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Beacon Lights of History, Volume I by John Lord

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To the Memory of






This Work




In preparing a new edition of Dr. Lord's great work, the "Beacon Lights
of History," it has been necessary to make some rearrangement of
lectures and volumes. Dr. Lord began with his volume on classic
"Antiquity," and not until he had completed five volumes did he return
to the remoter times of "Old Pagan Civilizations" (reaching back to
Assyria and Egypt) and the "Jewish Heroes and Prophets." These issued,
he took up again the line of great men and movements, and brought it
down to modern days.

The "Old Pagan Civilizations," of course, stretch thousands of years
before the Hebrews, and the volume so entitled would naturally be the
first. Then follows the volume on "Jewish Heroes and Prophets," ending
with St. Paul and the Christian Era. After this volume, which in any
position, dealing with the unique race of the Jews, must stand by
itself, we return to the brilliant picture of the Pagan centuries, in
"Ancient Achievements" and "Imperial Antiquity," the latter coming down
to the Fall of Rome in the fourth century A.D., which ends the era of
"Antiquity" and begins the "Middle Ages."

NEW YORK, September 15, 1902.


It has been my object in these Lectures to give the substance of
accepted knowledge pertaining to the leading events and characters of
history; and in treating such a variety of subjects, extending over a
period of more than six thousand years, each of which might fill a
volume, I have sought to present what is true rather than what is new.

Although most of these Lectures have been delivered, in some form,
during the last forty years, in most of the cities and in many of the
literary institutions of this country, I have carefully revised them
within the last few years, in order to avail myself of the latest light
shed on the topics and times of which they treat.

The revived and wide-spread attention given to the study of the Bible,
under the stimulus of recent Oriental travels and investigations, not
only as a volume of religious guidance, but as an authentic record of
most interesting and important events, has encouraged me to include a
series of Lectures on some of the remarkable men identified with
Jewish history.

Of course I have not aimed at an exhaustive criticism in these Biblical
studies, since the topics cannot be exhausted even by the most learned
scholars; but I have sought to interest intelligent Christians by a
continuous narrative, interweaving with it the latest accessible
knowledge bearing on the main subjects. If I have persisted in adhering
to the truths that have been generally accepted for nearly two thousand
years, I have not disregarded the light which has been recently shed on
important points by the great critics of the progressive schools.

I have not aimed to be exhaustive, or to give minute criticism on
comparatively unimportant points; but the passions and interests which
have agitated nations, the ideas which great men have declared, and the
institutions which have grown out of them, have not, I trust, been
uncandidly described, nor deductions from them illogically made.

Inasmuch as the interest in the development of those great ideas and
movements which we call Civilization centres in no slight degree in the
men who were identified with them, I have endeavored to give a faithful
picture of their lives in connection with the eras and institutions
which they represent, whether they were philosophers, ecclesiastics, or
men of action.

And that we may not lose sight of the precious boons which illustrious
benefactors have been instrumental in bestowing upon mankind, it has
been my chief object to present their services, whatever may have been
their defects; since it is for _services_ that most great men are
ultimately judged, especially kings and rulers. These services,
certainly, constitute the gist of history, and it is these which I have
aspired to show.







Ancient religions
Christianity not progressive
Jewish monotheism
Religion of Egypt
Its great antiquity
Its essential features
Complexity of Egyptian polytheism
Egyptian deities
The worship of the sun
The priestly caste of Egypt
Power of the priests
Future rewards and punishments
Morals of the Egyptians
Functions of the priests
Egyptian ritual of worship
Transmigration of souls
Animal worship
Effect of Egyptian polytheism on the Jews
Assyrian deities
Phoenician deities
Worship of the sun
Oblations and sacrifices
Idolatry the sequence of polytheism
Religion of the Persians
Character of the early Iranians
Comparative purity of the Persian religion



Religions of India
Antiquity of Brahmanism
Sanskrit literature
The Aryan races
Original religion of the Aryans
Aryan migrations
The Vedas
Ancient deities of India
Laws of Menu
Hindu pantheism
Corruption of Brahmanism
The Brahmanical caste
Character of the Brahmans
Rise of Buddhism
Experiences of Gautama
Travels of Buddha
His religious system
Spread of his doctrine
Buddhism a reaction against Brahmanism
Gloominess of Buddhism
Buddhism as a reform of morals
Sayings of Siddartha
His rules
Failure of Buddhism in India



Religion of the Greeks and Romans
Greek myths
Greek priests
Greek divinities
Greek polytheism
Greek mythology
Adoption of Oriental fables
Greek deities the creation of poets
Peculiarities of the Greek gods
The Olympian deities
The minor deities
The Greeks indifferent to a future state
Augustine view of heathen deities
Artists vie with poets in conceptions of divine
Temple of Zeus in Olympia
Greek festivals
No sacred books among the Greeks
A religion without deities
Roman divinities
Peculiarities of Roman worship
Ritualism and hypocrisy
Character of the Roman



Early condition of China
Youth of Confucius
His public life
His reforms
His fame
His wanderings
His old age
His writings
His philosophy
His definition of a superior man
His ethics
His views of government
His veneration for antiquity
His beautiful character
His encouragement of learning
His character as statesman
His exaltation of filial piety
His exaltation of friendship
The supremacy of the State
Necessity of good men in office
Peaceful policy of Confucius
Veneration for his writings
His posthumous influence



Intellectual superiority of the Greeks
Early progress of philosophy
The Greek philosophy
The Ionian Sophoi
Thales and his principles
Diogenes of Apollonia
Heraclitus of Ephesus
Pythagoras and his school
Zeno of Elea
Empedocles and the Eleatics
Loftiness of the Greek philosopher
Progress of scepticism
The Sophists
His exposure of error
Socrates as moralist
The method of Socrates
His services to philosophy
His disciples
Ideas of Plato
Archer Butler on Plato
His services
The syllogism
The Epicureans
Sir James Mackintosh on Epicurus
The Stoics
Principles of the Stoical philosophy
Philosophy among the Romans



Mission of Socrates
Era of his birth; view of his times
His personal appearance and peculiarities
His lofty moral character
His sarcasm and ridicule of opponents
The Sophists
Neglect of his family
His friendship with distinguished people
His philosophic method
His questions and definitions
His contempt of theories
Imperfection of contemporaneous physical science
The Ionian philosophers
Socrates bases truth on consciousness
Uncertainty of physical inquiries in his day
Superiority of moral truth
Happiness, Virtue, Knowledge,--the Socratic trinity
The "daemon" of Socrates
His idea of God and Immortality
Socrates a witness and agent of God
Socrates compared with Buddha and Marcus Aurelius
His resemblance to Christ in life and teachings
Unjust charges of his enemies
His unpopularity
His trial and defence
His audacity
His condemnation
The dignity of his last hours
His easy death
Tardy repentance of the Athenians; statue by Lysippus
Posthumous influence



General popular interest in Art
Principles on which it is based
Phidias taken merely as a text
Not much known of his personal history
His most famous statues; Minerva and Olympian Jove
His peculiar excellences as a sculptor
Definitions of the word "Art"
Its representation of ideas of beauty and grace
The glory and dignity of art
The connection of plastic with literary art
Architecture, the first expression of art
Peculiarities of Egyptian and Assyrian architecture
Ancient temples, tombs, pyramids, and palaces
General features of Grecian architecture
The Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders
Simplicity and beauty of their proportions...
The horizontal lines of Greek and the vertical lines of
Gothic architecture
Assyrian, Egyptian, and Indian sculpture
Superiority of Greek sculpture
Ornamentation of temples with statues of gods, heroes, and
distinguished men
The great sculptors of antiquity
Their ideal excellence
Antiquity of painting in Babylon and Egypt
Its gradual development in Greece
Famous Grecian painters
Decline of art among the Romans
Art as seen in literature
Literature not permanent without art
Artists as a class
Art a refining influence rather than a moral power



Richness of Greek classic poetry
Greek lyrical poetry
Dramatic poetry
Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides
Greek comedy: Aristophanes
Roman poetry
Naevius, Plautus, Terence
Roman epic poetry: Virgil
Lyrical poetry: Horace, Catullus
Didactic poetry: Lucretius
Elegiac poetry: Ovid, Tibullus
Satire: Horace, Martial, Juvenal
Perfection of Greek prose writers
History: Herodotus
Thucydides, Xenophon
Roman historians
Julius Caesar
Learned men: Varro



Agape, or Love Feast among the Early Christians _Frontispiece_
_After the painting by J.A. Mazerolle_.

Procession of the Sacred Bull Apis-Osiris
_After the painting by E.F. Bridgman_.

Driving Sacrificial Victims into the Fiery Mouth of Baal
_After the painting by Henri Motte_.

Apollo Belvedere
_From a photograph of the statue in the Vatican, Rome._

Confucian Temple, Forbidden City, Pekin
_From a photograph_.

The School of Plato
_After the painting by O. Knille_.

Socrates Instructing Alcibiades
_After the painting by H.F. Schopin_.

_From the bust in the National Museum, Naples_.

Pericles and Aspasia in the Studio of Phidias
_After the painting by Hector Le Roux_.

Zeuxis Choosing Models from among the Beauties of Kroton for his Picture
of Helen
_After the painting by E. Pagliano_.

_From the bust in the National Museum, Naples_.

_From the statue in the Vatican, Rome_.






It is my object in this book on the old Pagan civilizations to present
the salient points only, since an exhaustive work is impossible within
the limits of these volumes. The practical end which I have in view is
to collate a sufficient number of acknowledged facts from which to draw
sound inferences in reference to the progress of the human race, and the
comparative welfare of nations in ancient and modern times.

The first inquiry we naturally make is in regard to the various
religious systems which were accepted by the ancient nations, since
religion, in some form or other, is the most universal of institutions,
and has had the earliest and the greatest influence on the condition and
life of peoples--that is to say, on their civilizations--in every
period of the world. And, necessarily, considering what is the object in
religion, when we undertake to examine any particular form of it which
has obtained among any people or at any period of time, we must ask, How
far did its priests and sages teach exalted ideas of Deity, of the soul,
and of immortality? How far did they arrive at lofty and immutable
principles of morality? How far did religion, such as was taught,
practically affect the lives of those who professed it, and lead them to
just and reasonable treatment of one another, or to holy contemplation,
or noble deeds, or sublime repose in anticipation of a higher and
endless life? And how did the various religions compare with what we
believe to be the true religion--Christianity--in its pure and ennobling
truths, its inspiring promises, and its quiet influence in changing and
developing character?

