Magic And Sacrifice
( Originally Published 1922 )
IN the literature that stands nearest to the Rig Veda we are brought face to face with a world of thought in which there is little place for ethical conceptions. Magical and sacrificial ideas obscure almost everything else. The literature in which these ideas find expression is very extensive, and it is not our intention to undertake any detailed study of it. Hillebrandt has analysed it in his Ritual-Litteratur, and a study of that work reveals to one the extraordinary ramifications of the ideas. All that we propose to do here is to look at these ideas as they find expression in early Vedic literature, and to try to bring out the bearing which they have on ethical thought. In the Atharva Veda we have the great text-book for the study of ancient Indian magic, and in the Yajur Veda and the Brahmanas for the study of sacrifice. We may take their teaching as representative of these points of view, reserving the other literature for merely passing reference.
Turning first to the Atharva Veda, we cannot but be struck by the extraordinary difference in its tone from that of the Rig Veda. The gods of the Rig Veda are still recognized, and the worshipper invokes them : but, apart from changes that their characters have undergone, to which reference will be made later, the place of the gods has become a subordinate one. The distinction in point of view may be brought out by saying that whereas in the Rig Veda religion was largely objective, in the Atharva Veda it is very largely subjective. The worshipper in the Rig Veda no doubt usually had in view his own temporal advantage ; yet he entered into the worship of the gods with an abandon that served to redeem his religion from selfishness. In the Atharva Veda, on the other hand, personal profit comes first and last, and the gods are reduced to the level of mere instruments to be used for the attainment of this profit. The conception of the gods as free personal beings has almost disappeared, and in their place we have magical forces which the individual seeks to utilize in order to gain his own selfish ends. The hymns consist mainly of prayers, charms, and imprecations with a view to the attainment of such objects as the healing of disease, long life, prosperity, the discomfiture of enemies and rivals, freedom from the power of demons and evil charms, the expiation of sin, and the like.
It is obvious even to a superficial reader that we are here in contact with a world of thought that has much in common with the thought of primitive peoples generally. Yet it is certain that the Atharva Veda in the form in which it has come down to us belongs to a later period than the Veda. The fact is that we have here a great mass of magic and superstition that found its origin in the minds of the people long before the period of the Rig Veda, wrought up at a later time by the hands of the priests. Barth has drawn attention to the fact that the Rig Vedic hymns acknowledge no wicked divinities and no mean and harmful practices, except for one or two fragments which serve to prove the existence alongside of its loftier religion of a lower order of religious thought. The priests of a later period, ever eager to attain complete ascendency over the minds of the people, took the direction of these magical forces, which played so large a part in the religion of the common people, into their own hands, wrought them into a framework of Vedic thought, and above all established their own position in relation to the magical rites as agents without whose mediation the rites could have no efficacy. So, even more important than the charms and spells themselves are the Brahmans who control them. As Oldenberg has put it, the centre of gravity, so far as meritorious conduct is concerned, has been shifted from worship of the gods to the giving of presents, of food, and of honour to the Brahmans, We found in studying the ethical standpoint of the Rig Veda that one of the most important features to be considered was connected with the conception of the gods, and that especially in their representation of Varuna and Mitra the hymn-writers showed the rudiments of an ethical conception of the Divine. In the Atharva Veda there are some traces of this same spirit. We meet such passages as the following :
I reverence you, O Mitra-and-Varuna, increasers of right ; who, accordant, thrust away the malicious ; who favour the truthful one in conflicts ; do ye free us from distress.
Much untruth, O King Varuna, doth man say here ; from that sin do thou free us, O thou of thousandfold heroism.
We have also the remarkable passage which speaks of Varunas omniscience and of the fetters which he binds on him who speaks untruth. The smallest details of human conduct, the standing, the walking, even the winking of men he sees, helped by his thousand-eyed spies who look over the earth. What two, sitting down together, talk, king Varuna as third knows that. But these are isolated passages. It can hardly be maintained that even in the Rig Veda the characters of any of the gods are thoroughly ethicized, while even in the case of those gods whose characters are most ethically conceived the significance of the fact is considerably modified by the consideration that alongside them there are other gods whose characters are deficient in ethical traits. But when we turn to the Atharva Veda we find, in spite of some passages such as those quoted above, that the gods have almost completely lost their ethical character, and that their physical qualities are most prominent. The de-ethicizing process is manifested in another way. In the Rig Veda the most impressive figure is Varuna, the upholder of rita. In the Atharva Veda he sinks into comparative insignificance, and no god is endowed with the moral supremacy among the gods which belonged to him. Prajapati, Lord of creatures, and Indra, who is regarded as the ` heavenly prototype of the earthly king, are the most important gods, and these are gods in whom ethical qualities are almost entirely lacking. So it may fairly be maintained that the tendency towards an ethical, almost Hebrew conception of the divine, that is evident in parts at least of the Rig Veda, hardly appears in the Atharva Veda.
