Hindu Gods And Heroes, Studies in the History of the Religion of India
Lionel D. Barnett author
THE AGE OF THE BRAHMANAS AND UPANISHADS
Centuries have passed since the hymns of the Rig-veda were composed. The Aryans have now crossed the fateful ridge on the east of their former settlements, and have spread themselves over the lands of Northern Hindostan around the upper basins of the Ganges and Jamna, reaching eastward as far as Bihar and southward down to the Vindhya Mountains, and in the course of their growth they have absorbed not a little of the blood of the dark-skinned natives. The old organisation of society by tribes has come to an end, though the names of many ancient tribes are still heard; the Aryans are now divided laterally by the principle of what we call "caste," which is based upon a combination of religious and professional distinctions, and vertically by the rule of kings, while a few oligarchic governments still survive to remind them of Vedic days. In these kingdoms the old tribes are beginning to be fused together; from these combinations new States are arising, warring with one another, constantly waxing and waning. Society is ruled politically by kings, spiritually by Brahmans. With the rise of the kingdom an Established Church has come into existence, and the Brahman priesthood works out its principles to the bitterest end of logic.
The Brahmans are now, more than they ever were before, a close corporation of race, religion, and profession, a religious fraternity in the strict sense of the words. While other classes of the Aryans have mixed their blood to a greater or less degree with that of the natives, the Brahmans have preserved much of the pure Aryan strain. They, moreover, have maintained the knowledge of the ancient Vedic language in which the sacred hymns of their forefathers were composed, of the traditions associated with them, and of the priestly lore of Vedic ritual. Proud of this heritage and resolved to maintain it undiminished, they have knitted themselves into a close spiritual and intellectual aristocracy, which stands fast like a lighthouse amidst the darkness and storms of political changes. They employ all the arts of the priest, the thinker, the statesman, and even the magician to preserve their primacy; and around them the manifold variety of the other castes, in all their divisions and subdivisions, groups itself to make up the multi-coloured web of Indian life.
In course of time this priesthood will spread out octopus-like tentacles over the whole of India. Becoming all things to all men, it will find a place in its pantheon for all gods and all ideas, baptising them by orthodox names or justifying them by ingenious fictions. It will send forth apostles and colonies even to the furthermost regions of the distant South, which, alien in blood and in tradition, will nevertheless accept them and surrender its best intellect to their control. It will even admit into the lower ranks of its own body men of foreign birth by means of legal fictions, in order to maintain its control of religion. Though itself splitting up into scores of divisions varying in purity of blood and tradition, it will still as a whole maintain its position as against all other classes of society. That the Brahman is the Deity on earth, and other classes shall accept this dogma and agree to take their rank in accordance with it, will become the principle holding together a vast agglomeration of utterly diverse elements within the elastic bounds of Catholic Brahmanism.
But as yet this condition of things has not arrived. The Brahmans are still comparatively pure in blood and homogeneous in doctrine, and they have as yet sent forth no colonies south of the Vindhya. They are established in the lands of the Ganges and Jamna as far to the east as Benares, and they look with some contempt on their kinsmen in the western country that they have left behind. They are busily employed in working out to logical conclusions the ideas and principles of their Rigvedic forefathers. They have now three Vedas; for to the old Rig-veda they have added a Yajur-veda for the use of the sacrificant orders of priests and a Sama-veda or hymnal containing Rigvedic hymns arranged for the chanting of choristers. The result of these labours is that they have created a vast and intricate system of sacrificial ritual, perhaps the most colossal of its kind that the world has ever seen or ever will see. What is still more remarkable, the logical result of this immense development of ritualism is that the priesthood in theory is practically atheistic, while on the other hand a certain number of its members have arrived at a philosophy of complete idealism which is beginning to turn its back upon ritualism.
