Hindu Mysticism - SACRIFICIAL MYSTICISM
THE Hindus possess a body of sacred compositions called the Vedas. Of these there are four collections. Two of them comprise original hymns. The contents of the others consist largely of poems derived from the former two. The collections of original hymns, known as the Rig Veda and the Atharva Veda, include, respectively, 1028 original hymns of about 10600 stanzas and 731 hymns of about 6000 stanzas. All of these were kept in memory and transmitted by recitation and close memorizing on the part of teachers and pupils in an unbroken chain of early traditions from a time when writing was probably not known. The opinions of scholars vary greatly regarding the antiquity of this literature; some think that the hymns were composed about 6000 B. C. or at a still earlier date, while others think that they were composed about 1200 B. C. or 1000 B. C. The Vedic hymns are probably the earliest important religious documents of the human race.1
The hymns of the Atharva Veda contain among other things descriptions of charms for curing diseases, prayers for long life and health, imprecations against demons, sorcerers and enemies, charms pertaining to women--to secure their love or arouse jealousy, and
the like--charms for securing harmony and influence in an assembly, charms for securing the prosperity of household, fields, cattle, business, gambling, etc., charms in expiation of sins and defilement. The hymns of the Rig Veda, on the other hand, are often praises of various deities, who are frequently mere personifications of the different powers of nature, such as the rain-god, the wind-god, the fire-god, and the like. The prayers in these hymns are praises of the greatness and power, the mysterious nature, and the exploits of these deities, as well as prayers for various favors. Often the favors sought are of the nature of material blessings, such as long life, vigorous offspring, cattle and horses, gold, etc. Prayers for the advancement of the inner spiritual achievements of man, for righteousness or moral greatness, prayers expressing a passionate longing for the divine or a humble submission of the mind to the divine will are not so frequent. Most of these prayers were recited in the performance of certain prescribed rituals. Though from the praises of the gods one might infer that it was the gods who were supposed to bestow the benefits, it was in fact the complete set of ritualistic performances that was considered to be the cause of the showering of the benefits. It was supposed that these ritualistic performances when carried out in all their details, precisely and accurately, could by their joint and mysterious effect produce a mysterious something whereby the prayers were fulfilled. 2
I shall omit from my discussion the hymns of the Atharva Veda which deal only with spells, witchcraft
and incantations. But while I take for examination those hymns of the Rig Veda which express beautiful ideas about the nature-deities and which voice personal requests for material comforts or for advantages, it should be understood that they also were chanted in connection with the performance of rituals and sacrifices. It is difficult to determine whether in the earliest period definite theories had been formulated regarding the intimate and indispensable connection between the chanting of these hymns of personal appeal and the performance of the rituals. But if we judge by the Vedic literature of the Brahmanas (probably composed shortly after the hymns, and later appended to them) which indicate authoritatively the place of these hymns in the ritualistic observances and specify what hymns were to be uttered under what ritualistic conditions and in what order or manner, it seems almost certain that the prevailing form of what is commonly called the Vedic religion may in strictness not be considered as a religion in the ordinarily accepted meaning of this term. Many of the ritualistic observances, or yajna, required the help of a large number of priests, and large quantities of butter, rice, milk, animals, etc. They had to be performed with the most elaborate details from day to day, for months together and sometimes even for ten or twelve years; and it was enjoined that all the observances should be performed in exact accordance with the prescriptions laid down in the Brahmana literature. Even the slightest inaccuracy or the most trifling inexactness would be sufficient to spoil the entire effect of the sacrifice. But
if the sacrifices were performed with the strictest accuracy, then the material advantages for which they were performed were bound to come regardless of the good will or the ill will of the gods to whom the prayers were offered. Tvashtar had performed a sacrifice for the birth of a son who might kill Indra, but owing to a slight error in pronunciation the meaning of the prayer was changed and the sacrifice produced a son who was not a killer of Indra but of whom Indra was the killer. 3
This idea of sacrifice is entirely different from anything found in other races. For with the Vedic people, the sacrifices were more powerful than the gods. The gods could be pleased or displeased; if the sacrifices were duly performed the prayers were bound to be fulfilled. The utterance or chanting of the stanzas of the Vedic hymns with specially prescribed accents and modulations, the pouring of the melted butter in the prescribed manner into the sacrificial fire, the husking of rice in a particular way, the making and exact placing of cakes, all the thousand details of rituals--often performed continuously for days, months and years with rigorous exactness--was called a yajna (frequently translated into English, "sacrifice"). All the good things that the people wanted, be it the birth of a son, a shower of rain, or a place of enjoyment in heaven, were believed to be secured through the performance of these sacrifices. It is possible that when these hymns were originally composed, they were but simple prayers to the deified powers of nature, or that they were only associated with some simple rituals.