Again it is important to observe that in the Atharva Veda the importance and power of the gods have very greatly decreased. They have become not merely less moral, they have become less real. There has risen up a great crop of all kinds of spiritual beings, possessed of powers that may be used for the benefit or injury of man. The Veda knows little of this world of spirits; which has now come to usurp -many of the functions of the gods, and it is not only these spirits that are ousting the gods. The cultus itself is now being given a new importance. The tendency now is to regard prayer, ritual, and sacrifice, not as means whereby the worshipper is brought into touch with gods who are free personal beings, but as themselves powers alongside the gods and spirits. So the gods tend to fall more and more into the background.
It is obvious that in all this we have conditions that were bound to have a profound effect on the moral ideas and practices of those who accepted these religious ideas. We are dealing with a Universe in the constitution of which -ethical ideas have no sure place. The Universe is not even reasonable. There are in it all kinds of capricious powers, which if offended will inflict injury on one. And the kinds of actions -through which they are placated or offended do not depend for their efficacy on any moral value that belongs to them but on considerations largely accidental. The outcome of this is an ethical point of view in which judgements of good and evil are determined in a way very different from that of modern European ethics. A quotation from Dewey and Tufts Ethics will help to make clearer to us the distinctive character of this outlook. They say :
There are two alternatives in the judgement of good and evil. (1) They may be regarded as having moral significance, that is, as having a voluntary basis or origin. (2) Or they may be considered as substantial properties of things, as a sort of essence diffused through them, or as a kind of force resident in them, in virtue of which persons and things are noxious or helpful, malevolent or kindly. . . . The result is that evil is thought of as a contagious matter, transmitted from generation to generation, from class or person to class or person; and as something to be got rid of, if at all, by devices which are equally physical.
This quotation describes fairly accurately the conception of good and evil that is characteristic of the Atharva Veda. Oldenberg brings out an idea essentially the same in his conception of a Zauberfluidum. In the Rig Veda, he says, sin is pre-eminently disobedience to the divine will, and reconciliation is attained through the placating of God by means of gifts and other marks of submissiveness. But when sin is thought of as a sort of magical substance that becomes attached to one, freedom from it is to be attained through the manipulation of those magical forces that are fitted to remove it. So it is chiefly in the charms prescribed for the expiation of sin and defilement that the Atharva Vedic conception of good and evil is made plain, and to some of the points of significance in these we must turn our attention now.
That there are traces of the higher way of conceiving good and evil has already been remarked. But this lower conception, by which sin is regarded as something quasi-physical, is more characteristic of the Atharva Veda. Sin is something that a man may fall a victim to without willing it. In many of the hymns it is associated with or even identified with disease and worldly misfortune. There are many prayers to the gods in which protection is sought in the same breath from sin, disease, and misfortune. For example :
Let whatever sacrifices I make make sacrifice for me; let my minds design be realized; let me not fall into any sin soever; let all the gods defend me here.
On me let the gods bestow property ; with me be blessing, with me divine invocation ; may the divine invokers win that for us ; may we be unharmed with our self, rich in heroes.
From Kshetriya (probably a scrofulous disease), from perdition, from imprecation of sisters, from hatred do I release thee, from Varunas fetter; free from guilt I make thee by my incantation ; be heaven and earth both propitious to thee.
And again :
Free from defilement are the waters ; let them carry away from us defilement :
Let them carry forth from us sin ; let them carry forth evil dreaming.
Sin is regarded too as something almost contagious, passed on from one being to another. In a hymn to be used in connexion with the binding on of an amulet, protection is sought from a great variety of evils, including diseases, sorcery, and enemies. In the middle of the hymn is found this verse:
What sin my mother, what my father, and what my own brothers, what we ourselves have done, from that shall this divine forest-tree shield us.