I assume that there is no such thing as a progressive Christianity,
except in so far as mankind grow in the realization of its lofty
principles; that there has not been and will not be any improvement on
the ethics and spiritual truths revealed by Jesus the Christ, but that
they will remain forever the standard of faith and practice. I assume
also that Christianity has elements which are not to be found in any
other religion,--such as original teachings, divine revelations, and
sublime truths. I know it is the fashion with many thinkers to maintain
that improvements on the Christian system are both possible and
probable, and that there is scarcely a truth which Christ and his
apostles declared which cannot be found in some other ancient religion,
when divested of the errors there incorporated with it. This notion I
repudiate. I believe that systems of religion are perfect or imperfect,
true or false, just so far as they agree or disagree with Christianity;
and that to the end of time all systems are to be measured by the
Christian standard, and not Christianity by any other system.

The oldest religion of which we have clear and authentic account is
probably the pure monotheism held by the Jews. Some nations have claimed
a higher antiquity for their religion--like the Egyptians and
Chinese--than that which the sacred writings of the Hebrews show to have
been communicated to Abraham, and to earlier men of God treated of in
those Scriptures; but their claims are not entitled to our full
credence. We are in doubt about them. The origin of religions is
enshrouded in mystical darkness, and is a mere speculation. Authentic
history does not go back far enough to settle this point. The primitive
religion of mankind I believe to have been revealed to inspired men,
who, like Shem, walked with God. Adam, in paradise, knew who God was,
for he heard His voice; and so did Enoch and Noah, and, more clearly
than all, Abraham. They believed in a personal God, maker of heaven and
earth, infinite in power, supreme in goodness, without beginning and
without end, who exercises a providential oversight of the world
which he made.

It is certainly not unreasonable to claim the greatest purity and
loftiness in the monotheistic faith of the Hebrew patriarchs, as handed
down to his children by Abraham, over that of all other founders of
ancient religious systems, not only since that faith was, as we believe,
supernaturally communicated, but since the fruit of that stock,
especially in its Christian development, is superior to all others. This
sublime monotheism was ever maintained by the Hebrew race, in all their
wanderings, misfortunes, and triumphs, except on occasions when they
partially adopted the gods of those nations with whom they came in
contact, and by whom they were corrupted or enslaved.

But it is not my purpose to discuss the religion of the Jews in this
connection, since it is treated in other volumes of this series, and
since everybody has access to the Bible, the earlier portions of which
give the true account not only of the Hebrews and their special
progenitor Abraham, but of the origin of the earth and of mankind; and
most intelligent persons are familiar with its details.

I begin my description of ancient religions with those systems with
which the Jews were more or less familiar, and by which they were more
or less influenced. And whether these religions were, as I think,
themselves corrupted forms of the primitive revelation to primitive man,
or, as is held by some philosophers of to-day, natural developments out
of an original worship of the powers of Nature, of ghosts of ancestral
heroes, of tutelar deities of household, family, tribe, nation, and so
forth, it will not affect their relation to my plan of considering this
background of history in its effects upon modern times, through Judaism
and Christianity.

* * * * *

The first which naturally claims our attention is the religion of
ancient Egypt. But I can show only the main features and characteristics
of this form of paganism, avoiding the complications of their system and
their perplexing names as much as possible. I wish to present what is
ascertained and intelligible rather than what is ingenious and obscure.

The religion of Egypt is very old,--how old we cannot tell with
certainty. We know that it existed before Abraham, and with but few
changes, for at least two thousand years. Mariette places the era of the
first Egyptian dynasty under Menes at 5004 B.C. It is supposed that the
earliest form of the Egyptian religion was monotheistic, such as was
known later, however, only to a few of the higher priesthood. What the
esoteric wisdom really was we can only conjecture, since there are no
sacred books or writings that have come down to us, like the Indian
Vedas and the Persian Zend-Avesta. Herodotus affirms that he knew the
mysteries, but he did not reveal them.

But monotheism was lost sight of in Egypt at an earlier period than the
beginning of authentic history. It is the fate of all institutions to
become corrupt, and this is particularly true of religious systems. The
reason of this is not difficult to explain. The Bible and human
experience fully exhibit the course of this degradation. Hence, before
Abraham's visit to Egypt the religion of that land had degenerated into
a gross and complicated polytheism, which it was apparently for the
interest of the priesthood to perpetuate.

The Egyptian religion was the worship of the powers of Nature,--the sun,
the moon, the planets, the air, the storm, light, fire, the clouds, the
rivers, the lightning, all of which were supposed to exercise a
mysterious influence over human destiny. There was doubtless an
indefinite sense of awe in view of the wonders of the material universe,
extending to a vague fear of some almighty supremacy over all that could
be seen or known. To these powers of Nature the Egyptians gave names,
and made them divinities.

The Egyptian polytheism was complex and even contradictory. What it
lost in logical sequence it gained in variety. Wilkinson enumerates
seventy-three principal divinities, and Birch sixty-three; but there
were some hundreds of lesser gods, discharging peculiar functions and
presiding over different localities. Every town had its guardian deity,
to whom prayers or sacrifices were offered by the priests. The more
complicated the religious rites the more firmly cemented was the power
of the priestly caste, and the more indispensable were priestly services
for the offerings and propitiations.

Of these Egyptian deities there were eight of the first rank; but the
list of them differs according to different writers, since in the great
cities different deities were worshipped. These were Ammon--the
concealed god,--the sovereign over all (corresponding to the Jupiter of
the Romans), whose sacred city was Thebes. At a later date this god was
identified with Ammon Ra, the physical sun. Ra was the sun-god,
especially worshipped at Heliopolis,--the symbol of light and heat.
Kneph was the spirit of God moving over the face of the waters, whose
principal seat of worship was in Upper Egypt. Phtha was a sort of
artisan god, who made the sun, moon, and the earth, "the father of
beginnings;" his sign was the scarabaeus, or beetle, and his patron city
was Memphis. Khem was the generative principle presiding over the
vegetable world,--the giver of fertility and lord of the harvest. These
deities are supposed to have represented spirit passing into matter and
form,--a process of divine incarnation.

But the most popular deity was Osiris. His image is found standing on
the oldest monument, a form of Ra, the light of the lower world, and
king and judge of Hades. His worship was universal throughout Egypt, but
his chief temples were at Abydos and Philae. He was regarded as mild,
beneficent, and good. In opposition to him were Set, malignant and evil,
and Bes, the god of death. Isis, the wife and sister of Osiris, was a
sort of sun goddess, representing the productive power of Nature. Khons
was the moon god. Maut, the consort of Ammon, represented Nature. Sati,
the wife of Kneph, bore a resemblance to Juno. Nut was the goddess of
the firmament; Ma was the goddess of truth; Horus was the mediator
between creation and destruction.

But in spite of the multiplicity of deities, the Egyptian worship
centred in some form upon heat or fire, generally the sun, the most
powerful and brilliant of the forces of Nature. Among all the ancient
pagan nations the sun, the moon, and the planets, under different names,
whether impersonated or not, were the principal objects of worship for
the people. To these temples were erected, statues raised, and
sacrifices made.

No ancient nation was more devout, or more constant to the service of
its gods, than were the Egyptians; and hence, being superstitious, they
were pre-eminently under the control of priests, as the people were in
India. We see, chiefly in India and Egypt, the power of
caste,--tyrannical, exclusive, and pretentious,--and powerful in
proportion to the belief in a future state. Take away the belief in
future existence and future rewards and punishments, and there is not
much religion left. There may be philosophy and morality, but not
religion, which is based on the fear and love of God, and the destiny of
the soul after death. Saint Augustine, in his "City of God," his
greatest work, ridicules all gods who are not able to save the soul, and
all religions where future existence is not recognized as the most
important thing which can occupy the mind of man.

We cannot then utterly despise the religion of Egypt, in spite of the
absurdities mingled with it,--the multiplicity of gods and the doctrine
of metempsychosis,--since it included a distinct recognition of a future
state of rewards and punishments "according to the deeds done in the
body." On this belief rested the power of the priests, who were supposed
to intercede with the deities, and who alone were appointed to offer to
them sacrifices, in order to gain their favor or deprecate their wrath.
The idea of death and judgment was ever present to the thoughts of the
Egyptians, from the highest to the lowest, and must have modified their
conduct, stimulating them to virtue, and restraining them from vice; for
virtue and vice are not revelations,--they are instincts implanted in
the soul. No ancient teacher enjoined the duties based on an immutable
morality with more force than Confucius, Buddha, and Epictetus. Who in
any land or age has ignored the duties of filial obedience, respect to
rulers, kindness to the miserable, protection to the weak, honesty,
benevolence, sincerity, and truthfulness? With the discharge of these
duties, written on the heart, have been associated the favor of the
gods, and happiness in the future world, whatever errors may have crept
into theological dogmas and speculations.

Believing then in a future state, where sin would be punished and virtue
rewarded, and believing in it firmly and piously, the ancient Egyptians
were a peaceful and comparatively moral people. All writers admit their
industry, their simplicity of life, their respect for law, their loyalty
to priests and rulers. Hence there was permanence to their institutions,
for rapine, violence, and revolution were rare. They were not warlike,
although often engaged in war by the command of ambitious kings.
Generally the policy of their government was conservative and pacific.
Military ambition and thirst for foreign conquest were not the peculiar
sins of Egyptian kings; they sought rather to develop national
industries and resources. The occupation of the people was in
agriculture and the useful arts, which last they carried to considerable
perfection, especially in the working of metals, textile fabrics, and
ornamental jewelry. Their grand monuments were not triumphal arches, but
temples and mausoleums. Even the pyramids may have been built to
preserve the bodies of kings until the soul should be acquitted or
condemned, and therefore more religious in their uses than as mere
emblems of pride and power; and when monuments were erected to
perpetuate the fame of princes, their supreme design was to receive the
engraven memorials of the virtuous deeds of kings as fathers of
the people.

The priests, whose business it was to perform religious rites and
ceremonies to the various gods of the Egyptians, were extremely
numerous. They held the highest social rank, and were exempt from taxes.
They were clothed in white linen, which was kept scrupulously clean.
They washed their whole bodies twice a day; they shaved the head, and
wore no beard. They practised circumcision, which rite was of extreme
antiquity, existing in Egypt two thousand four hundred years before
Christ, and at least four hundred years before Abraham, and has been
found among primitive peoples all over the world. They did not make a
show of sanctity, nor were they ascetic like the Brahmans. They were
married, and were allowed to drink wine and to eat meat, but not fish
nor beans, which disturbed digestion. The son of a priest was generally
a priest also. There were grades of rank among the priesthood; but not
more so than in the Roman Catholic Church. The high-priest was a great
dignitary, and generally belonged to the royal family. The king himself
was a priest.

The Egyptian ritual of worship was the most complicated of all rituals,
and their literature and philosophy were only branches of theology.
"Religious observances," says Freeman Clarke, "were so numerous and so
imperative that the most common labors of daily life could not be
performed without a perpetual reference to some priestly regulation."
There were more religious festivals than among any other ancient nation.
The land was covered with temples; and every temple consecrated to a
single divinity, to whom some animal was sacred, supported a large body
of priests. The authorities on Egyptian history, especially Wilkinson,
speak highly, on the whole, of the morals of the priesthood, and of
their arduous and gloomy life of superintending ceremonies, sacrifices,
processions, and funerals. Their life was so full of minute duties and
restrictions that they rarely appeared in public, and their aspect as
well as influence was austere and sacerdotal.