[paragraph continues] But the evidence that is presented to us in the later Vedic and non-Vedic records containing descriptions of these sacrifices and discussions respecting their value, convinces us beyond doubt that it was the performance of these sacrifices, perfect in every detail in accordance with the dictates of the sacrificial manuals, the Brahmanas, that was believed to be capable of producing everything that a man could desire. A direct consequence of this apparently unmeaning necessity of strictest accuracy of ritualistic performances is a theory that came to be formulated and accepted in later periods, namely, that the sacrificial rites revealed such supernatural wisdom that they could not have been made by any one but were self-existent. It came to be held that the hymns of the Vedas, as well as the sacrificial manuals, were without authorship; that they existed eternally, prescribing certain courses of ritualistic procedure for the attainment of particular advantages and prohibiting certain undesirable courses of action. Consistently with the sacrificial theory it was also believed that the meanings of the hymns, so far as they described events or facts of nature or the exploits and the conduct of the gods were of a legendary character, that their true value consisted in the enjoining of particular courses of action or of dissuading people from other courses of action. 4
Religion in its ordinarily accepted sense means a personal relationship with some divine or transcendent person to whom we submit and to whom we pray for material advantages or for spiritual or moral enlightenment.
[paragraph continues] But here was a belief in the divinity or the uncreatedness of a literature--the Vedas--which was believed to contain within itself the secret laws of the universe. Here there was a conception of commands, categorical in nature and external in character, without the least suggestion of any commander. Though these commands were supposed not to have emanated from any person, they may nevertheless in some sense be described as transcendent, for they were regarded as far above human wisdom. No reason could be given why a particular sacrificial performance should produce any particular kind of material advantage. There stand the commands--commands which had revealed themselves to the minds of the various sages, which had no beginning in time, which do not imply any commander, and which are absolutely faultless and unerring in their directions. 5
The sacrifices, thus, were supposed to possess a mysterious power capable of regulating and modifying the workings of the universe for the advantage of individuals; and the Vedic commands were thought to embody omniscience respecting the ways of the world. Though the repository of omniscience, the Vedas were not conceived as divulging to us their secrets but merely as providing a body of directions which, if followed, would give whatever advantages one craved in this life or the next. The sacrifices (yajna) or their mysterious powers, are called dharma, a term which in Indian vernaculars is often used wrongly to translate the English word "religion." The Vedic hymns, the priests, and the sacrifices are also called "the great"
by the application of the term brahman, which in later Indian philosophy and religion had such a momentous history. 6
What we have described is no ordinary magic of spells and incantations, but a repository of the cosmic secrets and cosmic forces. These impersonal commands unite in them the concepts of an unalterable law and perfect omniscience; they imply therefore the possibility of reaping all the comforts of this life and of the after-life by submission to them and compliance with them. But they involve no law-giver, no divine person, no author of the universe or of the destinies of human beings who must be pacified, obeyed or loved, and by whose grace we receive the blessings of life. We can control our own destinies, and have whatever we may want, if we only follow the commands. There is no other mystery of life save this great mystery of the Vedic commands, and these are absolutely inscrutable. These commands do not teach ordinary laws of social life or of behavior toward our fellow-beings, or anything that we could discover by our own intelligence and wisdom. Neither do they teach us anything that we could learn by experience or reason. They give direction for the attainment of the good things of this life or of the after-life only in so far as the means thereto are absolutely undiscoverable by us. They are not a body of facts, but a body of commands and prohibitions. Yet they do not represent commands of the inner conscience or of the spirit within us; they do not give us any food for the spirit. They represent an objective and unalterable