The evil infection may be conveyed to men even by the gods, e. g.
On Trita the gods wiped off that sin ; Trita wiped it off on human beings.
Twelvefold is deposited what was wiped off by Trita—sins of human beings Such sin communicated by the gods to men may cause mania. See, for example, the expression
Crazed from sin of the gods, crazed from a demon.
Sin then is viewed quasi-physically, being identified with many actions or even passive experiences that have no strictly ethical significance at all, and being communicable through physical means. It may be of interest to look somewhat more closely at the kinds of actions or occurrences that are so identified with sin. Evil dreaming has been already referred to as frequently mentioned together with sin. So are personal misfortunes of many kinds—the hatred of others, their curses, being the victim of sorcery, the influence of demons, ill omens, notably birds of ill omen, against which there are several hymns. It is not so remarkable that many hymns should deal with the subject of the right performance of the sacrifice and of religious ceremonies generally, and that release should be sought from the effects of errors in their performance, as from sins. That such occurrences are not distinguished from what we should recognize as moral faults is clear from certain passages. We find, for example, being the victim of curses, and association with the dark-toothed, ill-nailed, and mutilated, put alongside evil doing, in a prayer to the plant apamarga for cleansing :
Since thou, O off-wiper, hast grown with reverted fruit, mayest thou repel from me all curses very far from here.
What is ill done, what pollution, or what we have practised evilly—by thee, O all-ways-facing off-wiper, we wipe that off.
If we have been together with one dark-toothed, ill-nailed, mutilated, by thee, O off-wiper, we wipe off all that.
When we turn to the more distinctively moral ideas of the Atharva Veda, we find that they are but few. Only slight mention is- made of what we should call virtues and vices.
The virtue most frequently mentioned is perhaps that of truth-speaking, while falsehood is as frequently condemned. The speaker of untruth is kept in the toils of Varuna, who, again, is besought to release from untruth.
In that thou hast spoken with the tongue untruth, much wrong—from the king of true ordinances, from Varuna, I release thee.
Mitra and Varuna are especially celebrated as the `increasers of right, in particular thrusting away the malicious, and favouring the truthful in conflicts. Similarly Soma is mentioned as being on the side of the truth-speaker :
It is easy of understanding for a knowing man that true and untrue words are at variance ; of them what is true, whichever is more right, that Soma verily favours ; he smites the untrue.
Soma by no means furthers the wicked man, nor the Kshatriya who maintains anything falsely ; he smites the demon ; he smites the speaker of untruth ; both lie within reach of Indra.
Again truth is spoken of as one of the elements that sustain the earth. It is not surprising to find truth spoken of in this way. It is a fundamental virtue, the recognition of which in some way is essential for the existence of any kind of social life. It is one of the few recognized virtues that such a writer as Nietzsche, who in modern times has departed so far from traditional morality, admits into his ethical system, and its recognition in the elementary ethical thought of the writers of the Atharva Veda is as little to be wondered at as its inclusion in the ethical code of the superman.
Of the few other virtues and vices to which reference is made, those connected with liberality and niggardliness are among the most prominent. Here we see the influence of the Brahmans. Niggardliness on the part of the sacrificer towards the priest interferes with the success of the sacrifice, and the influence of the niggard is even more subtle and widespread still, marring the success of the plans of men generally.
Likewise, greatly making thyself naked, thou fastenest on a person in dreams, O niggard, baffling the plan and design of a man.
Departure from the niggardy is praised:
Thou hast left niggardy, hast found what is pleasant ; thou hast come to the excellent world of what is well done.
In seeking protection from the wrath of the gods the writer of one hymn prays :
Be yon Rati (liberality) a companion for us.
We have an idea, which may be allied to this idea of the importance of liberality, expressed in a number of passages in which entertainment of guests is praised. In one passage, for example, it is said that he whose food is partaken of by guests has his sins devoured.4
A number of hymns consist of charms for the securing of concord or harmony, especially within the family. One of the most touching hymns in the whole Atharva Veda is that beginning :
Like.heartedness, like-mindedness, non-hostility do I make for you ; do ye show affection the one toward the other, as the inviolable cow toward her calf when born.
