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LECTURE I.

DELIVERED AT THE ROYAL INSTITUTION,
FEBRUARY 14, 1874.

INTRODUCTORY.

Sua cuique genti religio est, nostra nobis.-CICERO. ̓Αλλ' ἐν παντὶ ἔθνει ὁ φοβούμενος αὐτὸν, καὶ ἐργαζόμενος δικαιοσύνην, δεκτὸς αὐτῷ ἐστι. ST. PETER.

THE Science of Comparative Religion is still in its infancy; and if there is one danger more than another against which it should be on its guard, it is that of hasty and ill-considered generalisation. Hasty generalisation is the besetting temptation of all young Sciences; may I not say of Science in general? They are in too great a hurry to justify their existence by arriving at results which may be generally intelligible instead of waiting patiently till the result shapes itself from the premises; as if, in the pursuit of truth, the chase was not always worth more than

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the game and the process itself more than the result! Theory has, it is true, its advantages, even in a young Science, in the way of suggesting a definite line which enquiry may take. A brilliant hypothesis formed, not by random guess work, but by the trained imagination of the man of Science, or by the true divination of genius, enlarges the horizon of the student whom the limits of the human faculties themselves drive to be a specialist, but who is apt to become too much so. It throws a flood of light upon a field of knowledge which was before, perhaps, half in shadow, bringing out each object in its relative place, and in its true proportions; finally, it gathers scattered facts into one focus, and explaining them provisionally by a single law, it makes an appeal to the fancy, which must react on the other mental powers, and be a most powerful stimulus to further research. In truth, much that is now demonstrated fact was once hypothesis, and would never have been demonstrated unless it had been first assumed. But since there are few Keplers in the world-men ready to sacrifice, without hesitation, a hypothesis that had seemed to explain the universe, and become, as it were, a part of themselves, the moment that the facts seem to require it—great circumspection will always be needed lest the facts may be made to bend to the theory, instead of its being modified to meet them.

ORIGIN OF religion, MORAL.

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Bearing this caution in mind, we may, perhaps, think that the Science of Comparative Religion, young as it is, has yet been in existence long enough to enable us to lay it down, at all events provisionally, as a general law, that all the great religions of the world, the commencement of which has not been immemorial, coeval that is with the human mind itself, have been in the first instance moral rather than theological; they have been called into existence to meet social and national needs; they have raised man gradually towards God, rather than brought down God at once to man.

Judaism, for instance, sprang into existence at the moment when the Israelites passed, and because they passed, from the Patriarchal to the Political life, when from slavery they emerged into freedom, when they ceased to be a family, and became a nation. I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, and out of the house of bondage.' The Moral Law which followed, the Theocracy itself, was the outcome of this fundamental fact. The nation that God has chosen, nay, that He has called into existence, is to keep His laws and to be His people. Consequently, all law to the ancient Hebrew was alike Divine, whether written, as he believed, by the finger of God on two tables, or whether applied by the civil magistrate to

the special cases brought before him. Moral and political offences are thus offences against God, and the ideas of crime and sin are identical alike in fact and in thought.

Again, take a glance at the religion of Buddha. We speak of Buddhism, and are apt to think of it chiefly as a body of doctrine, drawn up over two thousand years ago, and at this day professed by four hundred and fifty millions of human beings; and we wonder, as well we may, how a summum bonum of mere painlessness in this world, and practically, and to the ordinary mind, of total extinction when this world is over, can have satisfied the spiritual cravings of Buddha's contemporaries; and, in its various forms, can now be the life guidance of a third of the human race. But we forget that, in its origin at least, Buddhism was more of a social than of a religious reformation. It was an attack upon that web of priestcraft which Brahmanism had woven round the

1 To Buddha himself and to his immediate disciples, it is now nearly certain that Nirvâna meant, not the cessation of being, but its perfection. Many of his followers in all ages have, no doubt, developed one side of his teachings only on this subject; but there are not a few who know, as a friendly critic, the Rev. John Hoare, on the high authority of Mr. Beal, has pointed out to me, that on the last night which their master spent on earth he is said to have held high converse with his disciples, much after the manner of Socrates in the Phædo, on the future life; and that a Sûtra still remains in which the four characteristics of Nirvâna are said to be personality, purity, happiness, and eternity.

JUDAISM AND BUDDHISM.

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whole frame-work of Indian society. It was the levelling of caste distinctions, the sight of a 'man born to be a king' throwing off his royal dignity, sweeping away the sacerdotal mummeries which he had himself tested, and found unfruitful, preferring poverty to riches, and Sûdras to Brahmans. It was Buddha's overpowering sense of the miseries of sin, his dim yearnings after a better life, his moral system of which the sum is Love, which wrought upon the hearts of his hearers.2 He founded, it is true, a new religion, but he began by attacking an old.' He reconstructed society first, and it was his social reform that led to his religion, rather than his religion which involved his social reconstruction. The half we may, perhaps, think would have been more than the whole

'Quæsivit cœlo lucem ingemuitque repertâ.'

Nor is it much otherwise with Christianity itself. Christ was before all things the Founder of a new

1 See Max Müller's 'Chips from a German Workshop,' vol. I., 210-226, especially p. 220; and Spence Hardy's 'Legends and Theories of the Buddhists,' Introduction, p. 13-20. Cf. also Beal's Buddhist Pilgrims,' Introduction, p. 49, seq.

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2 See in 'Travels of Marco Polo,' translated by Colonel Yule (II. 300, seq.), the remarkable story of the devotion of Sakya Muni to an ascetic life, as a preliminary to all that followed. Had he been a Christian,' says the good Venetian, he would have been a great saint of our Lord Jesus Christ, so good and pure was the life he led.' Colonel Yule's notes in loc., and Mr. Talboys Wheeler's India,' vol. III. chap. iii.

See also History of

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