Page images
PDF
EPUB

cretion and brave many dangers, by which they acquired a strength of mind that caused them to be looked upon with respect, and gained them the third rank in the order of castes. It is under the character of a wanderer that the ancient merchant is generally represented; he has not only to superintend the sale of his wares, but to accompany them in their transit. Thus in Hebrew, the name of the merchant is derived from a root that signifies "to go about, to wander;" in Greek, from έv Toρoç, transitus; and our own word merchant has a similar signification in the Gothic mergan, "to spread." In India, it is not alone the man who trades to foreign countries that has to wander, as much of the retail trade is carried on by persons who pass from village to village, like the bag-men or hawkers of our own land. By the Singhalese the third caste is generally regarded as being exclusively mercantile, whilst the cultivators form the first class of the Sudras. It is said in one of their legends that the first merchant was called Wessama, who, having discovered the properties of certain medical productions, afterwards disposed of them for gain.

It is the more usual course for the cultivators of the soil to be regarded as forming the noblest class of the people, next to those who hold rank as hereditary princes; they are the eupatrids; they form the timocracy; and it is from them the rulers of the state are chosen ; as delegates of the king, when the government is monarchical, or as temporary chiefs, when it is an aristocracy. The circumstances of those who reside in the country, whether as proprietors or as labourers, is favourable to the maintenance of respectability of character, as they are exposed to fewer temptations than the merchant, who has necessarily to live in the midst of the luxuries that produce vice. The higher classes among the Greeks were averse to any profession except arms, agriculture, and musical exercises; and the Spartans carried their

rect, that "the conveyance of merchandise by means of a caravan, as in other countries of the east, continued always foreign to the practice of India."

disdain of all manual occupations so far as to leave even agriculture to the Helots.* The philosophers themselves were not exempt from these prejudices; they supposed that as mechanical arts rendered the body languid, whereby the mind loses its energy, the man who exercises them is unable to fulfil the duties required of him in a free state. "The ancients," says Niebuhr, " with one mind esteemed agriculture to be the proper business of the freeman, as well as the school of the soldier. Cato says, the countryman has the fewest evil thoughts. In him the whole stock of the nation is preserved; it changes in cities where foreign merchants and tradesmen are wont to settle, even as those who are natives remove withersoever they are lured by gain. In every country where slavery prevails the freedman seeks his maintenance by occupations of this kind, in which he not unfrequently grows wealthy; thus among the ancients, as in after times, such trades were mostly in the hands of this class, and were therefore thought disreputable to a citizen; hence the opinion, that the admitting the artisans to full civic rights is hazardous, and would transform the character of a nation." It therefore appears to be contrary to the analogy presented in other nations, when we see the tribe of merchants in India holding so high a rank; † but it is to be accounted for by the peculiar circumstances of the country, the products of which were carried to the most distant parts of the world, causing its people to become rich, and placing those who were the means of the acquirement of this wealth in the position of

* The Thracian chiefs also held it disgraceful to cultivate the earth; war and robbery were with them the only paths to honour. On the other hand, the earlier Romans were eminently an agricultural people.

† "Traffic and money lending are satyántrita; even by them, when he is deeply distressed, may the Brahman support life.”—Manu, Inst. iv. 6. But to the Persians, buying and selling appeared to be a mean practice, as they thought it impossible to carry it on without falsehood and cheating; and when Cyrus heard that the Lacedæmonians had a regular market at Sparta, he expressed great contempt for the nation.-Herod. i. 153. When the Lydians revolted against Cyrus, he was advised by Croesus to enforce upon them the wearing of effeminate clothing, the practice of music, and shopkeeping, as by this means they would become women instead of men.—Ib. i. 155. Kleon, the tanner, and Hyperbolus, the lamp-maker, are greatly derided by Aristophanes for presuming to engage in politics.

princes. We may also learn from the same fact that an extensive commerce must have been carried on in these productions, at an early period after the deluge.