Be the son submissive to the father, like-minded with the mother ; let the wife to the husband speak words full of honey, wealful.
Let not brother hate brother, nor sister sister ; becoming accordant, of like courses, speak ye words auspiciously.
Harmony in wider relationships is also sought. For example :
Harmony for us with our own men, harmony with strangers, harmony, O Asvins, do ye here confirm in us
Other strictly ethical qualities mentioned in the Atharva Veda are neither numerous nor significant. Unfulfilled promises (vi. 119), offences at dice, adultery (vi. 118), failure to return what is borrowed (vi. 117), these are marked as sins that require expiation.
It is important to observe that throughout the Atharva Veda it is always as something that has to be expiated that sin is mentioned. The methods by which it is supposed that this expiation may be achieved do not concern us here. But it may be remarked that as sin is conceived quasi-physically, so the means of expiation (prayaschitti, prayaschitta) are also physical or quasi-physical. Water especially is used for the removal of sins ; as also are plants.
From sin against the gods, against the Fathers, from name-taking that is designed, that is devised against any one, let the plants free thee by their energy, with spell, with milk of the seers.
Uttered spells, amulets, and fire have the same efficacy. Through these and other instruments the stain is believed to be destroyed or wiped away or removed to a distance. The gods too have their place in connexion with the releasing from sin, though it is a subordinate place. The god Agni, in particular, is frequently appealed to for deliverance. But the power lies rather in the prayer itself than in the god who is invoked.
Attention has already been drawn to the use of the term tapas in the last book of the Rig Veda. It is prominent also in the Atharva Veda. The practice of penance is supposed to give one standing with the gods and power to attain ones desires. The following passage is typical :
In that, O Agni, penance with penance, we perform additional penance, may we be dear to what is heard, long-lived, very wise.
O Agni, we perform penance, we perform additional penance—we, hearing things heard, long-lived, very wise.
Filled with tapas, the Vedic student ` goes at once from the eastern to the northern ocean. The same austerity is sup-posed to be practised by the gods and to be to them a source of power.
By Vedic studentship, by fervour, the gods smote away death ; Indra by Vedic studentship brought heaven for the gods.
The practice of tapas in the Atharva Veda has very little ethical significance. The term may usually be translated by penance or mortification, but it is self-mortification with a view to the acquisition of magical powers. Dr. Geden mentions as characteristic of the magical power that came to be ascribed to tapas the fact that the passage in the Rig Veda (vii. 59. 8), rendered ` kill him with your hottest bolt, is altered in the Atharva Veda; vii. 77. 2, ` kill him with your hottest penance.
There is still no trace in the Atharva Veda of the doctrine of transmigration. Reward and punishment is reserved for heaven and hell. Heaven is especially the reward of those who give liberal gifts to the priests. There, freed from bodily infirmities, sickness, and deformity, they meet father, mother, wives and children (vi. 120. 3 ; xü. 3. 17 ; iii. 28. 5). It is a place of delights ; all the pleasures of the senses are at their disposal (iv. 34. 2. 4, 5, 6). Distinctions of wealth and power are done away (iii. 29. 3). Hell (Narakaloka, the place below), on the other hand, is a place of torture—of lowest darkness (viii. 2. 24). It is the abode of weakness, hags, and sorceresses (ii. 14. 3). With great detail the tortures suffered by those who injure a Brahman are described ; they sit in the midst of a stream of blood, devouring hair, subjected to gruesome tortures (v. 19. 3).