One of the most distinctive features of the Egyptian religion was the
idea of the transmigration of souls,--that when men die; their souls
reappear on earth in various animals, in expiation of their sins. Osiris
was the god before whose tribunal all departed spirits appeared to be
judged. If evil preponderated in their lives, their souls passed into a
long series of animals until their sins were expiated, when the purified
souls, after thousands of years perhaps, passed into their old bodies.
Hence it was the great object of the Egyptians to preserve their mortal
bodies after death, and thus arose the custom of embalming them. It is
difficult to compute the number of mummies that have been found in
Egypt. If a man was wealthy, it cost his family as much as one thousand
dollars to embalm his body suitably to his rank. The embalmed bodies of
kings were preserved in marble sarcophagi, and hidden in gigantic

The most repulsive thing in the Egyptian religion was animal-worship. To
each deity some animal was sacred. Thus Apis, the sacred bull of
Memphis, was the representative of Osiris; the cow was sacred to Isis,
and to Athor her mother. Sheep were sacred to Kneph, as well as the
asp. Hawks were sacred to Ra; lions were emblems of Horus, wolves of
Anubis, hippopotami of Set. Each town was jealous of the honor of its
special favorites among the gods.

"The worst form of this animal worship," says Rawlinson, "was the belief
that a deity absolutely became incarnate in an individual animal, and so
remained until the animal's death. Such were the Apis bulls, of which a
succession was maintained at Memphis in the temple of Phtha, or,
according to others, of Osiris. These beasts, maintained at the cost of
the priestly communities in the great temples of their respective
cities, were perpetually adored and prayed to by thousands during their
lives, and at their deaths were entombed with the utmost care in huge
sarcophagi, while all Egypt went into mourning on their decease."

Such was the religion of Egypt as known to the Jews,--a complicated
polytheism, embracing the worship of animals as well as the powers of
Nature; the belief in the transmigration of souls, and a sacerdotalism
which carried ritualistic ceremonies to the greatest extent known to
antiquity, combined with the exaltation of the priesthood to such a
degree as to make priests the real rulers of the land, reminding us of
the spiritual despotism of the Middle Ages. The priests of Egypt ruled
by appealing to the fears of men, thus favoring a degrading
superstition. How far they taught that the various objects of worship
were symbols merely of a supreme power, which they themselves perhaps
accepted in their esoteric schools, we do not know. But the priests
believed in a future state of rewards and punishments, and thus
recognized the soul to be of more importance than the material body, and
made its welfare paramount over all other interests. This recognition
doubtless contributed to elevate the morals of the people, and to make
them religious, despite their false and degraded views of God, and their
disgusting superstitions.

The Jews could not have lived in Egypt four hundred years without being
influenced by the popular belief. Hence in the wilderness, and in the
days of kingly rule, the tendency to animal worship in the shape of the
golden calves, their love of ritualistic observances, and their easy
submission to the rule of priests. In one very important thing, however,
the Jews escaped a degrading superstition,--that of the transmigration
of souls; and it was perhaps the abhorrence by Moses of this belief that
made him so remarkably silent as to a future state. It is seemingly
ignored in the Old Testament, and hence many have been led to suppose
that the Jews did not believe in it. Certainly the most cultivated and
aristocratic sect--the Sadducees--repudiated it altogether; while the
Pharisees held to it. They, however, were products of a later age, and
had learned many things--good and bad--from surrounding nations or in
their captivities, which Moses did not attempt to teach the simple souls
that escaped from Egypt.

* * * * *

Of the other religions with which the Jews came in contact, and which
more or less were in conflict with their own monotheistic belief, very
little is definitely known, since their sacred books, if they had any,
have not come down to us. Our knowledge is mostly confined to monuments,
on which the names of their deities are inscribed, the animals which
they worshipped, symbolic of the powers of Nature, and the kings and
priests who officiated in religious ceremonies. From these we learn or
infer that among the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Phoenicians religion
was polytheistic, but without so complicated or highly organized a
system as prevailed in Egypt. Only about twenty deities are alluded to
in the monumental records of either nation, and they are supposed to
have represented the sun, the moon, the stars, and various other powers,
to which were delegated by the unseen and occult supreme deity the
oversight of this world. They presided over cities and the elements of
Nature, like the rain, the thunder, the winds, the air, the water. Some
abode in heaven, some on the earth, and some in the waters under the
earth. Of all these graven images existed, carved by men's hands,--some
in the form of animals, like the winged bulls of Nineveh. In the very
earliest times, before history was written, it is supposed that the
religion of all these nations was monotheistic, and that polytheism was
a development as men became wicked and sensual. The knowledge of the one
God was gradually lost, although an indefinite belief remained that
there was a supreme power over all the other gods, at least a deity of
higher rank than the gods of the people, who reigned over them as
Lord of lords.

This deity in Assyria was Asshur. He is recognized by most authorities
as Asshur, a son of Shem and grandson of Noah, who was probably the hero
and leader of one of the early migrations, and, as founder of the
Assyrian Empire, gave it its name,--his own being magnified and deified
by his warlike descendants. Assyria was the oldest of the great empires,
occupying Mesopotamia,--the vast plain watered by the Tigris and
Euphrates rivers,--with adjacent countries to the north, west, and east.
Its seat was in the northern portion of this region, while that of
Babylonia or Chaldaea, its rival, was in the southern part; and although
after many wars freed from the subjection of Assyria, the institutions
of Babylonia, and especially its religion, were very much the same as
those of the elder empire. In Babylonia the chief god was called El, or
Il. In Babylon, although Bab-el, their tutelary god, was at the head of
the pantheon, his form was not represented, nor had he any special
temple for his worship. The Assyrian Asshur placed kings upon their
thrones, protected their armies, and directed their expeditions. In
speaking of him it was "Asshur, my Lord." He was also called "King of
kings," reigning supreme over the gods; and sometimes he was called the
"Father of the gods." His position in the celestial hierarchy
corresponds with the Zeus of the Greeks, and with the Jupiter of the
Romans. He was represented as a man with a horned cap, carrying a bow
and issuing from a winged circle, which circle was the emblem of
ubiquity and eternity. This emblem was also the accompaniment of
Assyrian royalty.

These Assyrian and Babylonian deities had a direct influence on the Jews
in later centuries, because traders on the Tigris pushed their
adventurous expeditions from the head of the Persian Gulf, either around
the great peninsula of Arabia, or by land across the deserts, and
settled in Canaan, calling themselves Phoenicians; and it was from the
descendants of these enterprising but morally debased people that the
children of Israel, returning from Egypt, received the most pertinacious
influences of idolatrous corruption. In Phoenicia the chief deity was
also called Bel, or Baal, meaning "Lord," the epithet of the one divine
being who rules the world, or the Lord of heaven. The deity of the
Egyptian pantheon, with whom Baal most nearly corresponds, was Ammon,
addressed as the supreme God.

Ranking after El in Babylon, Asshur in Assyria, and Baal in
Phoenicia,--all shadows of the same supreme God,--we notice among these
Mesopotamians a triad of the great gods, called Anu, Bel, and Hea. Anu,
the primordial chaos; Hea, life and intelligence animating matter; and
Bel, the organizing and creative spirit,--or, as Rawlinson thinks, "the
original gods of the earth, the heavens, and the waters, corresponding
in the main with the classical Pluto, Jupiter, and Neptune, who divided
between them the dominion over the visible creation." The god Bel, in
the pantheon of the Babylonians and Assyrians, is the God of gods, and
Father of gods, who made the earth and heaven. His title
expresses dominion.

In succession to the gods of this first trio,--Anu, Bel, and Hea,--was
another trio, named Siu, Shamas, and Vul, representing the moon, the
sun, and the atmosphere. "In Assyria and Babylon the moon-god took
precedence of the sun-god, since night was more agreeable to the
inhabitants of those hot countries than the day." Hence, Siu was the
more popular deity; but Shamas, the sun, as having most direct
reference to physical nature, "the lord of fire," "the ruler of the
day," was the god of battles, going forth with the armies of the king
triumphant over enemies. The worship of this deity was universal, and
the kings regarded him as affording them especial help in war. Vul, the
third of this trinity, was the god of the atmosphere, the god of
tempests,--the god who caused the flood which the Assyrian legends
recognize. He corresponds with the Jupiter Tonans of the Romans,--"the
prince of the power of the air," destroyer of crops, the scatterer of
the harvest, represented with a flaming sword; but as god of the
atmosphere, the giver of rain, of abundance, "the lord of fecundity," he
was beneficent as well as destructive.

All these gods had wives resembling the goddesses in the Greek
mythology,--some beneficent, some cruel; rendering aid to men, or
pursuing them with their anger. And here one cannot resist the
impression that the earliest forms of the Greek mythology were derived
from the Babylonians and Phoenicians, and that the Greek poets, availing
themselves of the legends respecting them, created the popular religion
of Greece. It is a mooted question whether the Greek civilization is
chiefly derived from Egypt, or from Assyria and Phoenicia,--probably
more from these old monarchies combined than from the original seat of
the Aryan race east of the Caspian Sea. All these ancient monarchies
had run out and were old when the Greeks began their settlements and

There was still another and inferior class of deities among the
Assyrians and Babylonians who were objects of worship, and were supposed
to have great influence on human affairs. These deities were the planets
under different names. The early study of astronomy among the dwellers
on the plains of Babylon and in Mesopotamia gave an astral feature to
their religion which was not prominent in Egypt. These astral deities
were Nin, or Bar (the Saturn of the Romans); and Merodach (Jupiter), the
august god, "the eldest son of Heaven," the Lord of battles. This was
the favorite god of Nebuchadnezzar, and epithets of the highest honor
were conferred upon him, as "King of heaven and earth," the "Lord of all
beings," etc. Nergal (Mars) was a war god, his name signifying "the
great Hero," "the King of battles." He goes before kings in their
military expeditions, and lends them assistance in the chase. His emblem
is the human-headed winged lion seen at the entrance of royal palaces.
Ista (Venus) was the goddess of beauty, presiding over the loves of both
men and animals, and was worshipped with unchaste rites. Nebo (Mercury)
had the charge over learning and culture,--the god of wisdom, who
"teaches and instructs."

There were other deities in the Assyrian and Babylonian pantheon whom I
need not name, since they played a comparatively unimportant part in
human affairs, like the inferior deities of the Romans, presiding over
dreams, over feasts, over marriage, and the like.