The atheist is not so much the man who denies the existence of any god as the man to whom God is not God, who looks upon the Deity as subordinate to powers void of holiness and nobility, the man who will not see in God the highest force in the world of nature and in the realm of the spirit. In this sense the Brahmans are thorough atheists. According to them, the universe with all that is in it—gods, men, and lower things—is created and governed by an iron law of soulless natural necessity. It has arisen by emanation from a cosmic Principle, Prajapati, "the Lord of Creatures," an impersonal being who shows no trace of moral purpose in his activity. Prajapati himself is not absolutely the first in the course of nature. The Brahmanas, the priestly books composed in this period to expound the rules and mystic significance of the Brahmanic ceremonies, give us varying accounts of his origin, some of them saying that he arose through one or more intermediate stages from non-existence (TB. II. ii. 9, 1-10, SB. VI. i. 1, 1-5), others deriving him indirectly from the primitive waters (SB. XI. i. 6, 1), others tracing his origin back to the still more impersonal and abstract Brahma (Samav. B. I. 1-3, Gop. B. I. i. 4). All these are attempts to express in the form of myth the idea of an impersonal Principle of Creation as arising from a still more abstract first principle. We have seen the poets of the Rig-veda gradually moving towards the idea of a unity of godhead; in Prajapati this goal is attained, but unfortunately it is attained by sacrificing almost all that is truly divine in godhead. The conception of Prajapati that we find in the Brahmanas is also expressed in some of the latest hymns of the Rig-veda. Among these is the famous Purusha-sukta (RV. X. 90), which throws a peculiar light on the character of Prajapati. It is in praise of a primitive Purusha or Man, who is, of course, the same as Prajapati; in some mysterious manner this Purusha is sacrificed, and from the various parts of his body arise the various parts of the world. The idea conveyed by this is that the universe came into existence by the operation of the mystic laws revealed in the Brahmanic rituals, and is maintained in its natural order by the same means. The Brahmanas do not indeed often assert on their own authority that Prajapati was himself sacrificed in order to produce the world, and in fact they usually give other accounts of the creation; but as their authors live in a rarefied atmosphere of mystical allegory in which fact and fancy are completely confused with one another and consistency ceases to have any meaning, none of them would have difficulty in accepting the Rigvedic statement that he was sacrificed. Hence they tell us on the one hand that Prajapati has created the world from a blind will for generation or increase, producing from each of his limbs some class of beings corresponding to it (e.g. MS. IV. vi. 3), or copulating with the earth, atmosphere, sky, and speech (SB. VI. i. 2, 1), or that he brought it into existence indirectly by entering with the Triple Science or mystic lore of the three Vedas into the primeval waters and thence forming an egg from which was hatched the personal Demiurge Brahma, who actually created the world (SB. VI. i. 1, 10); and on the other hand they relate that he created sacrifice and performed it, making of himself a victim in order that the gods, his offspring, might perform the rites for their own benefit, forming an image of himself to be the sacrifice, by which he redeemed himself from the gods (SB. XI. i. 8, 2-4; cf. AB. VII. 19, KB. XIII. 1, SB. III. ii. 1, 11), and that after creation he ascended to heaven (SB. X. ii. 2, 1). The thought that lies underneath these bewildering flights of fancy is one of mystic pantheism: all created existence has arisen by emanation from the one Creative Principle, Prajapati, and in essence is one with Prajapati; Prajapati is an impersonal being, a creative force, in which are embodied the laws of Brahmanic ritual, which acts only in these laws, and which is above the moral influences that affect humanity; and the whole of created nature, animate and inanimate, is controlled in every process of its being by these laws, and by the priest who possesses the knowledge of them. Thus there lies a profound significance in the title of "gods on earth" which the Brahmans have assumed.
When we speak of sacrifice in India, we must clear our minds of the ideas which we have formed from reading the Bible. The Mosaic conception of sacrifice was that of a religious ceremony denoting a moral relation between a personal God and His worshippers: in the sin-offerings and trespass-offerings was symbolised a reconciliation between man and his God who was angered by man's conscious or unconscious breach of the laws which had been imposed upon him for his spiritual welfare, while meat-offerings and peace-offerings typified the worshipper's sense of gratitude for the Divine love and wisdom that guarded him. Of such relations there is to be found in the Brahmanas no trace. If we may use a modern figure of speech, they conceive the universe of gods, men, and lower creatures as a single immense electric battery, and the sacrifice as a process of charging this battery with ever fresh electricity. The sacrifice is a process, at once material and mystic, which preserves the order of nature as established by the prototypic sacrifice performed by Prajapati. The gods became divine and immortal through sacrifice (TS. VI. iii. 4, 7, VI. iii. 10, 2, VII. iv. 2, 1, SB. I. vi. 2, 1, MS. III. ix. 4, AB. VI. i. 1, etc.); and they live on the gifts of earth, as mankind lives on the gifts of heaven (TS. III. ii. 9, 7, SB. I. ii. 5, 24). The sacrifice is thus the life-principle, the soul, of all gods and all beings (SB. VIII. vi. 1, 10, IX. iii. 2, 7, XIV. iii. 2, 1); or, what amounts to the same thing, the Triple Science or the knowledge of the ceremonies of the Three Vedas is their essence (SB. X. iv. 2, 21). As Prajapati created the primeval sacrifice, and as the gods by following this rule obtained their divinity, so man should seek to follow their example and by means of sacrifice rise to godhead and immortality. As one Brahmana puts it, the sacrifice leads the way to heaven; it is followed by the dakshina, or fee paid by the sacrificer to the sacrificant priests, which of course materially strengthens the efficacy of the sacrifice; and third comes the sacrificer, holding fast to the dakshina. This ascent of heaven is symbolised in the ceremony called durohana, or "hard mounting" (AB. IV. 20, 21, KB. XXV. 7), and it is ensured by the rite of diksha, or consecration, in which the sacrificer is symbolically represented as passing through a new conception, gestation, and birth, by which he is supposed to obtain two bodies. One of these bodies is immortal and spiritual; the other is mortal and material, and is assigned as a victim to all the gods. He then ransoms his material body from the obligation of being sacrificed, as did Prajapati, and thus ranks literally as a "god on earth," with the certainty of becoming in due course a god in heaven.