Our brief study of the ethical ideas of the Atharva Veda will have shown that there is represented in it a view of life that is morally very low. The ethical way of regarding good and evil has largely given place to a point of view from which good and evil are conceived almost physically. They have been confused with a great variety of occurrences that have no ethical significance at all. This unethical attitude to human experience has certain obvious consequences. There are certain elementary virtues that are necessary to the very existence of society. Truthfulness in certain relationships, at any rate, and harmony are among the most fundamental of these, and we are not surprised accordingly to find them valued. But the magic and witchcraft in which the minds of the writers were steeped led to many strange judgements regarding goods and evils. Spells, incantations, curses, and the like are good when used for ones own benefit, evil when used against one. And so over against these spells and curses we have prayers and charms for the discovery, of sorcerers and practisers of witchcraft, and against cursers and their curses. With utter shamelessness charms are laid down for the infliction of injury on others—imprecations to spinster hood, spells to prevent the success of an enemys sacrifice, to cause diseases in an enemy, and so forth. The good tends to be conceived purely selfishly, for the constitution of the Universe leaves very little place for a good in which men share in common. Long life, health, success over enemies, superiority in the assembly, success in love, skill in gambling, worldly prosperity, and such like personal benefits are the objects chiefly sought, and these are objects the attainment of which is conceived as possible not chiefly through the orderly regulation of social life, but through the exercise of mysterious powers over which the individual may acquire mastery. The principles of the Atharva Veda involve as their foundation an anarchical view of the cosmos, and if carried to their logical conclusion they would lead to the disruption of the social order. But in reality there was no period in which they were predominant ; they represent an attitude of mind no doubt very common but not determinative completely of the life and thought of the time when they were enunciated.
In close connexion with magical ideas and practices are those connected with sacrifice. They are closely related with each other, but they must not be confused. Oldenberg has drawn attention to an important distinction between them. He maintains that there is an essential distinction between the proceeding of one who seeks to win a god to his side through gifts, and that of one who burns an image of his enemy or a lock of his hair in the belief that he is so consigning the enemy himself to destruction. The one attains his end indirectly, through inclining to himself the will of a powerful ally ; the other attains it directly, through an impersonal concatenation of causes and effects. He admits that as an actual fact it is often difficult to draw a sharp line between the two provinces ; in practice they have frequently inter-penetrated, and this interpenetration has been due to various causes. Into these causes it is not necessary for us to enter, but it is important to observe that in the Vedic sacrificial literature the sacrificial idea has been, to say the least of it, largely influenced by magical ideas.
The Rig- Veda deals very largely with the Soma sacrifice, and in it the influence of magical ideas is not very marked. The gods are conceived as free personal beings against whose wills men may offend or whose wills they may fulfil, and in whose power it is to send misfortunes or to grant favours to men ; and sacrifices are offered to them with a view to conciliating them or with a view to receiving benefits from them. When we turn to the sacrificial literature proper, for example to the Yajur Veda and the Brahmanas, we find a very different attitude to sacrifice. Even in the Yajur Veda the sacrifice is no longer an offering to the gods as free personal beings, but something that has power in itself. As Professor Macdonell says : Its formulas, being made for the ritual, are not directly addressed to the gods, who are but shadowy beings having only a very loose connexion with the sacrifice. i The same is true of the Brahmanas. What has been said in connexion with the Aitareya Brahmana in particular is true of the attitude to sacrifice in the sacrificial literature generally
The sacrifice is regarded as the means for attaining power over this and the other world, over visible as well as invisible beings, animate as well as inanimate creatures. Who knows its proper application, and has it duly performed, is in fact looked upon as the real master of the world ; for any desire he may entertain, if it be even the most ambitious, can be gratified, any object he has in view can be obtained by means of it. The Yajna (sacrifice), taken as a whole, is conceived to be a kind of machinery, in which every piece must tally with the other, or a sort of long chain in which no link may be wanting, or a staircase, by which one may ascend to heaven, or as a personage, endowed with all the characteristics of a human body.
When sacrifice has assumed such a significance as this it approximates very closely to magic. The divorce between religion and morality in the Brahmanas is almost as complete as in the Atharva Veda. Through the correct performance of sacrifices one can attain ones ends; but what ends? Certainly not the attainment of righteousness. The destruction of guilt is frequently sought, but sin and guilt have been so unethically conceived that not much can be built on that any more than in the Atharva Veda. The ends sought are mainly the selfish ends that have been marked in the literature already discussed. ` Adoration of the power and beneficence of the gods, as well as the consciousness of guilt, is entirely lacking (in the Yajur Veda), every prayer being coupled with some particular rite and aiming solely at securing material advantage. 2 Nay further ` Religious rites are also prostituted to the achievement of criminal schemes .3 Take for example one passage, taken from among many of the same character
The silent prayer is the root of the sacrifice. Should a Hotar wish to deprive any sacrificer of his standing place, then he must not at his sacrifice repeat the `silent praise ; the sacrificer then perishes along with his sacrifice which thus has become rootless.
