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ART. I. - THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE ANCIENT
MINGLED with the theogonies and myths of the Hindoos are many fragments of a speculative character, which, though not properly amounting to a system, yet manifest an attempt to theorize on the Universe ; – to understand what is presented in their religious writings under the form of dogmas and tradition.
There seem, at least to us who know the Hindoo literature only at second hand — to be three very distinct epochs in the history of their sacred writings.
The first, the age of the Vedas, (or of certain portions of them,) is that of a simple, original people, of agricultural habits, standing on the first step of civilization. The literature of this period consists of hymns, invocations, and prayers, displaying the first simple relation of the finite mind to the Infinite. There is little trace of reflection, or of intense religious consciousness. The deities which at a later period appear as distinct personalities, are here only personifications of the elements; - Indra is still the firmament; Agni, fire,
&c. The prayers are for abundance of cows and of corn, for rain, for protection against enemies and wild beasts. The worshipper calls upon the Deity “from day to day, as a milch-cow to the milker.” God is the friend of the husbandman; “the giver of horses, cows, and corn ; lord and keeper of wealth ;” — and he is worshipped with libations of milk, butter, and honey. The figures of speech throughout are taken from an agricultural life, particularly the herdsNO. IV.
man’s.* Hence, perhaps, by tradition, the subsequent relig. ious importance of the cow.
The second, the age of the Puranas and the Bhagavat Gita, is a meditative, mystical period, during which speculation among the Hindoos reached its highest point.
Then comes the third period, extending to the present time, – the age of commentators, of subtile distinctions, and of polemics; the Indian Scholastic Age.
Mr. Colebrooke and others who have treated of the Hindoo philosophy, distinguish several systems, with their subdivisions,
- finding also parallels between them and the earlier Greek schools. They make us acquainted even with a good deal of controversy on metaphysical points, and sharp polemics, among the adherents of the various opinions. The arguments consist of appeals to the authority of the more ancient writings, together with some rather superficial
, though often acute reasoning, and illustration by comparisons with familiar objects. But if we look at the texts themselves which are cited on opposite sides, we find them substantially in harmony with each other, and their apparent opposition only the diversity of various sides of one idea, successively made prominent, according to the habit of the Oriental mind.
This division of systems is evidently the product of later ages. “All the Indian schools,” says Creuzer, “acknowledge three ways to knowledge : sensuous perception (Experience); Inference ; Revelation (Tradition)
But it is agreed by all that true knowledge is not to be obtained through the senses.
Nor can discursive thought and inference conduct us to the knowledge of the supreme Deity ; - this is only to be obtained by tradition (doctrine) and hearing (of discourses); the teacher imparting to the disciple the true exposition of the sacred writings, handed down by tradition.” I All this is evidently of later origin. The essence of the Hindoo metaphysics, so far as they are of importance in the
* Rigveda-Sanhita : ed. Fr. Rosen. London, (Oriental Trans. Fund.) 1838.
4to. See Hymns 4, 7, 23, et passim. - Sanhita of the Sáma Veda: Translated by the Rev. J. Stevenson, D. D. London, (Oriental Trans. Fund.) 1842. 8vo.
† The Hindoo chronology remains in utter and probably hopeless confusion. Creuzer places the age of the Puranas 1600 years before the Christian era, (Symbolik, i. p. 386.) The Vedas are undoubtedly much older, but the whole reckoning is so often founded on mythical and fantastic data that any precision is at present impossible.
S;mbolik: ed. 1837, i, p. 529.
history of Philosophy, may be expressed in few words : It is the reduction of all Reality to pure, abstract Thought.
In the following pages we have brought together some extracts from the more important original sources, so far as they are known to us in translations." As the works from which they are taken are most of them costly, and thus not often met with, we have made these extracts copious, in order to afford our readers the means of forming a general notion of this interesting phase of thought; the more interesting to us, as the Hindoos are intellectually, as well as physically, our antipodes, and their peculiar tone of thought, their common-sense, the opposite and complement of our own. Such, however, is the simplicity and abstractness of its principle, on the one hand; and such the profuseness and indistinctness of the forms in which it is presented, on the other, — that a development of the view from a central idea, or even a methodical arrangement of propositions, is scarcely possible. One might almost as well attempt a topographical survey of a wreath of mist. This may excuse the repetition and want of perspective in the following exposition.
