases of Physical Religion, we depended chiefly, if not entirely, on the Veda, you will find that for a study of Psychological Religion also and its first beginnings, the Veda is likewise, nay, even more, our most important, if not our only authority. It is no longer, however, in the hymns of the Veda that we shall have to discover the fullest realisation of Psychological Religion, but in what is called the Vedânta, the end of the Veda. That is the name, as you may remember, given to the Upanishads or to the Gñânakânda, the knowledge-portion as opposed to the Karmakânda, the work-portion of the Veda. It is doubtful whether Vedânta was meant originally for the end, i.e. the last portion of the Veda, or, as it is sometimes explained, for the end, that is the highest object of the Veda. Both interpretations can be defended. The Upanishads have really their place as the last portions of the Veda, but they are also looked upon as conveying the last and highest lesson of the religion and philosophy of the Veda.
What these Upanishads are is indeed not easy to describe. I have published in the Sacred Books of the East the first complete translation of the twelve most important Upanishads. The characteristic feature of them, to which I wish to call your attention now, is their fragmentary style. They are not systematic treatises, such as we are accustomed to in Greek philosophy, but they are fragments, they are mere guesses at truth, sometimes ascribed to sages whose names are given, sometimes represented in the form of dialogues. They are mostly in prose, but they contain frequent remnants of philosophical poetry also. It is curious, however, that though unsystematic in form, they are not without a system underlying them all. We often find that the same subjects are treated in a similar, nay, in the same manner, sometimes in the same words, in different Upanishads, reminding us in this respect of the three synoptic Gospels with their striking similarities and their no less striking dissimilarities. In some cases we see even opinions diametrically opposed to each other, maintained by different authorities. While in one place we read, ‘In the beginning there was Sat,’ τὸ ὄν, we read in another, ‘In the beginning there was Asat,’ τὸ μὴ ὄν. Other authorities say, ‘In the beginning there was darkness; In the beginning there was water; In the beginning there was Pragâpati, the lord of all created things; In the beginning there was Brahman; In the beginning there was the Self.’
It would seem difficult at first sight to construct a well-arranged building out of such heterogeneous materials, and yet that is the very thing that has been achieved by the builders of what is called the Vedânta system of philosophy.
The difficulties of the framers of that system were increased a hundredfold by the fact that they had to accept every word and every sentence of the Upanishads as revealed and as infallible. However contradictory at first sight, all that was said in the Upanishads had to be accepted, had to be explained, had to be harmonised somehow (samanvaya). And it was harmonised and welded into a system of philosophy that for solidity and unity will bear comparison with any other system of philosophy in the world. This was done in a work which is called the Vedânta-sûtras.
Sûtra means literally a string, but it is here used as the name of short and almost enigmatical sentences which contain the gist, as it were, of each chapter in the most concise language, forming a kind of table of contents of the whole system of philosophy. I do not know anything like this Sûtra-style in any literature, while in India there is a whole period of literature during which everything that is elsewhere treated, either in prose or in poetry, has been reduced to these short aphorisms. The earlier of these Sûtras are still to a certain extent intelligible, though always difficult to understand. But after a time they became so condensed, their authors employed so many merely algebraic contrivances, that it seems to me that by themselves they must often have been utterly useless. It would seem that they were meant to be learnt by heart at first, and then to be followed by an oral explanation, but it is difficult to say whether they were composed independently, or whether they were from the beginning a mere abstract of an already existing work, a kind of table of contents of a completed work. I must confess that whether these Sûtras were composed at a time when writing was as yet unknown, or whether they were meant at first as the headings of written treatises, their elaboration seems to me far beyond anything that we could achieve now. They must have required a concentration of thought which it is difficult for us to realise. As works of art they are of course nothing, but for the purpose for which they were intended, for giving a complete and accurate outline of a whole system of philosophy, they are admirable; for, if properly explained, they leave no doubt whatever as to the exact meaning of the authors of systems of philosophy on any point of their teaching. The same applies to the manuals of grammar, of ceremonial, of jurisprudence, and all the rest, composed likewise in the form of Sûtras.
The number of these Sûtras or headings for the system of the Vedânta philosophy amounts to about 555. They form four books (adhyâyas), each divided into four chapters (pâda).
