Enslaving brahminical practices devoid of hygiene
The Brahman in his pride of intellectual superiority, residing largely in the domain of religion, was determined to maintain his privileged position against the mass of animistic belief which he found when he entered the plains of South India. He was unwilling to undertake the always difficult process of securing an intelligent conviction in those who were of a different way of thinking; he chose the easier way of self- accommodation, and compromised what to him was truth in order to achieve the selfish end of maintaining his position as spiritual dictator to his fellows. Lacking in his composition the hard grain which refuses to stretch conviction beyond the confines of truth, he found that his philosophy was sufficiently elastic to cover any superstition, however absurd, and to condone any custom, however immoral. He was thus able to secure for his order not only the direction of public ceremonial in the temple, not only the exclusive authority to interpret both the recorded wisdom of the past and the common traditions of successive generations, but the even more powerful influence of the domestic priesthood. His was the voice which declared the propitious day for the family undertaking, and it was he who ordered at a price the domestic ritual to be observed at birth, at marriage, and at death. He could make any concession to local prejudice which he might think desirable, and he incorporated into his own more philosophical system the crudities of an inferior faith. What was the Animism which thus formed the testing of sincerity in these Aryan invaders of India? It is a view of the world as inhabited by spirits (animae). It is recognition of dark, mysterious forces of which no account can be given. Every object or process which was unknown or unusual was held to be the abode of mysterious power. But, further, such powers were invariably held to be malignant. The unknown was considered to be invariably inimical, and such worship as was paid was no grateful offering symbolizing the allegiance and the devotion of the worshipper, but a propitiatory gift intended to buy off the threatening peril. That is to say that the Dravidian, and still more the aboriginal tribe in the hills, lived in an atmosphere of fear ; such things as the snake, or such experiences as that of disease, indicated to him the presence of a malignant power before which he bowed in terror, and which he sought to pacify by such offerings as were within his reach. Ignorance and fear were the twin motives of his religious observance. The priests who presided over his ritual were sorcerers who were learned in the arts of magic, and who were able thereby to appease and propitiate the hostile power. Then the supreme mystery of death played no small part in forming his creed. That which had left the body was conceived of as a ghost, and a hostile ghost, which needed propitiatory offerings if it was to desist from its otherwise inevitable menace to living beings. The worship of ancestors, always an instinct in primaeval man, thus became linked with the worship of inanimate objects, whom one claim to worship was that they were dangerous. Ancestral worship it was which imported into the faith of the people those traces of belief in a personal deity which may be detected in Animism. The doctrine of transmigration was developed later, but its traces, too, are to be found in the primaeval belief which we are now considering, since the wandering ghost might find a new habitation in some other human body or within some natural object. Such a religion, it will be easily seen, lends itself to every form of superstition, and usually passes away as education narrows the realm of the unknown, and reveals the causes of natural phenomena. How, then, are we to explain the fact that the Hindu religion remains full of this element of superstition, so that even the twice-born Aryan who subscribes to a philosophy of pure idealism is as much under its influence as if he were the merest Animist? The answer is that this element persists because it was taken up into the more intellectual system. It was brought into alliance with the philosophy of the Aryans. These last were not concerned with driving away from the minds of their Dravidian brethren the darkness which enveloped their minds, but rather with the exploiting of it to their own advantage. Their priests stretched their philosophy so as to cover every form of religious observance, however degrading it might be. By peaceful penetration they secured a complete spiritual supremacy. Incorporation gave them dominance. But it was at a terrible cost. Their own thought, which had approached a true monotheism, became debased by idolatry, and such gleams of moral consciousness as appear in the earlier and loftier hymns of the Rigveda were speedily quenched in the allowance, and the practice, of gross immoralities. The principle of accommodation and compromise led to moral and spiritual corruption. The whole process has been analysed for us by a master mind in the terrible verses which we find in the first chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, and the history of religion in India is the object-lesson which verifies the apostolic indictment of natural religion, so swiftly assuming the most unnatural forms unless led to its fulfilment by Divine revelation.
Some tribes have retained their Animism almost without admixture, but these are tribes which have retreated before the invaders of their country into the fastnesses of the hills. Others have been so far influenced by Aryan thought that they now find themselves related to it in a sense. They have, indeed, no part in the worship offered by their superiors, nor does the Brahman priest attempt to control them. They are outcast from the four great divisions of Hindu society. These latter are dependent upon them for all sorts of menial labour, and often exact this so unscrupulously as to reduce their victims to a condition of serfdom, if not of actual slavery. These, again, have approximated, as far as they were allowed, to the custom of the higher classes, and there are traces among them of some attempt to set up caste distinctions within their own community, separate as this is. There is, however, a distinct penetration of thought derived from Aryans among these despised people. Anything approaching a system of philosophy is not to be sought among them. It is entirely absent. But the effects of Brahmanical thought are to be found even among their crude conceptions. Just as the Aryan has allowed himself to be affected by Animistic belief and superstition, these Animists have breathed the atmosphere of Pantheistic teaching, until there have appeared among them the same moral confusions, the same lack of moral responsibility, and the same hopelessness of salvation, which characterize those who accept Pantheism as their interpretation of God and the World. It is these three factors which must be considered as the real hindrance to Christianity, the caste of the Brahmans, the general caste system, and Indian Pantheism. The mind of the Aryan thus passed to a more polytheistic conception, and there was no staying that process when it had once begun. But as the Vedic poets speak of the one god they are immediately addressing at any moment as supreme, and heap upon him all the highest attributes, while not denying the divinity of other gods, the term Henotheism has been coined as expressing more accurately than either Monotheism or Polytheism the Vedic conception of the Divine.
But side by side with this polytheistic process there sprang up a tendency destined to play an all-important part in shaping the Hindu conception of God. Against the Polytheism thus early beginning to appear there was bound to be a reaction on the intellectual side, due to the demand of the mind for some central unity in its conception of God and the world, and thus there arose, fitfully at first there are indications even in the Vedic hymns but later in gathering force what we call Pantheism. In its full development the unity desired was found by roundly denying the existence of anything but God. Necessarily this deity was an impersonal Substance/ and the neuter Brahma was chosen as the name for that deity. With this tendency there went another. The intellectual movement did not stand alone; there went with it the sacerdotal. The more popular movement was in the direction of appeasing or cajoling the deity, and the method adopted a natural one of great significance was that of sacrifice. This gave rise to a priestly class, and the latter set out to exploit in its own interests the religious feeling of the time, which had then passed from the stage of adoration to that of securing favour or averting disaster. Under the title Brahman the priest finally secured the pre-eminent position in India, and still holds that position.
(to be continued)
(Published with due acknowledgement to the author)