The main principle of the Hindoo Idealism — that Reality is equivalent to pure abstract Soul or Thought, unexistent, and thus simple and unformed; in a word, pure Negation, - is presented especially under the aspect of the unity and identity of all things in the Deity. This is the constant theme of the ancient writings, and in every form of often sublime imagery, fills a great portion of the sacred books. Even in the grammatical forms of speech this idea is not overlooked ; the most absolute expression for the Deity (Brāhm) being a neuter word:
Laws of Menu, (Sir William Jones's translation, Calcutta, 1794) ch. 1, § 2. “From THAT WHICH IS, the first cause, not the object of sense, existing, not existing, without beginning or end, was produced the divine male, famed in all worlds under the appellation of Brahma.”
* Others, not cited, are Vans Kennedy's Researches into Ancient and Hindoo Mythology, London, 1831, in which, it is said, are many extracts from the Puranas. — Anquetil du Perron: Upnekhata. Strasbourg. 1804. 2 vols. 4to. (Which, however, according to v. Bohlen and others, “is without critical value.") Windischmann: Sancara, Sive de theologumenis Vedanticorum. Bonn. 1833.
Görres : Mythengeschichte. — Niklas Müller: Wissen, Glauben, und Kunst d. alt. Hindus, - none of which we have been able to consult. See also Rammohun Roy: Translation of several Books, fc., of the Veds. 2d ed. London. 1832. — P. F. Stuhr: D. Religions-Systeme d. heión. Völker d. Orients.
Bhagavat Gita, p. 103.* “I will now tell thee what is Gnea, or the object of wisdom, from understanding which thou wilt enjoy immortality. It is that which hath no beginning, and is supreme, even Brahm, who can neither be called Sat (ens) nor Asat (non ens). It is all hands and feet; it is all faces, heads, and eyes; and, all ear, it sitteth in the midst of the world, possessing the vast whole. Itself exempt from every organ, it is the reflected light of every faculty of the organs. Unattached, it containeth all things; and without quality, it partaketh of every quality.”
Ib. p. 85. Vishnu says, “I am the soul which standeth in the bodies of all beings. I am the beginning, the middle, and the end of all things.” Ib. p.
70. “I am the creation and the dissolution of the whole universe ;
and all things hang on me even as precious gems upon a string."
Vishnu Purana,t p. 94. “ All the world is derived from thee. As the wide-spreading Indian fig-tree is compressed in a small seed, so, at the time of dissolution, the whole universe is comprehended in thee as its germ.
As the bark and leaves of the Plantain tree are to be seen in its stem, so thou art the stem of the Universe, and all things are visible in thee."
Ib. p. 215. “ He is primary nature; he, in a perceptible form, is the world, and in him all finally melts; through him all things endure. He is the performer of the rites of devotion; he is the rite ; he is the fruit it bestows; he is the implements by which it is performed. There is nothing besides the illimitable Hari.”
Bhag. Gita, p. 80. “I am generation and dissolution; the place where all things are reposited, and the inexhaustible seed of all nature. I am sunshine, and I am rain ; I now draw in, and now let forth. I am death and immortality; I am entity and non-entity."
Vedas : (cited in Comm. to Sankhya Kärika, [ XVII.) “One only soul is distributed in all beings; it is beheld collectively or dispersedly, like the reflection of the moon in still or
* Bhăgvăt-Geeta, or Dialogues of Krèèshnă and Arjoon. In 18 Lectures. With notes. Translated by Charles Wilkins. London, 1785. 4to.
† The Vishnu Purana : Translated by H. H. Wilson, F. R. S. (Oriental Trans. Fund.) 1840. 4to.
| Sánkhya Kariká : Translated by H. T. Colebrooke. Edited by H. H. Wilson. Oxford, (Orient. Trans. Fund.) 1837. 4to.