The Phoenicians, like the Assyrians, had their goddesses. Astoreth, or
Astarte, represented the great female productive principle, as Baal did
the male. It was originally a name for the energy of God, on a par with
Baal. In one of her aspects she represented the moon; but more commonly
she was the representative of the female principle in Nature, and was
connected more or less with voluptuous rites,--the equivalent of
Aphrodite, or Venus. Tanith also was a noted female deity, and was
worshipped at Carthage and Cyprus by the Phoenician settlers. The name
is associated, according to Gesenius, with the Egyptian goddess Nut, and
with the Grecian Artemis the huntress.

An important thing to be observed of these various deities is that they
do not uniformly represent the same power. Thus Baal, the Phoenician
sun-god, was made by the Greeks and Romans equivalent to Zeus, or
Jupiter, the god of thunder and storms. Apollo, the sun-god of the
Greeks, was not so powerful as Zeus, the god of the atmosphere; while in
Assyria and Phoenicia the sun-god was the greater deity. In Babylonia,
Shamas was a sun-god as well as Bel; and Bel again was the god of the
heavens, like Zeus.

While Zeus was the supreme deity in the Greek mythology, rather than
Apollo the sun, it seems that on the whole the sun was the prominent and
the most commonly worshipped deity of all the Oriental nations, as being
the most powerful force in Nature. Behind the sun, however, there was
supposed to be an indefinite creative power, whose form was not
represented, worshipped in no particular temple by the esoteric few who
were his votaries, and called the "Father of all the gods," "the Ancient
of days," reigning supreme over them all. This indefinite conception of
the Jehovah of the Hebrews seems to me the last flickering light of the
primitive revelation, shining in the souls of the most enlightened of
the Pagan worshippers, including perhaps the greatest of the monarchs,
who were priests as well as kings.

The most distinguishing feature in the worship of all the gods of
antiquity, whether among Egyptians, or Assyrians, or Babylonians, or
Phoenicians, or Greeks, or Romans, is that of oblations and sacrifices.
It was even a peculiarity of the old Jewish religion, as well as that of
China and India. These oblations and sacrifices were sometimes offered
to the deity, whatever his form or name, as an expiation for sin, of
which the soul is conscious in all ages and countries; sometimes to
obtain divine favor, as in military expeditions, or to secure any object
dearest to the heart, such as health, prosperity, or peace; sometimes to
propitiate the deity in order to avert the calamities following his
supposed wrath or vengeance. The oblations were usually in the form of
wine, honey, or the fruits of the earth, which were supposed to be
necessary for the nourishment of the gods, especially in Greece. The
sacrifices were generally of oxen, sheep, and goats, the most valued and
precious of human property in primitive times, for those old heathen
never offered to their deities that which cost them nothing, but rather
that which was dearest to them. Sometimes, especially in Phoenicia,
human beings were offered in sacrifice, the most repulsive peculiarity
of polytheism. But the instincts of humanity generally kept men from
rites so revolting. Christianity, as one of its distinguishing features,
abolished all forms of outward sacrifice, as superstitious and useless.
The sacrifices pleasing to God are a broken spirit, as revealed to David
and Isaiah amid all the ceremonies and ritualism of Jewish worship, and
still more to Paul and Peter when the new dispensation was fully
declared. The only sacrifice which Christ enjoined was self-sacrifice,
supreme devotion to a spiritual and unseen and supreme God, and to his
children: as the Christ took upon himself the form of a man, suffering
evil all his days, and finally even an ignominious death, in obedience
to his Father's will, that the world might be saved by his own

With sacrifices as an essential feature of all the ancient religions, if
we except that of Persia in the time of Zoroaster, there was need of an
officiating priesthood. The priests in all countries sought to gain
power and influence, and made themselves an exclusive caste, more or
less powerful as circumstances favored their usurpations. The priestly
caste became a terrible power in Egypt and India, where the people, it
would seem, were most susceptible to religious impressions, were most
docile and most ignorant, and had in constant view the future welfare of
their souls. In China, where there was scarcely any religion at all,
this priestly power was unknown; and it was especially weak among the
Greeks, who had no fear of the future, and who worshipped beauty and
grace rather than a spiritual god. Sacerdotalism entered into
Christianity when it became corrupted by the lust of dominion and power,
and with great force ruled the Christian world in times of ignorance and
superstition. It is sad to think that the decline of sacerdotalism is
associated with the growth of infidelity and religious indifference,
showing how few worship God in spirit and in truth even in Christian
countries. Yet even that reaction is humanly natural; and as it so
surely follows upon epochs of priestcraft, it may be a part of the
divine process of arousing men to the evils of superstition.

Among all nations where polytheism prevailed, idolatry became a natural
sequence,--that is, the worship of animals and of graven images, at
first as symbols of the deities that were worshipped, generally the sun,
moon, and stars, and the elements of Nature, like fire, water, and air.
But the symbols of divine power, as degeneracy increased and ignorance
set in, were in succession worshipped as deities, as in India and Africa
at the present day. This is the lowest form of religion, and the most
repulsive and degraded which has prevailed in the world,--showing the
enormous difference between the primitive faiths and the worship which
succeeded, growing more and more hideous with the progress of ages,
until the fulness of time arrived when God sent reformers among the
debased people, more or less supernaturally inspired, to declare new
truth, and even to revive the knowledge of the old in danger of being
utterly lost.

It is a pleasant thing to remember that the religions thus far treated,
as known to the Jews, and by which they were more or less contaminated,
have all passed away with the fall of empires and the spread of divine
truth; and they never again can be revived in the countries where they
nourished. Mohammedanism, a monotheistic religion, has taken their
place, and driven the ancient idols to the moles and the bats; and where
Mohammedanism has failed to extirpate ancient idolatries, Christianity
in some form has come in and dethroned them forever.

* * * * *

There was one form of religion with which the Jews came in contact which
was comparatively pure; and this was the religion of Persia, the
loftiest form of all Pagan beliefs.

The Persians were an important branch of the Iranian family. "The
Iranians were the dominant race throughout the entire tract lying
between the Suliman mountains and the Pamir steppe on the one hand, and
the great Mesopotamian valley on the other." It was a region of great
extremes of temperature,--the summers being hot, and the winters
piercingly cold. A great part of this region is an arid and frightful
desert; but the more favored portions are extremely fertile. In this
country the Iranians settled at a very early period, probably 2500 B.C.,
about the time the Hindus emigrated from Central Asia to the banks of
the Indus. Both Iranians and Hindus belonged to the great Aryan or
Indo-European race, whose original settlements were on the high
table-lands northeast of Samarkand, in the modern Bokhara, watered by
the Oxus, or Amon River. From these rugged regions east of the Caspian
Sea, where the means of subsistence are difficult to be obtained, the
Aryans emigrated to India on the southeast, to Iran on the southwest, to
Europe on the west,--all speaking substantially the same language.

Of those who settled in Iran, the Persians were the most prominent,--a
brave, hardy, and adventurous people, warlike in their habits, and moral
in their conduct. They were a pastoral rather than a nomadic people, and
gloried in their horses and cattle. They had great skill as archers and
horsemen, and furnished the best cavalry among the ancients. They lived
in fixed habitations, and their houses had windows and fireplaces; but
they were doomed to a perpetual struggle with a severe and uncertain
climate, and a soil which required ceaseless diligence. "The whole
plateau of Iran," says Johnson, "was suggestive of the war of
elements,--a country of great contrasts of fertility and
desolation,--snowy ranges of mountains, salt deserts, and fields of
beauty lying in close proximity."

The early Persians are represented as having oval faces, raised
features, well-arched eyebrows, and large dark eyes, now soft as the
gazelle's, now flashing with quick insight. Such a people were extremely
receptive of modes and fashions,--the aptest learners as well as the
boldest adventurers; not patient in study nor skilful to invent, but
swift to seize and appropriate, terrible breakers-up of old religious
spells. They dissolved the old material civilization of Cushite and
Turanian origin. What passion for vast conquests! "These rugged tribes,
devoted to their chiefs, led by Cyrus from their herds and
hunting-grounds to startle the pampered Lydians with their spare diet
and clothing of skins; living on what they could get, strangers to wine
and wassail, schooled in manly exercises, cleanly even to superstition,
loyal to age and filial duties; with a manly pride of personal
independence that held a debt the next worst thing to a lie; their
fondness for social graces, their feudal dignities, their chiefs giving
counsel to the king even while submissive to his person, esteeming
prowess before praying; their strong ambition, scorning those who
scorned toil." Artaxerxes wore upon his person the worth of twelve
thousand talents, yet shared the hardships of his army in the march,
carrying quiver and shield, leading the way to the steepest places, and
stimulating the hearts of his soldiers by walking twenty-five miles
a day.

There was much that is interesting about the ancient Persians. All the
old authorities, especially Herodotus, testify to the comparative purity
of their lives, to their love of truth, to their heroism in war, to the
simplicity of their habits, to their industry and thrift in battling
sterility of soil and the elements of Nature, to their love of
agricultural pursuits, to kindness towards women and slaves, and above
all other things to a strong personality of character which implied a
powerful will. The early Persians chose the bravest and most capable of
their nobles for kings, and these kings were mild and merciful. Xenophon
makes Cyrus the ideal of a king,--the incarnation of sweetness and
light, conducting war with a magnanimity unknown to the ancient nations,
dismissing prisoners, forgiving foes, freeing slaves, and winning all
hearts by a true nobility of nature. He was a reformer of barbarous
methods of war, and as pure in morals as he was powerful in war. In
short, he had all those qualities which we admire in the chivalric
heroes of the Middle Ages.

There was developed among this primitive and virtuous people a religion
essentially different from that of Assyria and Egypt, with which is
associated the name of Zoroaster, or Zarathushtra. Who this
extraordinary personage was, and when he lived, it is not easy to
determine. Some suppose that he did not live at all. It is most probable
that he lived in Bactria from 1000 to 1500 B.C.; but all about him is
involved in hopeless obscurity.

The Zend-Avesta, or the sacred books of the Persians, are mostly hymns,
prayers, and invocations addressed to various deities, among whom Ormazd
was regarded as supreme. These poems were first made known to European
scholars by Anquetil du Perron, an enthusiastic traveller, a little more
than one hundred years ago, and before the laws of Menu were translated
by Sir William Jones. What we know about the religion of Persia is
chiefly derived from the Zend-Avesta. _Zend_ is the interpretation of
the Avesta. The oldest part of these poems is called the Gathas,
supposed to have been composed by Zoroaster about the time of Moses.

As all information about Zoroaster personally is unsatisfactory, I
proceed to speak of the religion which he is supposed to have given to
the Iranians, according to Dr. Martin Haug, the great authority on
this subject.

