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BRAHMINISM


732


BRAHMINISM


titure of the sacred cord, a string of white cotton- yarn, tied together at the ends, and worn like a deacon's stole suspended on the left shoulder. This investiture was a sort of sacrament in virtue of which the youth was freed from guilt contracted from his parents, and became Dvi-ja, twice-born, with the right to learn the sacred Vedic texts and to take part in the sacrifices. The period of studentship was not long for the members of the warrior and farmer castes, but for the young Brahmin, who had to learn all the Vedas by heart, it consumed nine years or more. During this period, the student was subjected to severe moral discipline. He had to rise before the sun, and was not allowed to rechne till after sunset. He was denied rich and dainty foods, and what he ate at his two daily meals he had to beg. He was expected to observe the strictest chastity. He was bound to avoid music, dancing, gambling, falsehood, disrespect to superiors and to the aged, covetousness, anger, and injury to animals.

Marriage was held to be a religious duty for every twice-born. It was generally entered upon early in life, not long after the completion of the time of studentship. Like the initiation-rite, it was a solemn sacramental ceremony. It was an imperative law that the bride and groom should be of the same caste in the principal marriage; for, as polygamy was tolerated, a man might take one or more secondary wives from the lower castes. For certain grave reasons, the householder might repudiate his wife and marry another, but a wife on her part had no corresponding right of divorce. If her husband died, she was expected to remain for the rest of her life in chaste widowhood, if she would be honoured on earth and be happy with him in heaven. The later Hindu practice known as the Suttee, in which the bereaved wife threw herself on the funeral pyre of her husband, seems at this period to have been unknown. All knowledge of the Vedic texts was withheld from woman, but she had the right to participate with her husband in the sacrifices performed for liim by some officiating priest. One important sacrifice remained in his own hands — the morning and even- ing offering of hot milk, butter, and grain to the fire on the hearth, which was sacred to Agni and was kept always burning.

A strong tendency to asceticism asserted itself in the Brahminisra of this period. It found expression in the fasts preceding the great sacrifices, in the se- vere penances prescribed for various kinds of sin, in the austere life exacted of the student, in the conju- gal abstinence to be observed for the first three days following marriage and on certain specified days of the month, but, above all, in the rigorous life of re- tirement and privation to which not a few devoted their declining years. An ever increasing number of householders, cliiefly Brahmins, when their sons had gro^\ii to man's estate, abandoned their homes and spent the rest of their lives as ascetics, living apart from the villages in rude huts or under the shelter of trees, eating only the simplest kinds of food, which they obtained by begging, and subject- ing themselves to extraordinary fasts and mortifica- tions. They were known as Sannyasig, or Yogis, and their severity of life was not so much a peniten- tial discipline for past offences as a means of ac- quiring abundant religious merits and superhuman powers. Coupled with these mortifications was the practice of Yogi (union). They would sit motionless with legs crossed and, fixing their gaze intently on an object before them, would concentrate their thought on some abstract subject till they lapsed into a trance. In this state they fancied they were united with the deity, and the fruit of these contemplations was the pantheistic view of religion which found ex- pression in the Upanishads, and left a permanent impress on the Brahmin mind.


IV. Pantheistic Brahmini.sm. — The marked mon- otheistic tendency discernible in the later Vedic hymns had made itself more and more keenly felt in the liigher Brahmin circles till it gave rise to a new deity, a creation of Brahmin priests. This was Prajapati, lord of creatures, omnipotent and supreme, later known as Braluna, the personal creator of all tilings. But in thus looking up to a supreme lord and creator they were far removed from Cliristian monotheism. The gods of the ancient pantheon were not repudiated, but were worshipped still as the various manifestations of Brahma. It was an axiom then, as it has been ever since with the Hindu mind, that creation out of nothing is impossible. Another fundamental Brahmin principle is that every form of conscious individuality, whether human or Divine, implies a union of spirit and matter. And so, outside the smaller school of thinkers who held matter to be eternal, those who stood for the supreme personal god explained the world of visible things and in- visible gods as the emanations of Braluna. They arrived at a personal pantheism. But speculation did not end here. To the prevailing school of dreamy Brahmin ascetics, whose teacliings are found in the Upanishads, the ultimate source of all things was not the personal Brahma, but the formless, char- acterless, unconscious spirit known as Atman (self), or more commonly, Brahma. (Bralmia is neuter, whereas Braluna, personal god, is masculine.) The heavens and the earth, men and gods, even the personal deity, Brahma, were but transitory emana- tions of Brahma,, destined in time to lose their in- dividuality and be absorbed into the great, all- pervading, impersonal spirit. The manifold external world thus had no real existence. It was Maya, illusion. Brahmi alone existed. He alone was eternal, imperishable.

This impersonal pantheism of the Brahmin as- cetics led to a new conception of the end of man and of the way of salvation. The old way was to escape rebirths and their attendant misery by storing up merits of good deeds so as to obtain an eternal life of conscious bliss in heaven. This was a mistake. For so long as man was ignorant of liis identity with Braluna and did not see that his true end con- sisted in being absorbed into the impersonal all- god from which he sprang; so long as he set his heart on a merely personal existence, no amount of good works would secure his freedom from rebirth. By virtue of his good deeds, he would, indeed, mount to heaven, perhaps win a place among the gods. But after a while liis store of merits would give out like oil in a lamp, and he would have to return once more to life to taste in a new birth the bitterness of earthly existence. The only way to escape this misery was through the saving recognition of one's identity with Brahma. As soon as one could say from con- viction, "I am Brahma", the bonds were broken that held him fast to the ilhision of personal immortality and consequently to rebirth. Thus, cultivating, by a mortified life, freedom from all desires, man spent his years in peaceful contemplation till death put an end to the seeming duality and he was absorbed in Brahma like a raindrop in the ocean.

V. E.VRLY Hinduism. — The pantheistic scheme of salvation just described, generally knovMi as the Vedanta teaching, found great favour with the Brahmins and has been maintained as orthodox Brahmin doctrine down to the present day. But it made little progress outside the Brahmin caste. The mass of the people had little interest in an impersonal Brahma who was incapable of hearing their prayers, nor had they any relish for a final end which meant the loss forever of conscious existence. And so, wliile the priestly ascetic was chiefly concerned with meditation on his identity with Bralmia, and with the practice of mortification to secure freedom from