Besides Vedânta-sûtras this gigantic work is also known by the name of Mîmâmsâ-sûtras. Other names are Brahma-sûtras, or Sârîraka Mîmâmsâ-sûtras, or Vyâsa-sûtras. Mîmâmsâ is a desiderative form of the root man, to think, and a very appropriate name, therefore, for philosophy. A distinction, however, is made between the Pûrvâ and the Uttarâ Mûmâmsâ, that is, the former and later Mîmâmsâ, the former Mîmâmsâ being an attempt to reduce the ceremonial and the sacrificial rules of the Veda to a consistent system, the latter having for its object, as we saw, the systematic arrangement of the utterances scattered about in the Upanishads and having reference to Brahman as the Self of the universe and at the same time the Self of the soul. The Sûtras of the former Mîmâmsâ are ascribed to Gaimini, those of the latter to Bâdarâyana.
Who Bâdârayana was and when he lived, as usual in Indian literature, we do not know. All we can say is that his Sûtras presuppose the existence not only of the principal Upanishads, but likewise of a number of teachers who are quoted by name, but whose works are lost to us.
Commentary by Saṅkarâkârya.
The most famous, though possibly not the oldest extant commentary on these Sûtras is that by Saṅkara or Saṅkarâkârya. He is supposed to have lived in the eighth or seventh century A.D.5 His commentary has been published several times in Sanskrit, and there are two translations of it, one in German by Professor Deussen, the other in English by Professor Thibaut, forming the XXXIVth volume of the Sacred Books of the East. There is one more volume still to follow. But though Saṅkara's commentary enjoys the highest authority all over India, there are other commentaries which hold their own by its side, and which differ from it on some very essential points.
Commentary by Râmânuga.
The best known is the so-called Srî-bhâshya by Râmânuga, a famous Vaishnava theologian who is supposed to have lived in the twelfth century A.D. He often opposes Saṅnkara's theories, and does it not in his own name only, but as representing an altogether independent stream of tradition. In India, where, even long after the introduction of writing, intellectual life and literary activity continued to run in the old channels of oral teaching, we constantly meet with a number of names quoted as authorities, though we have no reason to suppose that they ever left anything in writing. Râmânuga does not represent himself as starting a new theory of the Vedânta, but he appeals to Bodhâyana, the author of a vritti or explanation of the Brahma-sûtras, as his authority, nay he refers to previous commentaries or Vrittikâras on Bodhâyana, as likewise supporting his opinions. It has been supposed that one of these, Dramida, the author of a Dramidabhâshya or a commentary on Bodhâyana, is the same as the Drâvida whose Bhâshya on the Khândogya-upanishad is several times referred to by Saṅkara in his commentary on that Upanishad (p. l, 1. 2 infra), and whose opinions on the Vedânta-sûtras are sometimes supported by Saṅkara (see Thibaut, S. B. E. XXXIV, p. xxii). Bâdarâyana himself, the author of the Vedânta-sûtras, quotes a number of earlier authorities6, but it does by no means follow that there ever existed Sûtras in the form of books composed by them.
Three Periods of Vedânta Literature.
In studying the Vedânta philosophy, we have to distinguish three successive layers of thought. We have first of all the Upanishads, which presuppose a large number of teachers, these teachers often differing from each other on essential, and likewise on trivial points. We have secondly the Sûtras of Bâdarâyana, professing to give the true meaning of the Upanishads, reduced to a systematic form, but admitting the existence of different opinions, and referring to certain authors as upholding divergent views. We have thirdly the commentaries of Saṅkara, Bodhâyana, Râmânuga, and many others. These commentaries, however, are not mere commentaries in our sense of the word, they are really philosophical treatises, each defending an independent view of the Sûtras, and indirectly of the Upanishads.
Peculiar Character of Indian Philosophy.
It is not surprising that philosophers, on reading for the first time the Upanishads or the Vedânta-sûtras should find them strange, and miss in them that close concatenation of ideas to which they are accustomed in the philosophy of the West. It is difficult to overcome the feeling that the stream of philosophical thought, as we know it in Europe, passing from Greece through the middle ages to our own shores, is the only stream on which we ourselves can freely move. It is particularly difficult to translate the language of Eastern philosophy into the language of our own philosophy, and to recognise our own problems in their philosophical and religious difficulties. Still we shall find that beneath the surface there is a similarity of purpose in the philosophy of the East and of the West, and that it is possible for us to sympathise with the struggles after truth, even though they are disguised under a language that sounds at first strange to students of Aristotle and Plato, of Descartes and Spinoza, of Locke and Hegel.
Philosophy begins with doubting the Evidence of the Senses.
