Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

of the sacrifice of a man. The most common oblation was butter, accompanied by the juice of the soma plant. The gods were supposed to be actually nourished by the offerings presented to them. But Sir Monier Williams has shown that even in Vedic times sacrifices were offered to expiate guilt, though he affirms that the earliest form of Vedic sacrifice was not piacular. The most extraordinary of all the offerings of the old Aryan worshipper was that of the juice of the soma plant, or Asclepias acida. It was, eays Dr. Windischmann, who has written a special treatise on the soma worship of the Aryans, “unquestionably the greatest and holiest offering of the ancient Indian worship.” The whole of the ninth book of the Rig-Veda, containing one hundred and fourteen hymns, is addressed to Soma. This soma was an intoxicating beverage. And yet it is worshipped as a god! Yea, Soma is called the king of the world, the king of heaven and earth, the conquerer of all. He can impart the gift of immortality, and place his worshipper in the third heaven, where life is free, where the worlds are radiant, where there is happiness and delight. When in India, I inquired where this wonderful soma juice could now be procured, but I could obtain no information regarding it. Dr. Hang succeeded in bribing a learned Brahman, in Poona, to perform in his presence the soma offering, and was even permitted to partake of the holy beverage, which gives not only health and wisdom, but immortality. Dr. Hang tells us what he found it to be: “The sap of the plant, now used at Poona, appears whitish, has a very stringent taste, bitter, but not sour; it is a very nasty drink, and has some intoxicating effect. I tasted it several times, but it was impossible for me to drink more than some teaspoonfuls.” This soma, which Dr. Hang, a good German, accustomed to drink wine and beer, found so nauseous, was actually adored as a god and king of heaven and earth by Hindus in Vedic times! How shall we account for the deification of this inebriating drink? Professor Whitney finds the explanation just in the intoxicating properties which it possessed. “The simpleminded Aryan people, whose whole religion was a worship of the wonderful powers and phenomena of nature, had no sooner perceived that this liquid had power to elevate the spirits and produce a temporary frenzy, under the influence of which the individual was prompted to, and capable of, deeds beyond his natural powers, than they found in it something divine; it was to their apprehension a god, endowing those into whom it entered with god-like powers.”

It is an interesting fact, as establishing the close relation between ancient Parsiism and Vedism, that the veneration of Soma is a marked characteristic of the worship of the Zend Avesta. Under the cognate name of Homa, Zoroaster prays to Soma personified. Repeatedly is he praised as the one that drives death afar.” Among other blessings which the “well-minded Homa" bestows, we are told that he "grants to those tall maidens who sit at home unmarried, good husbands, and that as soon as asked.” (Zend Avesta, Yasna IX.)

But while the Veda abounds in the most foolish representations, and while its most distinguishing feature is the worship of nature, some of the old Vedic hymns are decidedly monotheistic in tone. They utter language which we could apply to the God whom we Christians adore. There are passages in the Veda which embody the idea of a supreme God above nature, which contrast strangely with its predominant nature-worship, and which may be fairly appealed to as relics of a not quite forgotten primitive monotheism. The hymns addressed to Varuna, the god of the firmament, present him as a holy being, the punisher of sin, and who can mercifully forgive sin. To us it is difficult to conceive how, when men had the idea of a supreme being, and had that idea embodied in a definite name, such as Varuna, they should yet address other gods, as Indra and Agni, in terms of equal praise, and make of each of them, also, the supreme being. But so it is. While the one is invoked, the other is forgotten. This is the manifest fact. The authors of the Vedic hymns bad ideas, more or less correct, of a god who had power over them. They had the predicate god, and could, and did, make abusive applications of it. When we thus find in the earliest records of Hindu religious thought, amid the rubbish of nature-worship, the conception of a supreme being, the maker and lord of all, the conclusion that this idea should be looked on as the survival of a primordial revelation is the most reasonable that can be drawn. The Book of Genesis goes on the supposition that a pure monotheism was the primitive religion, obtained in the way of immediate divine revelation; and the Apostle Paul distinctly teaches that men knew God in the beginning, but fell from this knowledge. A study of the religious ideas of the Veda and of the course of religious development in India confirms this doctrine in a striking manner.

We have now to glance at the early literature and worship of the Iranian or Persian branch of the Aryan family. Its ancient literature that has been preserved to our time is very scanty as compared with the Indian. Its oldest sacred book is called the Zend Avesta, or Avesta Zend. That word “Zend” is commonly taken to denote the language in which the Avesta is written. It really means the commentary on the Avesta, or sacred text. The Avesta is a collection of fragments, the relics of a much more extensive sacred literature. It contains laws and mythical stories, and prayers and hymns. Its interpretation is exceedingly difficult. By comparing the versions of it made by different scholars, and by the same scholars at different times, we can see the great uncertainty which attaches to the meaning of a large part of the Avesta. Its interpretation is incomparably more difficult than that of the Veda.