Such a proceeding is elsewhere forbidden, but the significant fact is that such directions are laid down in the Brahmanas at all ; and while the use of such practices may be forbidden, they were nevertheless believed to be efficacious ; and some, at any rate, approved of their use.
Taking such a phenomenon as this as illustrative of the unethical character of the religious observances dealt with in the sacrificial literature, we may proceed to consider certain other facts which are closely connected with this. It has been shown above that the gods have been pushed into the back-ground, and that the place of the gods has been very largely taken by the sacrifice itself. Nevertheless the pantheon of the Rig Veda is recognized with few changes throughout all the Vedas and Brahmanas. The very radical changes that have taken place have been in the characters of the gods and in the relative importance of the different gods. The gods have been to a very large extent de-ethicized, and the de-ethicizing process is seen in the prominence that is now given to the less respectable members of the pantheon. It was remarked in connexion with the Atharva Veda that the practical primacy among the gods had been yielded by Varuna to Prajapati. In the Yajur Veda also he is recognized as the chief god, and in the Brahmanas very emphatically so. Prajapatis character is as far removed from that of Varuna of the Rig Veda as one could well imagine. For example, in various places in the Brahmanas, and in various ways, the story of his incest with his daughter is recounted. Significant also is the prominence given to the Apsarases, heavenly nymphs of loose morals, and to the Asuras or demons, who are constantly at war with the gods. The unethical way of regarding the divine is reflected also in the absence of ethical qualities as a necessary qualification for the priest.
All this means that to the writers of the Vedic sacrificial literature the Universe was not constituted on ethical lines. Sacrifice itself is not necessarily an unethical thing ; indeed it may be questioned whether sacrifice in some form is not an essential element in religion. But as it is here understood and practised it has no ethical significance. The fact that in the Atharva Veda the existence of the gods is recognized does not make the practices there described any less magical. Nor does the fact of the recognition of the gods in the Yajur Veda and the Brahmanas give their sacrifices a character that essentially differentiates them from such magical practices. The distinction drawn by Oldenberg between sacrifice and magic is sound in theory, and applicable in the case of the sacrifices of the Rig Veda ; but in the case of the literature now before us it is not applicable. Sacrifice has itself become a magical thing, and ethical thought has been as completely stifled by these sacrificial ideas as it was by the magical ideas of the Atharva Veda.
While we recognize all this, it is necessary that we should give due attention to facts of a different character. We must not commit the error of supposing that in this sacrificial literature the whole life and thought of India of that period is represented. Here and there we see traces of the working of different and sometimes contradictory ideas. Notably we see sometimes asserting itself the idea that certain ethical qualifications belong to the characters of the gods and that the same qualities are necessary for the worshipper. In more than one place in the Satapatha Brahmana reference is made to truth as one of the qualities that belong to the nature of the gods. For example :
This vow indeed the gods do keep, that they speak the truth ; and for this reason they are glorious ; glorious therefore is he who, knowing this, speaks the truth.
Attendance on that consecrated fire means the truth. Whosoever speaks the truth acts as if he sprinkled that lighted fire with ghee... . Whosoever speaks the untruth, acts as if he sprinkled that lighted fire with water. . . . Let him therefore speak nothing but the truth.
But reference to ethical ideas is rare. A few forms of action are condemned as sinful, but these are chiefly of the grosser sort. One of the chief sins to be condemned is adultery, and in one place confession is demanded of the sacrificers wife at the time of the sacrifice as to her faithfulness to her husband, in order that she may not sacrifice with guilt on her soul. Murder and theft and such violent crimes are condemned, but we can hardly claim that the condemnation of these reveals more than the most rudimentary ethical sense. Of moral actions that are praised among the most prominent are hospitality and honour to parents.
The treatment of the conception of tapas in the Brahmanas calls for little special attention, though it occupies a place of high importance. We are told that the gods became divine through the practice of austerity," and that by means of austerities the Ribhus obtained the right to a share in the Soma beverage. The gods conquered by means of the sacrifice, austerities, penances, and sacrificial oblations the heavenly world. For purposes of creation Prajapati under-went austerities, and on one occasion he practised such austerities that lights, the stars which we now see, came forth from all the pores of his body. From austerities the divine Rishis are born. The significance of austerity on the part of men is not dwelt upon, and it is worthy of note that where it is mentioned it is recommended usually as a means for the attainment of selfish ends, for example fame.