66

The earliest cause of dissention among the primitive brahmas is said to have arisen from the difference in the colour of their skin. When two descendants of an illustrious Brahman became converts to Budhism, Gótama enquired if their change of profession had excited the displeasure of the other Brahmans; and in reply they said it was alleged by their kinsmen, that the Brahmans are the sons of Brahma, sprung from his mouth, pure and fair, while the other castes and sects are sprung from his feet, black and impure." This statement is in favour of the supposition that the Brahmans at first confined themselves to some region not far from the place whence the first dispersion of mankind commenced, by which the fairness of their complexion was preserved; whilst the other tribes of the Hindus went on towards the south, spreading themselves throughout the entire extent of the peninsula, and penetrating even to Ceylon; by which their complexions would be gradually rendered darker, from their residence under a vertical sun. It has been asserted by those who have had the opportunity of forming a correct opinion upon the subject, that the Brahmans are even now, at least in the north of India, a fairer race than the other tribes; hence the proverb, "Never trust a black Brahman, nor a white Pariah."

The Budhist legends agree with revelation in teaching that all men were originally of one race; but with this truth they have mixed up the error that the aborigines of mankind were many. There is also an agreement with the Scriptures, in the statement that men were originally pure, and that they fell from eating a product of the earth.

There appears to be an intimate connexion between the institution of caste and the doctrine of the transmigration of souls. Almost in every place where the former has existed, we can trace the presence of the latter. Indeed, the custom of caste is so contrary to right reason, that its establishment

seems to be impossible without calling in the aid of some supernatural power to assist in its confirmation. In this respect there is consistency in the teachings of Gótama; as he rejects caste, and his doctrine on the origin of the intellectual powers, and their extinction at death, is not transmigration. There is caste among the Budhists of Ceylon, but this is contrary to the tenets of the founder of their religion; and their notions on the subject of that which constitutes the ego, the individual man, have been modified in a similar manner; the custom on the one part, and the popular notion on the other, being homogeneous derivations from primitive Budhism.

By professor Mill, Gótama has been designated "a philosophical opponent of popular superstition, and Brahmanical caste." The future sage having enumerated the qualities he would require in the woman who aspired to be his wife, his royal father directed his principal minister to go into the great city of Kapilawastu, and to enquire there in every house after a woman possessed of these good qualities, shewing at the same time the prince's enumeration of the necessary virtues, and uttering two stanzas, of the following meaning: "Bring hither the maiden that has the required qualities, whether she be of the royal tribe, or the brahman caste; of the respectable, or of the plebeian class. My son regardeth not tribe, nor family extraction: his delight is in good qualities, in truth, and in virtue alone."

With the Brahmans, caste is primeval, essential, immutable, and of divine appointment. But according to the Budhists there was at first no distinction of caste; all the inhabitants of the earth were of one and the same race. When the distinction arose, it was accidental; or it was embraced by the progenitors of the race of their own free will; or, as in the case of the first king, it arose from the suffrages of a general assembly. At the commencement of Budhism, persons of all castes were admitted into the priesthood; and when so admitted, the lowest Sudra held equal rank and received equal honours, with the Brahman or the Kshatriya. That which gives to caste its real importance, and by which it is

exhibited in its most repulsive aspect, is, however, held as firmly by the Budhists as the Brahmans; inasmuch as they teach that the present position of all men is the result of the merit or demerit of former births; a doctrine which, if true, would make the scorn with which the outcast is regarded a natural feeling, as he would be in reality a condemned criminal, undergoing the sentence that has been pronounced against him by a tribunal that cannot err in its decrees. By the Brahman, the Sudra is represented as an object of contempt, because he at first proceeded from the feet of Brahma; but for this statement to have any power, it must be proved that the Sudra was in every previous birth, from the beginning of the kalpa, a Sudra; and if the Brahman be honourable on account of having proceeded from the mouth of Brahma, it must be proved that he has never been any other than a Brahman in all previous generations. Yet it is said by Manu, (Inst. ii. 168):-" A twice-born man, who not having studied the Véda, applies diligent attention to a different and worldly study, soon falls, even when living, tɔ the condition of a Sudra and his descendants after him." From this inconsistency the doctrines of Gótama are free.

The existence of the four great tribes is recognised continually in the Játakas; and inferiority of caste is represented as giving rise to the same usages, and as being attended with the same degradation, as in the works of the Brahmans. In the Sambhúta Játaka there is an account of two low-caste youths who attempted to acquire learning; but for this they were attacked by people of the higher castes, and left for dead. They then went to a distant city, assumed a different dress, that their design might not be frustrated, and passed for Brahmans. One of them completed his education, but whilst the other was yet at school, a stranger, who was detained all night at the same place on account of a storm, had some hot food placed before him; when, as he seized it too eagerly, his mouth was burnt, and he cried out from pain. The scholar called out to him to put it away quickly; but in so doing he used a low-caste word from for

« PreviousContinue »