law realistically conceived, and they relate to desires for material comforts in this life or the life in heaven. This concept gives us all the principal elements of religion except that of a divine person. The acceptance of the blessings of this life as gifts from God, and a sense of our duty to please Him by submission and prayer are, therefore, not implied in this system of Vedic sacrifices. What is implied is some great impersonal force which harmonises ourselves and our destinies with the happenings and events of the world of nature. Instead of God we find here a body of commands which demand our obedience and reverence; but the source of their power and the secret of their omniscient character and uncreatedness cannot be determined by us through reason or experience. But this ritualistic mysticism--if we may be permitted thus to call it--must be distinguished from the simple feelings and ideas that are found in the hymns themselves. In all probability the latter did not originally imply the complicated ritualistic hypotheses of the later period. 7
The forces of nature with their wonderful manifestations of inexplicable marvels appeared to the early sages like great beings endowed with life and personality. They were treated at times as friendly, but again as hostile. Sometimes the mystery of the natural phenomena seemed stupifying in its psychological effect. The laws of nature were at that time unknown, and there was no obstacle to the free flight of the imagination. When the Vedic sage saw the sun proceeding
in his upward and downward course through the sky he cried out in his wonder:
That downward turned he falls not downward?
The guide of his ascending path,--who saw it?"
[paragraph continues] The sage is full of wonder that "the sparkling waters of all rivers flow into one ocean without ever filling it." He perceives the unalterable course of the sun from day to day, and the succession of day and night, and he exclaims with delight: "Every day, in unceasing interchange with night and her dark wonders, comes the dawn with her beautiful ones to reanimate the worlds, never failing in her place, never in her time." Again, he is puzzled when thinking whither the shining ones of the sky disappear, and he cries forth in amazement:
Where lies the path that leads to the Eternals?
Their deepest dwellings only we discover,
And hidden these in distant secret regions."
[paragraph continues] In how many hymns does the singer express his wonder that the rough red cow gives soft white milk. To the god Indra he cries:
A judging mind, prosperity abiding,
Riches abundant, lasting health of body,
The grace of eloquence, and days propitious."
[paragraph continues] To the God of the destroying storm he prays:
My life on earth prolong a hundred winters.
From us dispel all hatred and oppression,
On every side calamity drive from us.
Where then, O Rudra, is thy hand of mercy,
The hand that healing brings and softens sorrow,
That takes away the ills which the gods send?
Let me, O mighty one, feel thy forgiveness.
The hero gladdened me amid tumult
With greater might when I his aid entreated;
Like some cool shade from the Sun's heat protected
May I attain to Rudra's grace and refuge."
[paragraph continues] Again when he is penitent he would ask forgiveness of the god Varuna, the personification of the all-embracing heaven, and say:
Have evil done, to brother or to neighbour,
To our own countryman or to a stranger,
That sin do thou O Varuna forgive us."
[paragraph continues] Or,
What we ourselves have sinned in mercy pardon;
My own misdeeds do thou O God take from me,
And for another's sin let me not suffer."
[paragraph continues] Or, again,
If consciously we have erred or all unconscious
According to our sin do not thou punish;
Be thou the singer's guardian in thy wisdom."
[paragraph continues] But besides these prayers, we sometimes find poems
composed by the Vedic people, descriptive of their varied experiences of ordinary life. Thus a gambler gives his experience as follows:
Was ever kind to me and my companions;
Though she was faithful to me, I have spurned her,
For love of dice, the only thing I value.
The gambler's wife deserted mourns; his mother
Laments her son, she knows not where he wanders
And he in debt and trouble, seeking money,
Remains at night beneath the roof of strangers.
And when I say that I will play no longer,
My friends abandon me and all desert me;
Yet then again I hear the brown dice rattling
I hasten, like a wanton to her lover."
[paragraph continues] Again we read:
'Today I'll win,' he thinks in his excitement.
The dice inflame his greed, his hopes mount higher;
He leaves his winnings all with his opponent."
