The Religions Of India

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Overview

CHAPTER I.--INTRODUCTION.


SOURCES.--DATES.--METHODS OF INTERPRETATION.--DIVISIONS OF SUBJECT.


SOURCES.


India always has been a land of religions. In the earliest Vedic
literature are found not only hymns in praise of the accepted gods,
but also doubts in regard to the worth of these gods; the beginnings
of a new religion incorporated into the earliest records of the old.
And later, when, about 300 B.C, Megasthenes was in India, the
descendants of those first theosophists are still discussing, albeit
in more modern fashion, the questions that lie at the root of all
religion. "Of the philosophers, those that are most estimable he terms
Brahmans ([Greek: _brachmanas_]). These discuss with many words
concerning death. For they regard death as being, for the wise, a
birth into real life--into the happy life. And in many things they
hold the same opinions with the Greeks: saying that the universe was
begotten and will be destroyed, and that the world is a sphere, which
the god who made and owns it pervades throughout; that there are
different beginnings of all things, but water is the beginning of
world-making, while, in addition to the four elements, there is, as
fifth, a kind of nature, whence came the sky and the stars.... And
concerning the seed of things and the soul they have much to say also,
whereby they weave in myths, just as does Plato, in regard to the
soul's immortality, judgment in hell, and such things."[1]

And as India conspicuously is a country of creeds, so is its
literature preëminently priestly and religious. From the first Veda to
the last Pur[=a]na, religion forms either the subject-matter of the
most important works, or, as in the case of the epics,[2] the basis of
didactic excursions and sectarian interpolations, which impart to
worldly themes a tone peculiarly theological. History and oratory are
unknown in Indian literature. The early poetry consists of hymns and
religious poems; the early prose, of liturgies, linguistics, "law,"
theology, sacred legends and other works, all of which are intended to
supplement the knowledge of the Veda, to explain ceremonies, or to
inculcate religious principles. At a later date, formal grammar and
systems of philosophy, fables and commentaries are added to the prose;
epics, secular lyric, drama, the Pur[=a]nas and such writings to the
poetry. But in all this great mass, till that time which Müller has
called the Renaissance--that is to say, till after the Hindus were
come into close contact with foreign nations, notably the Greek, from
which has been borrowed, perhaps, the classical Hindu drama,[3]--there
is no real literature that was not religious originally, or, at least,
so apt for priestly use as to become chiefly moral and theosophic;
while the most popular works of modern times are sectarian tracts,
Pur[=]nas, Tantras and remodelled worldly poetry. The sources, then,
from which is to be drawn the knowledge of Hindu religions are the
best possible--the original texts. The information furnished by
foreigners, from the times of Ktesias and Megasthenes to that of
Mandelslo, is considerable; but one is warranted in assuming that what
little in it is novel is inaccurate, since otherwise the information
would have been furnished by the Hindus themselves; and that,
conversely, an outsider's statements, although presumably correct,
often may give an inexact impression through lack of completeness; as
when--to take an example that one can control--Ktesias tells half the
truth in regard to ordeals. His account is true, but he gives no
notion of the number or elaborate character of these interesting
ceremonies.
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Product Details

  • BN ID: 2940015723557
  • Publisher: SAP
  • Publication date: 12/12/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 602 KB

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