When the student on reading the Brahmanas finds them full of interminable ceremonial rules with equally interminable commentaries interpreting them by wildest analogies as symbolical of details of myths or of laws of nature and hence as conferring mystic powers, besides all kinds of myths, some forcibly dragged into the interpretation of the ritual because of some imaginary point of resemblance, others invented or recast on purpose to justify some detail of ceremony, and when moreover he observes that many of these myths and some of the rites are brutally and filthily obscene, and that hardly any of them show the least moral feeling, he may be excused for thinking the Brahmanas to be the work of madmen. But there is some method in their madness. However strangely they may express them, they have definite and strictly logical ideas about the sacrificial ritual and its cosmic function. It is more difficult to defend them against the charge of want of morality. It must be admitted that their supreme Being, Prajapati, is in the main lines of his character utterly impersonal, and where incidentally he shows any human feelings they are as a rule far from creditable to him. He created the universe from mechanical instinct or blind desire, and committed or tried to commit incest with his daughter (the accounts are various). He has begotten both the gods and the demons, devas and asuras, who are constantly at war with one another. The gods, who are embodiments of "truth" (that is to say, correct knowledge of the law of ritual), have been often in great danger of being overwhelmed by the demons, who embody "untruth," and they have been saved by Prajapati; but he has done this not from any sense of right, but merely from blind will or favour, for he can hardly distinguish one party from the other. The gods themselves, in spite of being of "truth," are sadly frail. Dozens of myths charge them with falsehood, hatred, lust, greed, and jealousy, and only the stress of the danger threatening them from their adversaries the demons has induced them to organise themselves into an ordered kingdom under the sovereignty of Indra, who has been anointed by Prajapati. True, many of the offensive features in this mythology and ritual are survivals from a very ancient past, a pre-historic time in which morals were conspicuously absent from religion; the priesthood has forgotten very little, and as a rule has only added new rituals and new interpretations to this legacy from the days of old. Nevertheless it must be confessed that there is a tone of ritualistic professionalism in the Brahmanas that is unpleasing; the priesthood are consciously superior to nature, God, and morals by virtue of their "Triple Science," and they constantly emphasise this claim. It is difficult for us to realise that these are the same men who have created the Brahmanic culture of India, which, however we may criticise it from the Western point of view, is essentially a gentle life, a field in which moral feeling and intellectual effort have born abundance of goodly fruit. Yet if we look more closely we shall see that even these ritualists, besotted as they may seem to be with their orgies of priestcraft, are not wholly untouched by the better spirit of their race. Extremes of sanctity, whether it be ritualistic or anti-ritualistic sanctity, always tend in India—and in other countries as well—to produce supermen. And if our priesthood in the Brahmanas feel themselves in the pride of spiritual power lifted above the rules of moral law, they are not in practice indifferent to it. Their lives are for the most part gentle and good. Though "truth" in the Brahmanas usually means only accordance with the ritual and mystic teachings of the Triple Science, it sometimes signifies even there veracity and honesty also. Truthfulness in speech is the hall-mark of the Brahman, says Haridrumata Gautama to Satyakama Jabala (Chhand. Up. IV. iv. 5); and even in the Brahmanas a lie is sometimes a sin. If conservatism compels the priests to keep obscene old practices in their rituals, they are not always satisfied with them, and voices begin to be heard pleading that these rites are really obsolete. In short, a moral sense is beginning to arise among them.