[paragraph continues] When we read these hymns we see in them the simple prayers of a simple primitive people impressed with the inexplicable and varied phenomena of a tropical climate. They turn to the forces behind the latter as personified deities, describing the phenomena and offering their simple prayers. We find in these prayers experiences of simple wonder, of sufferings and of simple enjoyments. But when we come to the sacrificial stage of development we find a religious outlook in which the independent simple meanings of the
hymns possess importance only for their sacrificial utterance in particular contexts. During the particular ritual observances the different verses were often torn out of their contexts and were combined with others which apparently had little or no relation with them and no conceivable bearing on the performances during which they were chanted or uttered. They were simply the means for the performance of the sacrifices. Their simple meanings as descriptions of things or events or phenomena or ideas were dropped from consideration. The value attached to them centered about their being uttered or chanted in particular Vedic sacrifices in accordance with certain sacrificial canons of interpretation. The entire significance of these hymns consisted either in their use as directions for the performance of certain sacrificial duties or in their utterance in these sacrifices under prescribed conditions as found in the sacrificial manuals, the Brahmanas, which were considered as part of the Vedas. Thought and feeling were driven from their places of importance in human nature, and the whole emphasis was laid on the interpretation of the Vedic literature as a system of duties involving commands and prohibitions, and nothing else. Some of these duties were compulsory, while others were voluntary in the sense that they had to be performed only when one wanted to secure some desired end unattainable by any means discoverable by his reason or experience. 8
The authority which this system of Vedic injunctions and prohibitions was supposed to possess was so high as to demand the entire submission of one's will
and thought. Their claims did not stand in need of any justification by reason or logic, for they were supposed to be guides in a sphere where reason and experience were utterly helpless. The only fruitful way in which reason could be employed with regard to these Vedic commands was by accepting their authority and then trying to explain them in such a way that their mysterious nature might be reconciled to us. These Vedic commands cannot be described as "revelations" in the ordinary Christian sense of the term; for the latter presupposes the existence of a living God able and willing to bestow the body of truths that man requires, whereas the Vedic commands are devoid of any notion of a law-giver. This sacrificial mysticism, if it may be so called, does not recognize any God or supreme being from whom these commands emanate or who reveals them to man. The commands are taken as eternal truths, beginningless and immortal, revealing themselves to man and demanding man's submission to them. Nevertheless they are not spiritual or inner truths revealed from within man himself; they are external and impersonal commands which contain within themselves the inscrutable secrets of nature and of the happiness of man. 9
The fact that the Vedas were regarded as revelations of eternal truths, truths which no human reason could ever challenge, naturally divested reason of confidence in its ability to unravel the mysteries of man and of the world. Even in the somewhat later days of the evolution of Vedic culture, when there grew up a school of thinkers who disbelieved the claim that the
whole of the Vedas were nothing but a body of commands and prohibitions and who held that there were at least some particular portions of the Vedas which dealt with the eternal truths of spiritual facts and experiences of reality, the belief remained unshaken that what the Vedas gave one as truths were unshakeable and unchallengeable by reason or by experience. This means a definite lowering or degradation of reason in its capacity as truth-finder. Reason calls for counter-reason and leads through an endless regressus without ever being able to lead to truth. The Vedas, then, are the only repository of the highest truths, and the function of reason is only to attempt to reconcile these truths with our experience and sense-observation. It is surprising that reason has continued to remain in this subordinate position throughout the development of Indian religious and philosophical thought almost to our own days. No change, no new idea could be considered to be right or could be believed by the people, unless it could also be shown that it had the sanction of the Vedas. Reason was never trusted as the only true and safe guide. 10
The word "mysticism" is a European word with a definite history. Most European writers have used it to denote an intuitive or ecstatic union with the deity, through contemplation, communion, or other mental experiences, or to denote the relationship and potential union of the human soul with ultimate reality. But I should for my present purposes like to give it a wider meaning which would include this and the other different types of mysticism that I may be discussing