There are two leading ideas that lie at the foundation of the religion of both the Hindus and the Iranians. The one is the regular order of nature, its subjection to law. The other idea is that of a conflict and struggle in nature. Destructive as well as beneficent natural forces are apparent to the superficial observer. It was the influence of this latter impression that led to the dualism of the ancient Persians. Again, the consideration of the beneficent order of nature would incline the observer to monotheism. In the Sacred Books of the East, edited by Sir F. Max Mueller, we have translations, more or less reliable, of the several parts of the Avesta. These translations you should yourselves consult, if you wish to know the teaching of the Avesta. I venture to say that the impression which you would thus receive of the religion taught in the Avesta would be far more unfavorable than current representations of its character would lead you to expect. The Avesta contains a revelation professedly made by Ahura Mazda or Hormazd to Zarathushtra or Zoroaster. When Zoroaster lived is a question which is still unsettled. Darmesteter, whose merit as an interpreter of Zend literature is unsurpassed, will not admit that Zoroaster can be regarded as a historical person, and treats him as a purely mythical being. This is probably carrying skepticism too far. But we may be certain that the Avesta belongs to a much later period than the Rig Veda. Mueller describes the religion of the Avesta as “a curious mixture of monotheism, polytheism, and dualism.” A

A pure monotheism I have not been able to discover in it; but an approach to monotheism it may be allowed to contain. Ahura Mazda, the beneficent deity, is not the creator of all things. Angro Mainyu, or Ahriman, the evil principle, was also, in the beginning, dwelling in uncreated darkness, as Ahura Mazda dwelt in uncreated light, and for every good thing that Ahura Mazda brought into existence, his rival cansed a corresponding evil thing to come into being. While the one produced life and health, the other counterworked him by producing disease and death. In the very earliest part of the Avesta we find the doctrine of dualism clearly enunciated. Take the thirtieth Yasna, which belongs to the Gathas, allowed to be the most ancient and purest portion of the Avesta. In it there is solemnly proclaimed the doctrine of two original spirits, a better and a worse, each independent in his action, each finishing his part in creation, and having his separate realm. Between them and their respective followers there is incessant strife. At last the good spirit will triumph. Do not think that the worshippers of Ahura Mazda confine their adoration to him. Sun, moon, and stars, the wind, plants, the waters, the souls of departed men and animals, all good men and women still living, in short, the whole of the good creation, have prayers addressed to them. Fire, which is called Ahura Mazda's son, is especially worshipped. Hence, the disciples of Zoroaster are called fire-worshippers. Modern Parsis are offended by this designation. But they cannot deny that the worship of fire is sanctioned by the Avesta; and it is notorious that to this day the Parsis pay to fire a superstitious reverence. It is owing to this fact that they are the only oriental people who abstain from smoking. Little difference is made in Zoroastrianism between physical and moral evil.

While purity is declared to be the chief thing in religion, this purity relates principally to a physical state of body. Fire, water, and earth are holy, and they must not be polluted by a dead body. Hence, dead bodies must not be burned, or buried, or thrown into rivers. They are exposed to be devoured by birds of prey. To bury or barn a corpse is to commit an unpardonable sin. Wonderful purificatory virtue is attributed to the urine of an ox. Even in the Avesta, its use for rubbing on the body and for drinking is enjoined. Zoroastrianism does not violate the second commandment of the decalogue as it does the first. It forbids the worship of ido's as a deadly sin. In the earliest portion of the Avesta it is impossible to perceive any clear teaching of the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. The progress of investigation is altogether unfavorable to the notion that the Jews first learned this doctrine from the Persians. Zend scholars, who have no sympathy with Christianity, are agreed that a bungling translation led neological commentators of past generation to charge plagiarism from Zoroaster of the doctrine of the resurrection on some of the writers of the Old Testament. Since, however, Hormazd is the maker of the body, and Ahriman the cause of death, the final and complete victory of the former over the latter carries with it the restoration of the body. But we must not prolong our paper. In conclusion, I can say that I heartily rejoice that we can now study comparative religion more thoroughly than in any previous age. We can now with a new emphasis repeat the boast of Moses, as we compare the gods of the Gentiles with the God of Israel: “Their rock is not as our Rock.” The sacred book's of India and Iran reveal to us a purer worship prevailing there in the earliest times than was afterwards evolved in the coorse of ages. The history of religion in these lands is utterly opposed to the theory of the gradual development of religion from fetichism to monotheism. On the contrary, as Sir Monier Williams puts it, “ These non-Christian bibles are all developments in the wrong direction. They all begin with some flashes of true light, and end in utter darkness.” It is, I would add, the Christian Bible that has given monotheism a permanent and commanding place and influence in the world. Pittsburgh, Pa.

DUNLOP MOORE.

« PoprzedniaDalej »