Its peculiar feature was dualism,--two original uncreated principles;
one good, the other evil. Both principles were real persons, possessed
of will, intelligence, power, consciousness, engaged from all eternity
in perpetual contest. The good power was called Ahura-Mazda, and the
evil power was called Angro-Mainyus. Ahura-Mazda means the "Much-knowing
spirit," or the All-wise, the All-bountiful, who stood at the head of
all that is beneficent in the universe,--"the creator of life," who made
the celestial bodies and the earth, and from whom came all good to man
and everlasting happiness. Angro-Mainyus means the black or dark
intelligence, the creator of all that is evil, both moral and physical.
He had power to blast the earth with barrenness, to produce earthquakes
and storms, to inflict disease and death, destroy flocks and the fruits
of the earth, excite wars and tumults; in short, to send every form of
evil on mankind. Ahura-Mazda had no control over this Power of evil; all
he could do was to baffle him.

These two deities who divided the universe between them had each
subordinate spirits or genii, who did their will, and assisted in the
government of the universe,--corresponding to our idea of angels
and demons.

Neither of these supreme deities was represented by the early Iranians
under material forms; but in process of time corruption set in, and
Magism, or the worship of the elements of Nature, became general. The
elements which were worshipped were fire, air, earth, and water.
Personal gods, temples, shrines, and images were rejected. But the most
common form of worship was that of fire, in Mithra, the genius of light,
early identified with the sun. Hence, practically, the supreme god of
the Persians was the same that was worshipped in Assyria and Egypt and
India,--the sun, under various names; with this difference, that in
Persia there were no temples erected to him, nor were there graven
images of him. With the sun was associated a supreme power that presided
over the universe, benignant and eternal. Fire itself in its pure
universality was more to the Iranians than any form. "From the sun,"
says the Avesta, "are all things sought that can be desired." To fire,
the Persian kings addressed their prayers. Fire, or the sun, was in the
early times a symbol of the supreme Power, rather than the Power itself,
since the sun was created by Ahura-Mazda (Ormazd). It was to him that
Zoroaster addressed his prayers, as recorded in the Gathas. "I worship,"
said he, "the Creator of all things, Ahura-Mazda, full of light....
Teach thou me, Ahura-Mazda, out of thyself, from heaven by thy mouth,
whereby the world first arose." Again, from the Khorda-Avesta we read:
"In the name of God, the giver, forgiver, rich in love, praise be to the
name of Ormazd, who always was, always is, and always will be; from whom
alone is derived rule." From these and other passages we infer that the
religion of the Iranians was monotheistic. And yet the sun also was
worshipped under the name of Mithra. Says Zoroaster: "I invoke Mithra,
the lofty, the immortal, the pure, the sun, the ruler, the eye of
Ormazd." It would seem from this that the sun was identified with the
Supreme Being. There was no other power than the sun which was
worshipped. There was no multitude of gods, nothing like polytheism,
such as existed in Egypt. The Iranians believed in one supreme, eternal
God, who created all things, beneficent and all-wise; yet this supreme
power was worshipped under the symbol of the sun, although the sun was
created by him. This confounding the sun with a supreme and intelligent
being makes the Iranian religion indefinite, and hard to be
comprehended; but compared with the polytheism of Egypt and Babylon, it
is much higher and purer. We see in it no degrading rites, no offensive
sacerdotalism, no caste, no worship of animals or images; all is
spiritual and elevated, but little inferior to the religion of the
Hebrews. In the Zend-Avesta we find no doctrines; but we do find prayers
and praises and supplication to a Supreme Being. In the Vedas--the Hindu
books--the powers of Nature are gods; in the Avesta they are spirits, or
servants of the Supreme.

"The main difference between the Vedic and Avestan religions is that in
the latter the Vedic worship of natural powers and phenomena is
superseded by a more ethical and personal interest. Ahura-Mazda
(Ormazd), the living wisdom, replaces Indra, the lightning-god. In Iran
there grew up, what India never saw, a consciousness of world-purpose,
ethical and spiritual; a reference of the ideal to the future rather
than the present; a promise of progress; and the idea that the law of
the universe means the final deliverance of good from evil, and its
eternal triumph." [1]

[Footnote 1: Samuel Johnson's Religion of Persia.]

The loftiness which modern scholars like Haug, Lenormant, and Spiegel
see in the Zend-Avesta pertains more directly to the earlier portions of
these sacred writings, attributable to Zoroaster, called the Gathas. But
in the course of time the Avesta was subjected to many additions and
interpretations, called the Zend, which show degeneracy. A world of myth
and legend is crowded into liturgical fragments. The old Bactrian tongue
in which the Avesta was composed became practically a dead language.
There entered into the Avesta old Chaldaean traditions. It would be
strange if the pure faith of Zoroaster should not be corrupted after
Persia had conquered Babylon, and even after its alliance with Media,
where the Magi had great reputation for knowledge. And yet even with the
corrupting influence of the superstitions of Babylon, to say nothing of
Media, the Persian conquerors did not wholly forget the God of their
fathers in their old Bactrian home. And it is probable that one reason
why Cyrus and Darius treated the Jews with so much kindness and
generosity was the sympathy they felt for the monotheism of the Jewish
religion in contrast with the polytheism and idolatry of the conquered
Babylonians. It is not unreasonable to suppose that both the Persians
and Jews worshipped substantially the one God who made the heaven and
the earth, notwithstanding the dualism which entered into the Persian
religion, and the symbolic worship of fire which is the most powerful
agent in Nature; and it is considered by many that from the Persians the
Jews received, during their Captivity, their ideas concerning a personal
Devil, or Power of Evil, of which no hint appears in the Law or the
earlier Prophets. It would certainly seem to be due to that monotheism
which modern scholars see behind the dualism of Persia, as an elemental
principle of the old religion of Iran, that the Persians were the
noblest people of Pagan antiquity, and practised the highest morality
known in the ancient world. Virtue and heroism went hand in hand; and
both virtue and heroism were the result of their religion. But when the
Persians became intoxicated with the wealth and power they acquired on
the fall of Babylon, then their degeneracy was rapid, and their faith
became obscured. Had it been the will of Providence that the Greeks
should have contended with the Persians under the leadership of
Cyrus,--the greatest Oriental conqueror known in history,--rather than
under Xerxes, then even an Alexander might have been baffled. The great
mistake of the Persian monarchs in their degeneracy was in trusting to
the magnitude of their armies rather than in their ancient discipline
and national heroism. The consequence was a panic, which would not have
taken place under Cyrus, whenever they met the Greeks in battle. It was
a panic which dispersed the Persian hosts in the fatal battle of Arbela,
and made Alexander the master of western Asia. But degenerate as the
Persians became, they rallied under succeeding dynasties, and in
Artaxerxes II. and Chosroes the Romans found, in their declining
glories, their most formidable enemies.

Though the brightness of the old religion of Zoroaster ceased to shine
after the Persian conquests, and religious rites fell into the hands of
the Magi, yet it is the only Oriental religion which entered into
Christianity after its magnificent triumph, unless we trace early
monasticism to the priests of India. Christianity had a hard battle with
Gnosticism and Manichaeism,--both of Persian origin,--and did not come
out unscathed. No Grecian system of philosophy, except Platonism,
entered into the Christian system so influentially as the disastrous
Manichaean heresy, which Augustine combated. The splendid mythology of
the Greeks, as well as the degrading polytheism of Egypt, Assyria, and
Phoenicia, passed away before the power of the cross; but Persian
speculations remained. Even Origen, the greatest scholar of Christian
antiquity, was tainted with them. And the mighty myths of the origin of
evil, which perplexed Zoroaster, still remain unsolved; but the belief
of the final triumph of good over evil is common to both Christians and
the disciples of the Bactrian sage.

* * * * *


Rawlinson's Egypt and Babylon; History of Babylonia, by A.H. Sayce;
Smith's Dictionary of the Bible; Rawlinson's Herodotus; George Smith's
History of Babylonia; Lenormant's Manuel d'Histoire Ancienne; Layard's
Nineveh and Babylon; Journal of Royal Asiatic Society; Heeren's Asiatic
Nations; Dr. Pusey's Lectures on Daniel; Birch's Egypt from the Earliest
Times; Brugsch's History of Egypt; Records of the Past; Rawlinson's
History of Ancient Egypt; Wilkinson's Ancient Egyptians; Sayce's Ancient
Empires of the East; Rawlinson's Religions of the Ancient World; James
Freeman Clarke's Ten Great Religions; Religion of Ancient Egypt, by P.
Le Page Renouf; Moffat's Comparative History of Religions; Bunsen's
Egypt's Place in History; Persia, from the Earliest Period, by W. S. W.
Vaux; Johnson's Oriental Religions; Haug's Essays; Spiegel's Avesta.

The above are the more prominent authorities; but the number of books on
ancient religions is very large.



That form of ancient religion which has of late excited the most
interest is Buddhism. An inquiry into its characteristics is especially
interesting, since so large a part of the human race--nearly five
hundred millions out of the thirteen hundred millions--still profess to
embrace the doctrines which were taught by Buddha, although his religion
has become so corrupted that his original teachings are nearly lost
sight of. The same may be said of the doctrines of Confucius. The
religions of ancient Egypt, Assyria, and Greece have utterly passed
away, and what we have had to say of these is chiefly a matter of
historic interest, as revealing the forms assumed by the human search
for a supernatural Ruler when moulded by human ambitions, powers, and
indulgence in the "lust of the eye and the pride of life," rather than
by aspirations toward the pure and the spiritual.

Buddha was the great reformer of the religious system of the Hindus,
although he lived nearly fifteen hundred or two thousand years after the
earliest Brahmanical ascendency. But before we can appreciate his work
and mission, we must examine the system he attempted to reform, even as
it is impossible to present the Protestant Reformation without first
considering mediaeval Catholicism before the time of Luther. It was the
object of Buddha to break the yoke of the Brahmans, and to release his
countrymen from the austerities, the sacrifices, and the rigid
sacerdotalism which these ancient priests imposed, without essentially
subverting ancient religious ideas. He was a moralist and reformer,
rather than the founder of a religion.

Brahmanism is one of the oldest religions of the world. It was
flourishing in India at a period before history was written. It was
coeval with the religion of Egypt in the time of Abraham, and perhaps at
a still earlier date. But of its earliest form and extent we know
nothing, except from the sacred poems of the Hindus called the Vedas,
written in Sanskrit probably fifteen hundred years before Christ,--for
even the date of the earliest of the Vedas is unknown. Fifty years ago
we could not have understood the ancient religions of India. But Sir
William Jones in the latter part of the last century, a man of immense
erudition and genius for the acquisition of languages, at that time an
English judge in India, prepared the way for the study of Sanskrit, the
literary language of ancient India, by the translation and publication
of the laws of Menu. He was followed in his labors by the Schlegels of
Germany, and by numerous scholars and missionaries. Within fifty years
this ancient and beautiful language has been so perseveringly studied
that we know something of the people by whom it was once spoken,--even
as Egyptologists have revealed something of ancient Egypt by
interpreting the hieroglyphics; and Chaldaean investigators have found
stores of knowledge in the Babylonian bricks.