in the course of this series of lectures. I should like to define mysticism as a theory, doctrine, or view that considers reason to be incapable of discovering or of realising the nature of ultimate truth, whatever be the nature of this ultimate truth, but at the same time believes in the certitude of some other means of arriving at it. If this definition be accepted, then this ritualistic philosophy of the Vedas is the earliest form of mysticism that is known to India or to the world. This Vedic mysticism prepared the way for the rise of the other forms of mysticism that sprang up in India. Subsequent lectures will deal with these later forms, in some of which at least it will be easy to notice their similarity to Western types of mysticism with which Western readers are more or less familiar. 11
The main elements of the sacrificial mysticism of the Vedas may be summarised as follows: First, a belief that the sacrifices when performed with perfect accuracy, possess a secret, mysterious power to bring about or produce as their effect whatever we may desire either in this life or in the hereafter. Second, the conception of an unalterable law--involved in such invariable and unfailing occurrences of effects consequent upon the performance of these sacrifices. Third, an acceptance of the impersonal nature of the Vedic literature, as having existed by itself from beginningless time and as not created or composed by any person, human or divine. Fourth, the view that the Vedic literature embodies nothing but a system of duties involving commands and prohibitions. Fifth, a recognition of the supreme authority of the Vedas
as the only source of the knowledge of ultimate truths which are far beyond the powers of human reason. Sixth, the view that truth or reality, whether it be of the nature of commands or of facts (as was maintained by the later Vedic schools of thought, the Upanishads), could be found once for all in the words of the Vedas. Seventh, the belief that the Vedic system of duties demands unfailing obedience and submission. Two definite characteristics emerge from these: first, the transcendent, mysterious, and secret power of the sacrifices, replacing the natural forces personified as gods; second, the ultimate superiority of the Vedas as the source of all truths, and as the unchallengeable dictators of our duties, leading to our material well-being and happiness. The assumption of the mysterious omnipotence of sacrifices, performed by following the authoritative injunctions of the Vedas independently of reason or logical and discursive thought, forms the chief trait of the mysticism of the Vedic type. There is nothing here of feeling or even of intellect, but a blind submission, not to a person but to an impersonal authority which holds within it an unalterable and inscrutable law, the secret of all powers which we may want to wield in our favor. 12
The next step in the development of this type of mysticism consists in the growth of a school of thought which sought to intellectualise the material sacrifices. It encouraged the belief that it was quite unnecessary actually to perform the sacrifices requiring the expenditure of enormous sums of money for the collection of materials and for labor. The same results
might be as well obtained through certain kinds of meditation or reflection. Thus, instead of the actual performance of a horse sacrifice, in which the immolation of a horse is accompanied by other rituals engaging the services of large numbers of men and the expenditure of funds such as kings alone could provide, one might as well think of the dawn as the head of a horse, the sun as its eye, the wind as its life, the heaven as its back, the intervening space as its belly, the sky as its flesh and the stars as its bones. Such a meditation, or rather concentrated imagining of the universe as a cosmic horse, would, it was maintained, produce all the beneficial results that could be expected from the performance of an actual horse sacrifice. Thus, these attempts to intellectualise sacrifices took the form of replacing by meditation the actual sacrifices, and this substitution was believed to produce results which were equally beneficial. This meditation by substitution gradually took various forms: certain letters of the alphabet had, for example, to be thought of, or meditated upon, as Brahman or some other deity, or as vital functions of the body, or as some personified nature deity. This meditation was supposed to produce beneficial results. It should not be supposed that the sacrificial forms were entirely supplanted by these new forms of substitution-meditations. Rather did they spring up side by side with them. These forms of meditation did not mean prolonged contemplation, or any logical process of thinking, but merely the simple practice of continually thinking of one entity, process, or letter as another entity or process. 13
Even in modern India there are still many men who believe that the repetition of mystical formulas (apparently meaningless combinations of letters, or the names of some deities) is capable of producing beneficial results. Even the worship of a round or an oval stone as the god Vishnu or Siva, or again the worship of a waterjug or an image as a particular god or goddess, is nothing but a modified form of substitution-meditation, one thing being considered and meditated upon as another. These practices are to be distinguished from the ordinary spells and incantations commonly believed in by uneducated people. These substitution-meditations are often believed to be productive of virtue. They form the normal modes of worship of the ordinary Hindu and have now taken the place of the old sacrifices. Nevertheless the old Vedic sacrifices are also to a certain extent performed on occasions of marriages and other domestic ceremonies, as an indispensable part of those ceremonies which still claim to belong entirely to the Vedic order. 14