Both philosophies, that of the East and that of the West, start from a common point, namely from the conviction that our ordinary knowledge is uncertain, if not altogether wrong. This revolt of the human mind against itself is the first step in all philosophy. The Vedânta philosophy represents that revolt in all its fulness. Our knowledge, according to Hindu philosophers, depends on two pramânas, that is, measures or authorities, namely, pratyaksha, sensuous perception, and anumâna, that is, deduction.
Sruti or Inspiration.
The orthodox philosopher, however, adds a third authority, namely Sruti, or revelation. This, from a philosophical point of view, may seem to us a weakness, but even as such it is interesting, and we know that it is shared by other philosophers nearer home. Sruti means hearing or what has been heard, and it is generally explained as meaning simply the Veda. The Veda is looked upon, from the earliest times of which we know anything in India, as superhuman; not as invented and composed, but only as seen by men, that is, by inspired seers, as eternal, as infallible, as divine in the highest sense.
We are apt to imagine that the idea of inspiration and a belief in the inspired character of Sacred Books is our own invention, and our own special property. It is not, and a comparative study of religion teaches us that, like the idea of the miraculous, the idea of inspiration also is almost inevitable in certain phases in the historical growth of religion. This does not lower the meaning of inspiration, it only gives it a larger and a deeper meaning.
If we take Veda in the ordinary sense in which it is generally taken by Indian philosophers, we must admit that to place its authority on a level with the evidence of the senses and the conclusions of reason, seems difficult to understand. It is reason alone that calls inspiration inspiration; reason therefore stands high above inspiration. But if we take Veda as knowledge, or as it sometimes is explained as âptavakana, i.e. language, such as it has been handed down to us, the case is different. The language which has come down to us, the words in which thought has been realised, the world of ideas in which we have been brought up, form an authority, and exercise a sway over us, second only, if second at all, to the authority of the senses. If the Hindu philosopher looks upon the great words of our language as eternal, as communicated from above, as only seen, not as made by us, he does no more than Plato when he taught that his so-called ideas are eternal and divine.
But though this more profound concept of Sruti breaks forth occasionally in Hindu philosophy, the ordinary acceptation of Sruti is simply the Veda, such as we possess it, as consisting of hymns and Brâhmanas, though no doubt at the same time also, as the ancient depository of language and thought, not so much in what it teaches, but in the instruments by which it teaches, namely in every word that conveys an idea.
But the Vedânta philosopher, after having recognised these three authorities, turns against them and says that they are all uncertain or even wrong. The ordinary delusions of the senses are as familiar to him as they are to us. He knows that the sky is not blue, though we cannot help our seeing it as blue; and as all deductions are based on the experience of the senses, they are naturally considered as equally liable to error.
As to the Veda, however, the Vedântist makes an important distinction between what he calls ‘the practical portion, the Karmakânda,’ and ‘the theoretical portion, the Gñânakânda.’ The former comprises hymns and Brâhmanas, the latter the Upanishads. The former, which includes all that a priesthood would naturally value most highly, is readily surrendered. It is admitted that it may be useful for a time, that it may serve as a necessary preparation, but we are told that it can never impart the highest knowledge which is to be found in the second portion alone. Even that second portion, the Upanishads, may seem to contain many imperfect expressions of the highest truth, but it is the object of the Vedânta philosopher to explain away these imperfect expressions or to bring them into harmony with the general drift of the Vedânta. This is done with all the cleverness of the philosophical pleader, though it often leaves the unprejudiced student doubtful whether he should follow the philosophical pleader, or whether he should recognise in these imperfect expressions traces of an historical growth, and of individual efforts which in different Brahmanic settlements need not always have been equally successful.
Tat tvam asi.
If we ask what was the highest purpose of the teaching of the Upanishads we can state it in three words, as it has been stated by the greatest Vedânta teachers themselves, namely Tat tvam asi. This means, Thou art that. That stands for what I called the last result of Physical Religion which is known to us under different names in different systems of ancient and modern philosophy. It is Zeus or the Εἰ̑ς Θϵὸς or τὸ ὄν in Greece; it is what Plato meant by the Eternal Idea, what Agnostics call the Unknowable, what I call the Infinite in Nature. This is what in India is called Brahman, as masculine or neuter, the being behind all beings, the power that emits the universe, sustains it and draws it back again to itself. The Thou is what I called the Infinite in Man, the last result of Anthropological Religion, the Soul, the Self, the being behind every human Ego, free from all bodily fetters, free from passions, free from all attachments. The expression Thou art that, means Thine Âtman, thy soul, thy self is the Brahman, or, as we can also express it, the last result, the highest object discovered by Physical Religion is the same as the last result, the highest subject discovered by Anthropological Religion; or, in other words, the subject and object of all being and all knowing are one and the same. This is the gist of what I call Psychological Religion, or Theosophy, the highest summit of thought which the human mind has reached, which has found different expressions in different religions and philosophies, but nowhere such a clear and powerful realisation as in the ancient Upanishads of India.