The Sanskrit, as now interpreted, reveals to us the meaning of those
poems called Vedas, by which we are enabled to understand the early laws
and religion of the Hindus. It is poetry, not history, which makes this
revelation, for the Hindus have no history farther back than five or six
hundred years before Christ. It is from Homer and Hesiod that we get an
idea of the gods of Greece, not from Herodotus or Xenophon.

From comparative philology, a new science, of which Prof. Max Mueller is
one of the greatest expounders, we learn that the roots of various
European languages, as well as of the Latin and Greek, are
substantially the same as those of the Sanskrit spoken by the Hindus
thirty-five hundred years ago, from which it is inferred that the Hindus
were a people of like remote origin with the Greeks, the Italic races
(Romans, Italians, French), the Slavic races (Russian, Polish,
Bohemian), the Teutonic races of England and the Continent, and the
Keltic races. These are hence alike called the Indo-European races; and
as the same linguistic roots are found in their languages and in the
Zend-Avesta, we infer that the ancient Persians, or inhabitants of Iran,
belonged to the same great Aryan race.

The original seat of this race, it is supposed, was in the high
table-lands of Central Asia, in or near Bactria, east of the Caspian
Sea, and north and west of the Himalaya Mountains. This country was so
cold and sterile and unpropitious that winter predominated, and it was
difficult to support life. But the people, inured to hardship and
privation, were bold, hardy, adventurous, and enterprising.

It is a most interesting process, as described by the philologists,
which has enabled them, by tracing the history of words through their
various modifications in different living languages, to see how the
lines of growth converge as they are followed back to the simple Aryan
roots. And there, getting at the meanings of the things or thoughts the
words originally expressed, we see revealed, in the reconstruction of a
language that no longer exists, the material objects and habits of
thought and life of a people who passed away before history began,--so
imperishable are the unconscious embodiments of mind, even in the airy
and unsubstantial forms of unwritten speech! By this process, then, we
learn that the Aryans were a nomadic people, and had made some advance
in civilization. They lived in houses which were roofed, which had
windows and doors. Their common cereal was barley, the grain of cold
climates. Their wealth was in cattle, and they had domesticated the cow,
the sheep, the goat, the horse, and the dog. They used yokes, axes, and
ploughs. They wrought in various metals; they spun and wove, navigated
rivers in sailboats, and fought with bows, lances, and swords. They had
clear perceptions of the rights of property, which were based on land.
Their morals were simple and pure, and they had strong natural
affections. Polygamy was unknown among them. They had no established
sacerdotal priesthood. They worshipped the powers of Nature, especially
fire, the source of light and heat, which they so much needed in their
dreary land. Authorities differ as to their primeval religion, some
supposing that it was monotheistic, and others polytheistic, and others
again pantheistic.

Most of the ancient nations were controlled more or less by priests,
who, as their power increased, instituted a caste to perpetuate their
influence. Whether or not we hold the primitive religion of mankind to
have been a pure theism, directly revealed by God,--which is my own
conviction,--it is equally clear that the form of religion recorded in
the earliest written records of poetry or legend was a worship of the
sun and moon and planets. I believe this to have been a corruption of
original theism; many think it to have been a stage of upward growth in
the religious sense of primitive man. In all the ancient nations the
sun-god was a prominent deity, as the giver of heat and light, and hence
of fertility to the earth. The emblem of the sun was fire, and hence
fire was deified, especially among the Hindus, under the name of
Agni,--the Latin _ignis_.

Fire, caloric, or heat in some form was, among the ancient nations,
supposed to be the _animus mundi_. In Egypt, as we have seen, Osiris,
the principal deity, was a form of Ra, the sun-god. In Assyria, Asshur,
the substitute for Ra, was the supreme deity. In India we find Mitra,
and in Persia Mithra, the sun-god, among the prominent deities, as
Helios was among the Greeks, and Phoebus Apollo among the Romans. The
sun was not always the supreme divinity, but invariably held one of the
highest places in the Pagan pantheon.

It is probable that the religion of the common progenitors of the
Hindus, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Kelts, Teutons, and Slavs, in their
hard and sterile home in Central Asia, was a worship of the powers of
Nature verging toward pantheism, although the earliest of the Vedas
representing the ancient faith seem to recognize a supreme power and
intelligence--God--as the common father of the race, to whom prayers and
sacrifices were devoutly offered. Freeman Clarke quotes from Mueller's
"Ancient Sanskrit Literature" one of the hymns in which the unity of God
is most distinctly recognized:--

"In the beginning there arose the Source of golden light. He was the
only Lord of all that is. He established the earth and sky. Who is the
God to whom we shall offer our sacrifices? It is he who giveth life, who
giveth strength, who governeth all men; through whom heaven was
established, and the earth created."

But if the Supreme God whom we adore was recognized by this ancient
people, he was soon lost sight of in the multiplied manifestations of
his power, so that Rawlinson thinks[2] that when the Aryan race
separated in their various migrations, which resulted in what we call
the Indo-European group of races, there was no conception of a single
supreme power, from whom man and nature have alike their origin, but
Nature-worship, ending in an extensive polytheism,--as among the
Assyrians and Egyptians.

[Footnote 2: Religions of the Ancient World, p. 105.]

As to these Aryan migrations, we do not know when a large body crossed
the Himalaya Mountains, and settled on the banks of the Indus, but
probably it was at least two thousand years before Christ. Northern
India had great attractions to those hardy nomadic people, who found it
so difficult to get a living during the long winters of their primeval
home. India was a country of fruits and flowers, with an inexhaustible
soil, favorable to all kinds of production, where but little manual
labor was required,--a country abounding in every kind of animals, and
every kind of birds; a land of precious stones and minerals, of hills
and valleys, of majestic rivers and mountains, with a beautiful climate
and a sunny sky. These Aryan conquerors drove before them the aboriginal
inhabitants, who were chiefly Mongolians, or reduced them to a degrading
vassalage. The conquering race was white, the conquered was dark, though
not black; and this difference of color was one of the original causes
of Indian caste.

It was some time after the settlement of the Aryans on the banks of the
Indus and the Ganges before the Vedas were composed by the poets, who as
usual gave form to religious belief, as they did in Persia and Greece.
These poems, or hymns, are pantheistic. "There is no recognition," says
Monier Williams, "of a Supreme God disconnected with the worship of
Nature." There was a vague and indefinite worship of the Infinite under
various names, such as the sun, the sky, the air, the dawn, the winds,
the storms, the waters, the rivers, which alike charmed and terrified,
and seemed to be instinct with life and power. God was in all things,
and all things in God; but there was no idea of providential agency or
of personality.

In the Vedic hymns the number of gods is not numerous, only
thirty-three. The chief of these were Varuna, the sky; Mitra, the sun;
and Indra, the storm: after these, Agni, fire; and Soma, the moon. The
worship of these divinities was originally simple, consisting of prayer,
praise, and offerings. There were no temples and no imposing
sacerdotalism, although the priests were numerous. "The prayers and
praises describe the wisdom, power, and goodness of the deity
addressed," [3] and when the customary offerings had been made, the
worshipper prayed for food, life, health, posterity, wealth, protection,
happiness, whatever the object was,--generally for outward prosperity
rather than for improvement in character, or for forgiveness of sin,
peace of mind, or power to resist temptation. The offerings to the gods
were propitiatory, in the form of victims, or libations of some juice.
Nor did these early Hindus take much thought of a future life. There is
nothing in the Rig-Veda of a belief in the transmigration of souls[4],
although the Vedic bards seem to have had some hope of immortality. "He
who gives alms," says one poet, "goes to the highest place in heaven: he
goes to the gods[5].... Where there is eternal light, in the world where
the sun is placed,--in that immortal, imperishable world, place me, O
Soma! ... Where there is happiness and delight, where joy and pleasures
reside, where the desires of our heart are attained, there make me

[Footnote 3: Rawlinson, p. 121.]
[Footnote 4: Wilson: Rig-Veda, vol. iii. p. 170.]
[Footnote 5: Mueller: Chips from a German Workshop, vol. i. p. 46.]

In the oldest Vedic poems there were great simplicity and joyousness,
without allusion to those rites, ceremonies, and sacrifices which formed
so prominent a part of the religion of India at a later period.

Four hundred years after the Rig-Veda was composed we come to the
Brahmanic age, when the laws of Menu were written, when the Aryans were
living in the valley of the Ganges, and the caste system had become
national. The supreme deity is no longer one of the powers of Nature,
like Mitra or Indra, but according to Menu he is Brahm, or Brahma,--"an
eternal, unchangeable, absolute being, the soul of all beings, who,
having willed to produce various beings from his own divine substance,
created the waters and placed in them a productive seed. The seed became
an egg, and in that egg he was born, but sat inactive for a year, when
he caused the egg to divide itself; and from its two divisions he framed
the heaven above, and the earth beneath. From the supreme soul Brahma
drew forth mind, existing substantially, though unperceived by the
senses; and before mind, the reasoning power, he produced consciousness,
the internal monitor; and before them both he produced the great
principle of the soul.... The soul is, in its substance, from Brahma
himself, and is destined finally to be resolved into him. The soul,
then, is simply an emanation from Brahma; but it will not return unto
him at death necessarily, but must migrate from body to body, until it
is purified by profound abstraction and emancipated from all desires."

This is the substance of the Hindu pantheism as taught by the laws of
Menu. It accepts God, but without personality or interference with the
world's affairs,--not a God to be loved, scarcely to be feared, but a
mere abstraction of the mind.

The theology which is thus taught in the Brahmanical Vedas, it would
seem, is the result of lofty questionings and profound meditation on the
part of the Indian sages or priests, rather than the creation of poets.

In the laws of Menu, intended to exalt the Brahmanical caste, we read,
as translated by Sir William Jones:--

"To a man contaminated by sensuality, neither the Vedas, nor liberality,
nor sacrifices, nor strict observances, nor pious austerities, ever
procure felicity.... Let not a man be proud of his rigorous devotion;
let him not, having sacrificed, utter a falsehood; having made a
donation, let him never proclaim it.... By falsehood the sacrifice
becomes vain; by pride the merit of devotion is lost.... Single is each
man born, single he dies, single he receives the reward of the good, and
single the punishment of his evil, deeds.... By forgiveness of injuries
the learned are purified; by liberality, those who have neglected their
duty; by pious meditation, those who have secret thoughts; by devout
austerity, those who best know the Vedas.... Bodies are cleansed by
water; the mind is purified by truth; the vital spirit, by theology and
devotion; the understanding, by clear knowledge.... A faithful wife who
wishes to attain in heaven the mansion of her husband, must do nothing
unkind to him, be he living or dead; let her not, when her lord is
deceased, even pronounce the name of another man; let her continue till
death, forgiving all injuries, performing harsh duties, avoiding every
sensual pleasure, and cheerfully practising the incomparable rules of
virtue.... The soul itself is its own witness, the soul itself is its
own refuge; offend not thy conscious soul, the supreme internal witness
of man, ... O friend to virtue, the Supreme Spirit, which is the same
as thyself, resides in thy bosom perpetually, and is an all-knowing
inspector of thy goodness or wickedness."