But, refraining from further references to modern India, let us pick up our thread of discussion and note the next stage in the development of the substitution-meditations. Although the latter were in their conception doubtless as mystical and magical as the old sacrifices, they represent an advance. For in them the mystical powers are supposed to reside not in external performances, but in specific forms of meditation or thinking. This represents an approach toward a consciousness of self and toward a recognition of the mystical powers of thought and meditation of a
peculiar type. But it was only after an almost endless and fruitless search that the highest idea of self and the highest idea of world mystery and its solution dawned in the minds of the Vedic thinkers. What we find at this stage is merely that the Vedic thinkers had become conscious of the activity of thought and of imagination, and had begun to realise that the activity involved in thinking ought to be considered to be as potent a power as the activity involved in the actual performances of material sacrifices. Man's inner thought and his performance of sacrificial duties in the world outside are both regarded as capable of producing mysterious changes and transformations in nature which would benefit man. Passages are to be found in the literature where the vital and other inner processes of the self are compared with a sacrifice. The three periods of human life are considered as being the same as the three bruisings of the sacrificial plant soma; and the functions of hungering, eating and begetting are considered to be the same as the different ceremonies of the soma sacrifice. Logical thinking in Vedic times seems to have taken the form of crude generalisation. The fundamental operation of logical thinking is generalisation based on a scrutiny of facts of experience, noting differences and avoiding false identifications. But in the early stages of Vedic thinking, generalisations were very crude and based on insufficient data, slurring points of difference and making bold identifications. Thus from the fact that we perspire through heat, there arose the cosmological belief that out of fire there came water.
[paragraph continues] From observation of three principal colors, red, white and black (the colors of fire, water and earth) sprang the idea that the universe is made up of the three elements, viz., fire, water and earth. It was thought that wherever there was red, it was due to the existence of fire, wherever there was white it was due to the existence of water, and wherever there was black, it was due to the existence of earth. 15
By a similar loose process of generalisation the word Brahman came to denote the Vedic verses, truth, sacrifices, and knowledge. Etymologically the word means "The Great." Probably it signified vaguely and obscurely the mysterious power underlying these sacrifices and the substitution-meditations. Both the ideas involved in the conception of Brahman as the highest power and the highest knowledge were derived from the notion of the sacrifices. Thus we read in the celebrated man-hymn of the Rig Veda that the gods offered the supreme man as a sacrifice and that from this great oblation all living creatures, as well as the atmosphere, sky, earth and the four quarters, came into being. Three parts of this supreme man transcend the world while one part of him is the whole world about us; and yet, he is himself both the sacrifice and the object of the sacrifice.
But while I have just emphasised the importance of the mysticism of sacrifice in the development of the mystical conception of Brahman as the supreme being, it would be wrong to hold that the mysticism of the sacrifices is alone responsible for the evolution of the great concept of Brahman. Side by side with the concept
found in the Rig Veda of the many gods as personifications of the forces of nature, there was also growing a tendency toward the conception of one supreme being, and this tendency gradually gained in force. Thus, in Rig Veda X. 114.5 we find a verse in which it is said that the deity is one, though he is called by various names. One of the hymns (R. V. X. 129), again, runs as follows: 16
What covered all? Where rested all? In watery gulf profound?
Nor death was then, nor deathlessness, nor change of night and day.
That one breathed calmly, self-sustained; naught else beyond it lay.
Gloom hid in gloom existed first--one sea eluding view.
The one a void in chaos wrapt, by inward fervor grew.
Within it first arose desire, the primal germ of mind,
Which nothing with existence links, as ages searching find.
The kindling ray that shot across the dark and drear abyss,--
Was it beneath or high aloft? What bard can answer this?
There fecundating powers were found and mighty forces strove,
A self-supporting mass beneath, and energy above.
Who knows and who ever told, from whence this vast creation rose?