For let me add at once, this recognition of the identity of the that and the thou, is not satisfied with mere poetical metaphor such as that the human soul emanated from the divine soul or was a portion of it; no, what is asserted and defended against all gainsayers is the substantial identity of what had for a time been wrongly distinguished as the subject and object of the world.
The Self, says the Vedânta philosopher, cannot be different from Brahman, because Brahman comprehends all reality, and nothing that really is can therefore be different from Brahman. Secondly, the individual self cannot be conceived as a modification of Brahman, because Brahman by itself cannot be changed, whether by itself, because it is one and perfect in itself, or by anything outside it. Here we see the Vedântist moving in exactly the same stratum of thought in which the Eleatic philosophers moved in Greece. ‘If there is one Infinite,’ they said, ‘there cannot be another, for the other would limit the one, and thus render it finite.’ Or, as applied to God, the Eleatics argued, ‘If God is to be the mightiest and the best, he must be one7, for if there were two or more, he would not be the mightiest and best.’ The Eleatics continued their monistic argument by showing that this One Infinite Being cannot be divided, so that anything could be called a portion of it, because there is no power that could separate anything from it8. Nay, it cannot even have parts, for, as it has no beginning and no end9, it can have no parts, for a part has a beginning and an end10.
These Eleatic ideas—namely, that there is and there can be only One Absolute Being, infinite, unchangeable, without a second, without parts and passions—are the same ideas which underlie the Upanishads and have been fully worked out in the Vedânta-sûtras.
Two Vedânta Schools.
But they are not adopted by all Vedântists. Though all Vedântists accept the Upanishads as inspired and infallible, and though they all recognise the authority of the Vedânta-sûtras, they, like other orthodox philosophers, claim the freedom of interpretation, and by that freedom, have become divided into two schools which to the present day divide the Vedântist philosophers of India into the followers of Saṅkara, and the followers of Râmânuga. The latter, Râmânuga, holds to what we should call the theory of evolution; he looks upon Brahman as the cause, upon the world as the effect, the two being different in appearance, though in reality one and the same. Everything that is, is Brahman, but Brahman contains in itself the real germs of that variety which forms the object of our sensuous perception. The Brahman of Râmânuga may almost be called a personal God, and the soul an individual being sprung from Brahman. Though never really apart from him, it is supposed to remain for ever a personality by itself. The former, Saṅkara, holds to the theory of illusion (vivarta) or nescience (avidyâ). He also maintains that everything that exists is Brahman, but he looks upon the world, with its variety of forms and names, as the result of illusion. Brahman with Saṅkara is impersonal and without attributes. It becomes personal (as îsvara, or the Lord) when under the influence of avidyâ, just as the individual soul deems itself personal when turned away from the highest Brahman, but is never in reality anything else but Brahman. These two doctrines continue to divide the Vedântists to the present day, and the school of Râmânuga is the more popular of the two. For it must not be supposed that this ancient Vedânta philosophy is extinct, or studied by professed philosophers only. It is even now the prevailing philosophy and almost religion of India, and no one can gain an insight, into the Indian mind, whether in the highest or in the lowest ranks of society, who is not familiar with the teachings of the Vedânta.
In order to explain how the same texts, the Upanishads, and even the Vedânta-sûtras, could lend themselves to such different explanations, it will be necessary to say a few words on the difficulty of rightly understanding these ancient sacred texts of the Brâhmans.
The Upanishads difficult to translate.