Such were the truths uttered on the banks of the Ganges one thousand
years before Christ. But with these views there is an exaltation of the
Brahmanical or sacerdotal life, hard to be distinguished from the
recognition of divine qualities. "From his high birth," says Menu, "a
Brahman is an object of veneration, even to deities." Hence, great
things are expected of him; his food must be roots and fruit, his
clothing of bark fibres; he must spend his time in reading the Vedas; he
is to practise austerities by exposing himself to heat and cold; he is
to beg food but once a day; he must be careful not to destroy the life
of the smallest insect; he must not taste intoxicating liquors. A
Brahman who has thus mortified his body by these modes is exalted into
the divine essence. This was the early creed of the Brahman before
corruption set in. And in these things we see a striking resemblance to
the doctrines of Buddha. Had there been no corruption of Brahmanism,
there would have been no Buddhism; for the principles of Buddhism, were
those of early Brahmanism.

But Brahmanism became corrupted. Like the Mosaic Law, under the sedulous
care of the sacerdotal orders it ripened into a most burdensome
ritualism. The Brahmanical caste became tyrannical, exacting, and
oppressive. With the supposed sacredness of his person, and with the
laws made in his favor, the Brahman became intolerable to the people,
who were ground down by sacrifices, expiatory offerings, and wearisome
and minute ceremonies of worship. Caste destroyed all ideas of human
brotherhood; it robbed the soul of its affections and its aspirations.
Like the Pharisees in the time of Jesus, the Brahmans became oppressors
of the people. As in Pagan Egypt and in Christian mediaeval Europe, the
priests held the keys of heaven and hell; their power was more than

But the Brahman, when true to the laws of Menu, led in one sense a lofty
life. Nor can we despise a religion which recognized the value and
immortality of the soul, a state of future rewards and punishments,
though its worship was encumbered by rites, ceremonies, and sacrifices.
It was spiritual in its essential peculiarities, having reference to
another world rather than to this, which is more than we can say of the
religion of the Greeks; it was not worldly in its ends, seeking to save
the soul rather than to pamper the body; it had aspirations after a
higher life; it was profoundly reverential, recognizing a supreme
intelligence and power, indefinitely indeed, but sincerely,--not an
incarnated deity like the Zeus of the Greeks, but an infinite Spirit,
pervading the universe. The pantheism of the Brahmans was better than
the godless materialism of the Chinese. It aspired to rise to a
knowledge of God as the supremest wisdom and grandest attainment of
mortal man. It made too much of sacrifices; but sacrifices were common
to all the ancient religions except the Persian.

"He who through knowledge or religious acts
Henceforth attains to immortality,
Shall first present his body, Death, to thee."

Whether human sacrifices were offered in India when the Vedas were
composed we do not know, but it is believed to be probable. The oldest
form of sacrifice was the offering of food to the deity. Dr. H. C.
Trumbull, in his work on "The Blood Covenant," thinks that the origin of
animal sacrifices was like that of circumcision,--a pouring out of blood
(the universal, ancient symbol of _life_) as a sign of devotion to the
deity; and the substitution of animals was a natural and necessary mode
of making this act of consecration a frequent and continuing one. This
presents a nobler view of the whole sacrificial system than the common
one. Yet doubtless the latter soon prevailed; for following upon the
devoted life-offerings to the Divine Friend, came propitiatory rites to
appease divine anger or gain divine favor. Then came in the natural
human self-seeking of the sacerdotal class, for the multiplication of
sacrifices tended to exalt the priesthood, and thus to perpetuate caste.

Again, the Brahmans, if practising austerities to weaken sensual
desires, like the monks of Syria and Upper Egypt, were meditative and
intellectual; they evolved out of their brains whatever was lofty in
their system of religion and philosophy. Constant and profound
meditation on the soul, on God, and on immortality was not without its
natural results. They explored the world of metaphysical speculation.
There is scarcely an hypothesis advanced by philosophers in ancient or
modern times, which may not be found in the Brahmanical writings. "We
find in the writings of these Hindus materialism, atomism, pantheism,
Pyrrhonism, idealism. They anticipated Plato, Kant, and Hegel. They
could boast of their Spinozas and their Humes long before Alexander
dreamed of crossing the Indus. From them the Pythagoreans borrowed a
great part of their mystical philosophy, of their doctrine of
transmigration of souls, and the unlawfulness of eating animal food.
From them Aristotle learned the syllogism.... In India the human mind
exhausted itself in attempting to detect the laws which regulate its
operation, before the philosophers of Greece were beginning to enter the
precincts of metaphysical inquiry." This intellectual subtlety, acumen,
and logical power the Brahmans never lost. To-day the Christian
missionary finds them his superiors in the sports of logical
tournaments, whenever the Brahman condescends to put forth his powers of

Brahmanism carried idealism to the extent of denying any reality to
sense or matter, declaring that sense is a delusion. It sought to leave
the soul emancipated from desire, from a material body, in a state which
according to Indian metaphysics is _being_, but not _existence_. Desire,
anger, ignorance, evil thoughts are consumed by the fire of knowledge.

But I will not attempt to explain the ideal pantheism which Brahmanical
philosophers substituted for the Nature-worship taught in the earlier
Vedas. This proved too abstract for the people; and the Brahmans, in the
true spirit of modern Jesuitism, wishing to accommodate their religion
to the people,--who were in bondage to their tyranny, and who have ever
been inclined to sensuous worship,--multiplied their sacrifices and
sacerdotal rites, and even permitted a complicated polytheism. Gradually
piety was divorced from morality. Siva and Vishnu became worshipped, as
well as Brahma and a host of other gods unknown to the earlier Vedas.

In the sixth century before Christ, the corruption of society had become
so flagrant under the teachings and government of the Brahmans, that a
reform was imperatively needed. "The pride of race had put an
impassable barrier between the Aryan-Hindus and the conquered
aborigines, while the pride of both had built up an equally impassable
barrier between the different classes among the Aryan people
themselves." The old childlike joy in life, so manifest in the Vedas,
had died away. A funereal gloom hung over the land; and the gloomiest
people of all were the Brahmans themselves, devoted to a complicated
ritual of ceremonial observances, to needless and cruel sacrifices, and
a repulsive theology. The worship of Nature had degenerated into the
worship of impure divinities. The priests were inflated with a puerile
but sincere belief in their own divinity, and inculcated a sense of duty
which was nothing else than a degrading slavery to their own caste.

Under these circumstances Buddhism arose as a protest against
Brahmanism. But it was rather an ethical than a religious movement; it
was an attempt to remove misery from the world, and to elevate ordinary
life by a reform of morals. It was effected by a prince who goes by the
name of Buddha,--the "Enlightened,"--who was supposed by his later
followers to be an incarnation of Deity, miraculously conceived, and
sent into the world to save men. He was nearly contemporary with
Confucius, although the Buddhistic doctrines were not introduced into
China until about two hundred years before the Christian era. He is
supposed to have belonged to a warlike tribe called Sakyas, of great
reputed virtue, engaged in agricultural pursuits, who had entered
northern India and made a permanent settlement several hundred years
before. The name by which the reformer is generally known is Gautama,
borrowed by the Sakyas after their settlement in India from one of the
ancient Vedic bard-families. The foundation of our knowledge of Sakya
Buddha is from a Life of him by Asvaghosha, in the first century of our
era; and this life is again founded on a legendary history, not framed
after any Indian model, but worked out among the nations in the north
of India.

The Life of Buddha by Asvaghosha is a poetical romance of nearly ten
thousand lines. It relates the miraculous conception of the Indian sage,
by the descent of a spirit on his mother, Maya,--a woman of great purity
of mind. The child was called Siddartha, or "the perfection of all
things." His father ruled a considerable territory, and was careful to
conceal from the boy, as he grew up, all knowledge of the wickedness and
misery of the world. He was therefore carefully educated within the
walls of the palace, and surrounded with every luxury, but not allowed
even to walk or drive in the royal gardens for fear he might see misery
and sorrow. A beautiful girl was given to him in marriage, full of
dignity and grace, with whom he lived in supreme happiness.

At length, as his mind developed and his curiosity increased to see and
know things and people beyond the narrow circle to which he was
confined, he obtained permission to see the gardens which surrounded the
palace. His father took care to remove everything in his way which could
suggest misery and sorrow; but a _deva_, or angel, assumed the form of
an aged man, and stood beside his path, apparently struggling for life,
weak and oppressed. This was a new sight to the prince, who inquired of
his charioteer what kind of a man it was. Forced to reply, the
charioteer told him that this infirm old man had once been young,
sportive, beautiful, and full of every enjoyment.

On hearing this, the prince sank into profound meditation, and returned
to the palace sad and reflective; for he had learned that the common lot
of man is sad,--that no matter how beautiful, strong, and sportive a boy
is, the time will come, in the course of Nature, when this boy will be
wrinkled, infirm, and helpless. He became so miserable and dejected on
this discovery that his father, to divert his mind, arranged other
excursions for him; but on each occasion a _deva_ contrived to appear
before him in the form of some disease or misery. At last he saw a dead
man carried to his grave, which still more deeply agitated him, for he
had not known that this calamity was the common lot of all men. The same
painful impression was made on him by the death of animals, and by the
hard labors and privations of poor people. The more he saw of life as it
was, the more he was overcome by the sight of sorrow and hardship on
every side. He became aware that youth, vigor, and strength of life in
the end fulfilled the law of ultimate destruction. While meditating on
this sad reality beneath a flowering Jambu tree, where he was seated in
the profoundest contemplation, a _deva_, transformed into a religious
ascetic, came to him and said, "I am a Shaman. Depressed and sad at the
thought of age, disease, and death, I have left my home to seek some way
of rescue; yet everywhere I find these evils,--all things hasten to
decay. Therefore I seek that happiness which is only to be found in that
which never perishes, that never knew a beginning, that looks with equal
mind on enemy and friend, that heeds not wealth nor beauty,--the
happiness to be found in solitude, in some dell free from molestation,
all thought about the world destroyed."

This embodies the soul of Buddhism, its elemental principle,--to escape
from a world of misery and death; to hide oneself in contemplation in
some lonely spot, where indifference to passing events is gradually
acquired, where life becomes one grand negation, and where the thoughts
are fixed on what is eternal and imperishable, instead of on the mortal
and transient.

The prince, who was now about thirty years of age, after this interview
with the supposed ascetic, firmly resolved himself to become a hermit,
and thus attain to a higher life, and rise above the misery which he saw
around him on every hand. So he clandestinely and secretly escapes from
his guarded palace; lays aside his princely habits and ornaments;
dismisses all attendants, and even his horse; seeks the companionship of
Brahmans, and learns all their penances and tortures. Finding a patient
trial of this of no avail for his purpose, he leaves the Brahmans, and
repairs to a quiet spot by the banks of a river, and for six years
practises the most severe fasting and profound meditation. This was the
form which piety had assumed in India from time immemorial, under the
guidance of the Brahmans; for Siddartha as yet is not the
"enlightened,"--he is only an inquirer after that saving knowledge which
will open the door of a divine felicity, and raise him above a world of
disease and death.

