Hinduism - Conclusion
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Can we trace any uniform principle running through the bewildering variety of changes that we have observed ?
Consider the changes through which Vishnu has passed. At the beginning a spirit of vaguely defined personality, he appears successively as a saviour-god, as the mystic saint Narayana, as the epic warriors Krishna and Rama, as a wanton blue-skinned herd-boy fluting and dancing amidst a crowd of wildly amorous women, and as the noble ideal of God preached by the great Maratha and Ramanandi votaries, not to mention the many other incarnations that have delighted the Hindu imagination. What does all this mean ? It means that the history of a god is mainly moulded by two great factors, the growth of the people's spiritual experience and the character of its religious teachers. As the stream of history rolls on, it fills men's souls with deeper and wider understanding of life. Old conceptions are pondered upon, explored, tested, sometimes rejected, sometimes accepted with a now and profounder content, and thus enlarged they are applied to the old ideals of godhead. When Indian society had organised itself out of tribal chaos and settled down under an established monarchical government, it made Indra the king of the gods, ruling with the same forms and under the saine conditions as a human sovereign. When men of finer cast realized that the kingdom of the, spirit is higher than earthly royalty, they turned away from Indra and set their souls upon greater conceptions, ideals of vaster spiritual forces, mystic infinitudes. Attracted thus to worships such as those of Siva and Vishnu, they filled them with their own visions and imparted to these gods the ideals of their own strivings, making them into Yogisvaras, Supreme Mystics. And so the sequence of change has gone on through the generations. Alost potently it has been effected by the characters of the preachers and teachers of religion. Almost every teacher who has a personality of his own, whose soul contains thoughts, other than those of the common sort, stamps something of his own typo upon the ideal of his god which he imparts to his followers, and which may thereby come to be authoritatively recognised as a canonical character of the god. India is peculiarly liable to this transference of personality from the guru to the god whom the guru preaches, because from immemorial times India has regarded the guru as representative of the god, and often deifies him as a permanent pliasse of the deity. Saivas declare that in the guru who teaches the way of salvation Siva himself is manifested: Vaishnavas tell the same tale, and find a short road to salvation by surrendering their souls to him. We have seen cases of apotheosis of the guru iii modern and medieval times; reasoning from the known to the unknown, we may be sure that it took place no less regularly in ancient ages, and brought about most of the surprising changes in the character of gods which we have noticed. Sometimes the gurus have only preached some new features in the characters of their gods ; sometimes, as is the Hindu fashion, they have also exhibited in their own persons, their dress and equipment, their original ideas of divinity, as, for example, Lakulisa with his club ; and their sanctity and apotheosis have ratified their innovations in theology and iconology, which have spread abroad as their congregations have grown. Thus the gurus and their congregations have made the history of their deities, recasting the gods ever anew in the mould of man's hopes and strivings and ideals. There is much truth in the saying of the Brahmanas In the beginning the gods were mortal.