No gods had then been born. Who then can e’er the truth disclose
Whence sprang this world, whether framed by hand divine or no,
Its lord in heaven alone can tell, if he can show."
Again, in the Atharva Veda (X, 7.) we find a hymn dedicated to Skambha where the different parts of this deity are identified not only with the different parts of the material world but also with a number of moral qualities such as faith, austere fervor, truthfulness, etc. All the thirty-three gods of the Vedas are contained within him and bow down to him. He is also called Brahman, "The Great." In the next hymn of the Atharva Veda (X. 8) Brahman is adored and spoken of as presiding over the past and the future, and he is said to be residing within our hearts and to be the self which never decays but is self-existent and self-satisfied. This appears to be very much like the idea of the Upanishads of which I shall speak in my next lecture. In the Shatapatha Brahmana, also, we hear of Brahman as having created the gods; and in the Taittiriya Brahmana, Brahman is said to have created the gods and the entire world. 17
Thus we find that the conception of one great being who created the world and the gods, and who is also the power presiding over our lives and spirits, was gradually dawning in the minds of a few people. And though the sacrificial theory tended to lead away from the ordinary meanings of these Vedic hymns, the development of the sacrificial theory itself also made for the conception of some mysterious force which reconciled the destinies of the world and nature with those of men and their desires. This mysterious power, it was held, is resident not only in things external but also in activities of the inner life; it manifests itself in the power of thought, as is exemplified by the mysterious
efficacy of the substitution-meditations. What was the nature of this mysterious power? It is difficult to answer this question. We have seen that its conception varied in significance according to the mode of its development and the sources from which it evolved. But when once the conception was formed, all these constituent notions were mixed together. People regarded Brahman as the highest, but they did not know how Brahman was to be known. Those who started with the sacrificial bias, thought substitution-meditations to be the way to a knowledge of Brahman. And so we find various instructions regarding meditation upon objects, such as the wind, life, fire, etc.,--even upon unmeaning letters. 18
But parallel with this tendency went another, viz., an intellectual search after Brahman, the highest, which displayed a contempt for sacrifices. We find Brahmins going out of their own sphere to warrior castes and kings for secret instruction about the nature of Brahman. There are narratives in which we find that kings belonging to the warrior caste fill proud Brahmins with a sense of discomfiture by exposing the ignorance of the latter concerning the secret nature of Brahman. Thus Balaki Gargya approached King Ajatashatru with the request to be allowed to explain to him the nature of Brahman. He then tried twelve times in succession to define Brahman as the presiding person in the sun, moon, lightning, ether, wind, fire, water, etc.; and in each case King Ajatashatru refuted him by showing the lower position that such presiding persons occupy in the whole of the universe, whereas
[paragraph continues] Brahman should be that which is the highest. Again, we find another narrative in which five Brahmins meet and discuss the question, "What is our Atman and what is Brahman?" They proceed to Uddalaka Aruni with the question. When Uddalaka mistrusts his ability to answer the question, all six go to King Ashvapati Kaikeya for instruction. King Ashvapati first asks them what it is that they worship as Atman or Brahman, anticipating their error that they still regard Atman or Brahman as a new kind of external divinity. The six Brahmins explain Atman in succession as the heaven, the sun, the wind, space, water, and the earth, and in so doing assume it to be an objective and an external deity more or less like the old Vedic deities. This shows us a stage of thought in which people somehow understood Brahman to be the highest principle, but yet found it difficult to shake off their old conceptions of external deities or personifications of nature. Again we find Sanatkumara instructing Narada regarding the nature of Brahman. In so doing Sanatkumara starts from "Name," by which he probably understands all conceptual knowledge. With his peculiar logic, which is difficult for us to follow, he observes that speech is greater than name, that mind is greater than speech, that imagination is greater than mind, and so on. Passing in succession through a number of such concepts, from lower to higher, he ultimately stops at that which is absolutely great, the unlimited, beyond which there is nothing and within which is comprehended all that is to be found in the outer and the inner world. 19