Siddartha's rigorous austerities, however, do not open this door of
saving truth. His body is wasted, and his strength fails; he is near
unto death. The conviction fastens on his lofty and inquiring mind that
to arrive at the end he seeks he must enter by some other door than
that of painful and useless austerities, and hence that the teachings of
the Brahmans are fundamentally wrong. He discovers that no amount of
austerities will extinguish desire, or produce ecstatic contemplation.
In consequence of these reflections a great change comes over him, which
is the turning-point of his history. He resolves to quit his
self-inflicted torments as of no avail. He meets a shepherd's daughter,
who offers him food out of compassion for his emaciated and miserable
condition. The rich rice milk, sweet and perfumed, restores his
strength. He renounces asceticism, and wanders to a spot more congenial
to his changed views and condition.

Siddartha's full enlightenment, however, has not yet come. Under the
shade of the Bodhi tree he devotes himself again to religious
contemplation, and falls into rapt ecstasies. He remains a while in
peaceful quiet; the morning sunbeams, the dispersing mists, and lovely
flowers seem to pay tribute to him. He passes through successive stages
of ecstasy, and suddenly upon his opened mind bursts the knowledge of
his previous births in different forms; of the causes of
re-birth,--ignorance (the root of evil) and unsatisfied desires; and of
the way to extinguish desires by right thinking, speaking, and living,
not by outward observance of forms and ceremonies. He is emancipated
from the thraldom of those austerities which have formed the basis of
religious life for generations unknown, and he resolves to teach.

Buddha travels slowly to the sacred city of Benares, converting by the
way even Brahmans themselves. He claims to have reached perfect wisdom.
He is followed by disciples, for there was something attractive and
extraordinary about him; his person was beautiful and commanding. While
he shows that painful austerities will not produce wisdom, he also
teaches that wisdom is not reached by self-indulgence; that there is a
middle path between penance and pleasures, even _temperance_,---the use,
but not abuse, of the good things of earth. In his first sermon he
declares that sorrow is in self; therefore to get rid of sorrow is to
get rid of self. The means to this end is to forget self in deeds of
mercy and kindness to others; to crucify demoralizing desires; to live
in the realm of devout contemplation.

The active life of Buddha now begins, and for fifty years he travels
from place to place as a teacher, gathers around him disciples, frames
rules for his society, and brings within his community both the rich and
poor. He even allows women to enter it. He thus matures his system,
which is destined to be embraced by so large a part of the human race,
and finally dies at the age of eighty, surrounded by reverential
followers, who see in him an incarnation of the Deity.

Thus Buddha devoted his life to the welfare of men, moved by an
exceeding tenderness and pity for the objects of misery which he beheld
on every side. He attempted to point out a higher life, by which sorrow
would be forgotten. He could not prevent sorrow culminating in old age,
disease, and death; but he hoped to make men ignore their miseries, and
thus rise above them to a beatific state of devout contemplation and the
practice of virtues, for which he laid down certain rules and

It is astonishing how the new doctrines spread,--from India to China,
from China to Japan and Ceylon, until Eastern Asia was filled with
pagodas, temples, and monasteries to attest his influence; some
eighty-five thousand existed in China alone. Buddha probably had as many
converts in China as Confucius himself. The Buddhists from time to time
were subjected to great persecution from the emperors of China, in which
their sacred books were destroyed; and in India the Brahmans at last
regained their power, and expelled Buddhism from the country. In the
year 845 A.D. two hundred and sixty thousand monks and nuns were made to
return to secular life in China, being regarded as mere drones,--lazy
and useless members of the community. But the policy of persecution was
reversed by succeeding emperors. In the thirteenth century there were in
China nearly fifty thousand Buddhist temples and two hundred and
thirteen thousand monks; and these represented but a fraction of the
professed adherents of the religion. Under the present dynasty the
Buddhists are proscribed, but still they flourish.

Now, what has given to the religion of Buddha such an extraordinary
attraction for the people of Eastern Asia?

Buddhism has a twofold aspect,--_practical_ and _speculative_. In its
most definite form it was a moral and philanthropic movement,--the
reaction against Brahmanism, which had no humanity, and which was as
repulsive and oppressive as Roman Catholicism was when loaded down with
ritualism and sacerdotal rites, when Europe was governed by priests,
when churches were damp, gloomy crypts, before the tall cathedrals arose
in their artistic beauty.

From a religious and philosophical point of view, Buddhism at first did
not materially differ from Brahmanism. The same dreamy pietism, the same
belief in the transmigration of souls, the same pantheistic ideas of God
and Nature, the same desire for rest and final absorption in the divine
essence characterized both. In both there was a certain principle of
faith, which was a feeling of reverence rather than the recognition of
the unity and personality and providence of God. The prayer of the
Buddhist was a yearning for deliverance from sorrow, a hope of final
rest; but this was not to be attained until desires and passions were
utterly suppressed in the soul, which could be effected only by prayer,
devout meditations, and a rigorous self-discipline. In order to be
purified and fitted for Nirvana the soul, it was supposed, must pass
through successive stages of existence in mortal forms, without
conscious recollection,--innumerable births and deaths, with sorrow and
disease. And the final state of supreme blessedness, the ending of the
long and weary transmigration, would be attained only with the
extinction of all desires, even the instinctive desire for existence.

Buddha had no definite ideas of the deity, and the worship of a personal
God is nowhere to be found in his teachings, which exposed him to the
charge of atheism. He even supposed that gods were subject to death, and
must return to other forms of life before they obtained final rest in
Nirvana. Nirvana means that state which admits of neither birth nor
death, where there is no sorrow or disease,--an impassive state of
existence, absorption in the Spirit of the Universe. In the Buddhist
catechism Nirvana is defined as the "total cessation of changes; a
perfect rest; the absence of desire, illusion, and sorrow; the total
obliteration of everything that goes to make up the physical man." This
theory of re-births, or transmigration of souls, is very strange and
unnatural to our less imaginative and subtile Occidental minds; but to
the speculative Orientals it is an attractive and reasonable belief.
They make the "spirit" the immortal part of man, the "soul" being its
emotional embodiment, its "spiritual body," whose unsatisfied desires
cause its birth and re-birth into the fleshly form of the physical
"body,"--a very brief and temporary incarnation. When by the progressive
enlightenment of the spirit its longings and desires have been gradually
conquered, it no longer needs or has embodiment either of soul or of
body; so that, to quote Elliott Coues in Olcott's "Buddhist Catechism,"
"a spirit in a state of conscious formlessness, subject to no further
modification by embodiment, yet in full knowledge of its experiences
[during its various incarnations], is Nirvanic."

Buddhism, however, viewed in any aspect, must be regarded as a gloomy
religion. It is hard enough to crucify all natural desires and lead a
life of self-abnegation; but for the spirit, in order to be purified, to
be obliged to enter into body after body, each subject to disease,
misery, and death, and then after a long series of migrations to be
virtually annihilated as the highest consummation of happiness, gives
one but a poor conception of the efforts of the proudest unaided
intellect to arrive at a knowledge of God and immortal bliss. It would
thus seem that the true idea of God, or even that of immortality, is not
an innate conception revealed by consciousness; for why should good and
intellectual men, trained to study and reflection all their lives, gain
no clearer or more inspiring notions of the Being of infinite love and
power, or of the happiness which He is able and willing to impart? What
a feeble conception of God is a being without the oversight of the
worlds that he created, without volition or purpose or benevolence, or
anything corresponding to our notion of personality! What a poor
conception of supernal bliss, without love or action or thought or holy
companionship,--only rest, unthinking repose, and absence from disease,
misery, and death, a state of endless impassiveness! What is Nirvana but
an escape from death and deliverance from mortal desires, where there
are neither ideas nor the absence of ideas; no changes or hopes or
fears, it is true, but also no joy, no aspiration, no growth, no
life,--a state of nonentity, where even consciousness is practically
extinguished, and individuality merged into absolute stillness and a
dreamless rest? What a poor reward for ages of struggle and the final
achievement of exalted virtue!

But if Buddhism failed to arrive at what we believe to be a true
knowledge of God and the destiny of the soul,--the forgiveness and
remission, or doing-away, of sin, and a joyful and active immortality,
all which I take to be revelations rather than intuitions,--yet there
were some great certitudes in its teachings which did appeal to
consciousness,--certitudes recognized by the noblest teachers of all
ages and nations. These were such realities as truthfulness, sincerity,
purity, justice, mercy, benevolence, unselfishness, love. The human mind
arrives at ethical truths, even when all speculation about God and
immortality has failed. The idea of God may be lost, but not that of
moral obligation,--the mutual social duties of mankind. There is a sense
of duty even among savages; in the lowest civilization there is true
admiration of virtue. No sage that I ever read of enjoined immorality.
No ignorance can prevent the sense of shame, of honor, or of duty.
Everybody detests a liar and despises a thief. Thou shalt not bear false
witness; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not kill,--these are
laws written in human consciousness as well as in the code of Moses.
Obedience and respect to parents are instincts as well as obligations.

Hence the prince Siddartha, as soon as he had found the wisdom of inward
motive and the folly of outward rite, shook off the yoke of the priests,
and denounced caste and austerities and penances and sacrifices as of
no avail in securing the welfare and peace of the soul or the favor of
deity. In all this he showed an enlightened mind, governed by wisdom and
truth, and even a bold and original genius,--like Abraham when he
disowned the gods of his fathers. Having thus himself gained the
security of the heights, Buddha longed to help others up, and turned his
attention to the moral instruction of the people of India. He was
emphatically a missionary of ethics, an apostle of righteousness, a
reformer of abuses, as well as a tender and compassionate man, moved to
tears in view of human sorrows and sufferings. He gave up metaphysical
speculations for practical philanthropy. He wandered from city to city
and village to village to relieve misery and teach duties rather than
theological philosophies. He did not know that God is love, but he did
know that peace and rest are the result of virtuous thoughts and acts.

"Let us then," said he, "live happily, not hating those who hate us;
free from greed among the greedy.... Proclaim mercy freely to all men;
it is as large as the spaces of heaven.... Whoever loves will feel the
longing to save not himself alone, but all others." He compares himself
to a father who rescues his children from a burning house, to a
physician who cures the blind. He teaches the equality of the sexes as
well as the injustice of castes. He enjoins kindness to servants and
emancipation of slaves. "As a mother, as long as she lives, watches over
her child, so among all beings," said Gautama, "let boundless good-will
prevail.... Overcome evil with good, the avaricious with generosity, the
false with truth.... Never forget thy own duty for the sake of

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