A Brahman who, after having completed his Vedic studies, should not attain to any fame, should go to a forest, string together the stalks of darbha grass, with their ends standing upwards, and sitting on the right side of another Brahman, repeat with a loud voice the Chaturhotri mantras. (Should he do so he would attain to fame.)
On the other hand, criticism of the ascetic life is expressed :
What is the use of living unwashed, wearing the goat-skin and beard? What is the use of performing austerities? You should wish for a son, O Brahman.
On the whole, the attitude to tapas is not essentially different from that in the Atharva Veda.
Attention has been drawn to the way in which during this period the ethical has been stifled by magical and sacrificial ideas. Another tendency closely connected with this begins to make its appearance definitely in the Brahmanas. We frequently meet such sentences as these :—` He who has this knowledge conquers all directions, He who has such know-ledge becomes a light among his own people, &c. . . . The place of such statements is not difficult to understand. Sacrifice is the most powerful means to the attainment of ones ends, and every step in the sacrifice must be observed with the greatest care. So knowledge of every step becomes of the highest importance. We have here an idea fraught with the greatest consequences for Indian religion and ethics, as we shall see in our study of the Upanishads. For it marks the beginning of that claim made for the supremacy of the intellectual attitude which is so characteristic of Indian thought.
The doctrines of karma and transmigration are still in an embryonic state. The reward of heaven and the punishment of hell still constitute important sanctions for right living. But right living generally means little more than right sacrificing. The reward of right sacrificing, according to the Brahmanas, is union with the Sun, Agni, Indra, Varuna, Prajapati, and other gods. Life in the other world is not essentially different in kind from life in this world, and, in the eternal bliss there enjoyed, the joys of love are specially prominent. ` He who has such a knowledge lives in his premises in this world, and in the other with children and cattle. 1 The tortures undergone by the wicked in hell are sometimes described. In one passage hell is represented as a place where the character of the punishment is determined by the principle of `an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. ` So they have done to us in yonder world, and so we do to them in return in this world is the cry of men in hell who cut up and devour other men. In another passage we read of a rebirth in the other world after death when men are weighed in a balance and receive the reward or punishment of their deeds.
But of far greater significance than all this are some passages that mark the beginnings of a different attitude to merit and demerit. For example, we have the words of the oath which the priest administers to the king before he performs the Mahabhisheka ceremony :
Whatever pious works thou mightest have done during the time which may elapse from the day of thy birth to the day of thy death, all these together with thy position, thy good deeds, thy life, thy children, I would wrest from thee, shouldest thou do me any harm.
Here good deeds are placed alongside position, life, and children, as something forming part of a mans property, which may be wrested from him. The idea is not an entirely new one. We have already seen how in the Rig Veda a mans ishtapurta is conceived after the manner of a fund. But here the idea of his actions generally as forming a sort of a fund upon which he may draw seems to be crystallizing. The same tendency is revealed in another way. It is clear that if it be conceived that ones good works form a fund that is finite in amount, the fund may run low and finally be exhausted. This idea is actually expressed in places. For example, in the Taittiriya Brahmana ceremonies are mentioned, the object of which is to secure that ones good works should not so perish, and that one should not undergo a second death. The conception of karma thus is becoming more definite, but it is not yet connected with the conception of samsara. Still there are in the Brahmanas foreshadowings of it also—at any rate the idea of rebirth on earth is mentioned. We are told that he who knows that the spring comes to life again out of the winter is born again in this world. It is interesting to note that in this very early expression of belief in the possibility of rebirth, what in later thought is regarded as an evil and a punishment is bestowed as a reward. We have, however, in the same Brahmana a passage that takes us nearer to the fundamentals of the doctrines of karma and samsara as they are familiar to us. It is said that man is born into whatever world is made by his acts. The world referred to is not this world, but we can see how out of such a conception it was possible for the Indian mind to arrive at the doctrine that ones position in successive births on earth is determined by the actions which he performs. Most of the materials for the doctrine are present. The possibility of rebirth on earth is recognized, and so is the idea of the determination of his destiny by his conduct in this life. In the Upanishads the further step is taken and we have the characteristic doctrine of karma and samsara.