The most important point to be noted in the development of this stage of thought is that worship or prayer is possible only as directed toward a deity conceived with limited powers and as occupying a subordinate position in the universe. But with reference to that which is conceived as the highest truth and the highest power, there is no longer the possibility of external forms of worship. We shall find in the next lecture not only that it is not possible to worship Brahman but that it is not possible to reach Brahman by logical thought or any kind of conceptual apprehension. Thus in a Upanishadic story, referred to by Shankara, we are told of a person who approached a sage Bahva and sought from him instructions regarding the nature of Brahman. Bahva did not speak. He was asked a second time; still he did not speak. Yet again he was asked, but still he did not speak. When the inquirer became annoyed by this, Bahva told him that he was, from the first, by his silence telling him how Brahman was to be described: Brahman is silence and so cannot be represented in speech. There are, however, unmistakable indications that there were still some who believed that even the highest could be worshipped and adored and that men could still submit themselves to Him as to the highest personal God who comprehends us all and controls us all. But the idea that was gradually gaining ground with some of the most important sages, and which will be expounded in the next lecture, was that Brahman, as the highest, is no ordinary personal God who can be induced by worship to favor us or who can be approached by the
pure intellect or even by feeling. Brahman still retains its mysterious character as the highest power, truth, being and bliss which can neither be worshipped nor known by ordinary means of knowledge. But its nature can be realised, and realised so perfectly that the realisation will be like the bursting of a shell of light, a revelation which will submerge the whole of one's life together with all that it contains. The next lecture will describe this type of mysticism of the Upanishads, which represents one of the highest and best, and undoubtedly one of the most distinctive, types of mysticism that India has produced. 20
The Upanishads form the concluding portions of the Vedic literature, both chronologically from the point of view of the development of ideas. They were composed later than the priestly manuals, the Brahmanas, and the manuals of substitution-meditations in the Aranyaka literature, and they form the most authoritative background of all later Hindu philosophical thought. They possess the high authority of the Vedas and are the source of the highest wisdom and truth. The word "Upanishad" has been interpreted etymologically by Shankara to mean "that which destroys all ignorance and leads us to Brahman." It has also been interpreted to mean a secret or mystical doctrine, or a secret instruction, or a secret and confidential sitting. I have elsewhere, in my History of Indian Philosophy, shown how all the different systems of orthodox Indian philosophy look to the Upanishads for light and guidance, differently interpreting the Upanishad texts to suit their own specific systems of thought.
[paragraph continues] Eleven of these, Isha, Kena, Katha, Prashna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya, Brihadaranyaka, and Svetashvatara, are probably the oldest. They vary greatly in length: while the Isha Upanishad would occupy but a single printed page, Brihadaranyaka would occupy at least fifty pages. Since the longer ones probably contain compositions of different periods and of different authorship they represent various stages of evolution and exhibit different intentions. Being the concluding portions of the Vedas, they are called the Vedanta. Their interpretations by different later writers gave rise to different systems of Vedanta philosophy. (One of these well-known forms of Vedanta philosophy was made known to the western world for the first time by a gifted Hindu, Svami Vivekananda.) The Upanishads themselves, however, do not seem to have been written in a systematic, well-connected and logical form. They are mystical experiences of the soul gushing forth from within us; they sparkle with the beams of a new light; they quench our thirst, born at their very sight. It was of these that the German philosopher Schopenhauer said: "How does every line display its firm and definite and throughout harmonious meaning. From every sentence deep, original, and sublime thoughts arise and the whole is pervaded by a high and holy and earnest spirit. . . . In the whole world there is no study, except that of the originals, so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. It has been the solace of my life, it will be the solace of my death." Cases are known in which even Christian
missionaries, sent out to India to teach church doctrines to clergymen or to preach Christianity among the Indians, became so fascinated by the high and lofty teachings of the Upanishads that they introduced the teaching of the Upanishads in the Church and as a consequence were compelled to resign their posts. To Hindus of all denominations there is nothing higher and holier than the inspired sayings of the Upanishads. To them we shall address our attention in the next lecture. 21
11:1 This translation is from Kaegi-Arrowsmith, The Rig Veda, p. 35. The immediately following translations are taken from the same work.
23:2 The translation is taken from Muir's Original Sanskrit Texts, Vol. V.