In my lectures on Physical Religion, when quoting from the hymns of the Rig-veda, I had often to warn you that there are many passages in these ancient hymns which are as yet obscure or extremely difficult to translate. The great bulk of these hymns is clear enough, but whether owing to corruptions in the text, or to the boldness of ancient thought, all honest scholars are bound to confess that their translations do not quite reach the originals, and are liable to correction in the future. To an outsider this may seem to be a desperate state of things, and if he finds two Vedic scholars differing from each other, and defending each his own interpretation with a warmth that often seems to arise from conceit rather than from conviction, he thinks he is justified in thanking God that he is not as other men are. Of course, this is simply childish. If we had waited till every hieroglyphic text had been interpreted from beginning to end, or till every Babylonian inscription had been fully deciphered, before saying anything about the ancient religion of the Egyptians and Babylonians, we should not now possess the excellent works of Lepsius, Brugsch, Maspero, of Schrader, Smith, Sayce, Pinches and Haupt. The same applies to Vedic literature. Here also the better is the enemy of the good, and as long as scholars are careful to distinguish, between what is certain and what is as yet doubtful, they need not mind the jeers of would-be critics, or the taunts of obstructionists. The honest labourer must not wait till he can work in the full light of the noontide sun—he must get up early, and learn to find his way in the dim twilight of the morning also.
I think it right therefore to warn you that the texts of the Upanishads also, on which we shall have chiefly to depend in our lectures, are sometimes very obscure, and very difficult to translate accurately into English or any other modern language. They often lend themselves to different interpretations, and even their ancient native commentators who have written long treatises on them, often differ from each other. Some hold this opinion, they often say, others that, and it is not always easy for us to choose and to say positively which of the ancient interpreters was right and which was wrong. When I undertook to publish the first complete translation of the twelve most important Upanishads, I was well aware that it was no easy task. It had never before been carried out in its completeness by any Sanskrit scholar. As I had myself pointed out that certain passages lent themselves to different explanations, nothing was easier to the faultfinding critic than to dwell on these passages and to point out that their translation was doubtful or that the rendering I had adopted was wrong, or that at all events another rendering was equally possible. My translation has not escaped this kind of criticism, but for all that, even my most severe critics have not been able to deny that my translation marked a decided progress over those that had been hitherto attempted, and this, as Professor Boehtlingk has truly remarked, is after all, all that an honest scholar should care for. The best authority on this subject, Professor Deussen, has warned our ill-natured and ill-informed critics that in the translation of the Upanishads, as in other works of the same tentative character, le mieux est l'ennemi du bien. We ought to advance step by step beyond our predecessors, well knowing that those who come after us will advance beyond ourselves. Nor do I wonder that native scholars should be amazed at our hardihood in venturing to differ from such men as Saṅkara, Râmatîrtha, and others, whom they look upon as almost infallible. All I can say in self-defence is that even the native commentators admit the possibility of different explanations, and that in claiming for ourselves the right to choose between them, we do no more than what they would wish us to do in giving us the choice. I have a great respect for native commentators, but I cannot carry my respect for these learned men so far as a native Indian scholar who when I asked him which of two conflicting interpretations he held to be the right one, answered without any misgivings, that probably both were right, and that otherwise they would not have been mentioned by the ancient commentators.
I have often been told that it is not wise to lay so much stress on the uncertainties attaching to the translation of Oriental texts, particularly of the Vedas, that the same uncertainties exist in the interpretation of the Bible, nay even of Greek and Latin classics, to say nothing of Greek and Latin inscriptions. The public at large, they say, is sufficiently incredulous, as it is, and it is far better to give the last results of our researches as certain for the time being, leaving it to the future to correct such mistakes as are inevitable in the deciphering of ancient texts. This advice has been followed by many students, more particularly by the decipherers of hieroglyphic and cuneiform inscriptions; but what has been the result? As every year has corrected the results of the previous year, hardly anyone now ventures to make use of the results of these researches, however confidently they are put forward as final, and as beyond the reach of doubt. It is quite true that the warnings given by conscientious scholars as to the inevitable uncertainty in the translation of Vedic texts, may produce the same effect. My having called the Veda a book with seven seals has been greedily laid hold of by certain writers to whom the very existence of the Veda was an offence and a provocation, in order to show the insecurity of all systems of comparative philology, mythology and theology, based on evidence derived from this book with seven seals. True scholars, however, know better. They know that in a long Latin inscription certain words may be quite illegible, others difficult to decipher and to translate, and that yet a considerable portion may be as clear and as intelligible as any page of Cicero, and may be used for linguistic or historical purposes with perfect safety. Scholars know that the same applies to the Veda, and that many words, many lines, many pages are as clear as any page of Cicero.
When I am asked what can be the use of a book with seven seals for a comparative study of religion and mythology, my answer is that it stimulates us to remove those seals. In the case of the Veda I may safely say that several of these seals have by this time been broken, and there is every reason to hope that with honesty and perseverance the remaining seals also will in time be removed.