Now the moral law, in order that it may be feared, needs to be embodied in the personality of a god. Most of their gods inspire no fear at all in the souls of the Brahmans; but there is one of whom they have a dread, which is all the greater for being illogical. Prajapati is a vast impersonality, too remote and abstract to inspire the soul with either fear or love. The other gods—Indra, Agni, Soma, Varuna, Vishnu, and the rest—are his offspring, and are moved like puppets by the machinery of the ritual of sacrifice created by him. However much they may seem to differ one from another in their attributes and personalities, they are in essence one and negligible in the eyes of the master of the ritual lore. In the beginning, say the Brahmanas, all the gods (except Prajapati, of course) were alike, and all were mortal; then they performed sacrifices and thereby became immortal, each with his peculiar attributes of divinity. Thus at bottom they are all the same thing, merely phases of the universal godhead, waves stirred up by the current of the cosmic sacrifice. They have no terrors for the priesthood. But there is one deity who obstinately refuses to accommodate himself to this convenient point of view, and that is Rudra, or Siva. By rights and logically he ought to fall into rank with the rest of the gods; but there is a crossgrained element in his nature which keeps him out. As we have seen, he comes from a different source: in origin he was a demon, a power of terror, whose realm of worship lay apart from that of the gods of higher class, and now, although it has extended into the domains of orthodox religion, an atmosphere of dread still broods over it. Rudra wields all his ancient terrors over a much widened area. The priests have assigned him a regular place in their liturgies, and fully recognise him in his several phases as Bhava, Sarva, Ugra, Maha-deva or the Great God, Rudra, Isana or the Lord, and Asani or the Thunderbolt (KB. VI. 2-9). Armed with his terrors, he is fit to be employed in the service of conscience. Hence a myth has arisen that in order to punish Prajapati for his incest with his daughter the gods created Bhuta-pati (who is Pasu-pati or Rudra under a new name), who stabbed him. The rest of the myth is as immaterial to our purpose as it is unsavoury; what is important is that the conscience of the Brahmans was beginning to feel slight qualms at the uncleanness of some of their old myths and to look towards Rudra as in some degree an avenger of sin. In this is implied an immense moral advance. Henceforth there will be a gradual ennoblement of one of the phases of the god's character. Many of the best minds among the Brahmans will find their imaginations stirred and their consciences moved by contemplation of him. To them he will be no more a mere demon of the mountain and the wild. His destructive wrath they will interpret as symbolising the everlasting process of death-in-life which is the keynote of nature; in his wild dances they will see imaged forth the everlasting throb of cosmic existence; to his terrors they will find a reverse of infinite love and grace. The horrors of Rudra the deadly are the mantle of Siva the gracious. Thus, while the god's character in its lower phases remains the same as before, claiming the worship of the basest classes of mankind, and nowise rising to a higher level, it develops powerfully and fruitfully in one aspect which attracts grave and earnest imaginations. The Muni, the contemplative ascetic, penetrates in meditation through the terrors of Siva's outward form to the god's inward love and wisdom, and beholds in him his own divine prototype. And so Siva comes to be figured in this nobler aspect as the divine Muni, the supreme saint and sage.
While the worship of Siva is slowly making its way into the heart of Brahmanic ritualism, another movement is at work which is gradually drawing many of the keenest intellects among the Brahmans away from the study of ritual towards an idealistic philosophy which views all ritual with indifference. Its literature is the Upanishads.
The passing of the Rigvedic age has left to the Brahmans a doctrinal legacy, which may be thus restated: a single divine principle through a prototypic sacrifice has given birth to the universe, and all the processes of cosmic nature are controlled by sacrifices founded upon that primeval sacrifice. In short, the ritual symbolises and in a sense actually is the whole cosmic process. The ritual implies both the knowledge of the law of sacrifice and the proper practice of that law, both understanding and works. This is the standpoint of the orthodox ritualist. But there has also arisen a new school among the Brahmans, that of the Aupanishadas, which has laid down for its first doctrine that works are for the sake of understanding, that the practice of ritual is of value only as a help to the mystic knowledge of the All. But here they have not halted; they have gone a further step, and declared that knowledge once attained, works become needless. Some even venture to hint that perhaps the highest knowledge is not to be reached through works at all. And the knowledge that the Aupanishadas seek is of Brahma, and is Brahma.
The word brahma is a neuter noun, and in the Rig-veda it means something that can only be fully translated by a long circumlocution. It may be rendered as "the power of ritual devotion"; that is to say, it denotes the mystic or magic force which is put forth by the poet-priest of the Rig-veda when he performs the rites of sacrifice with appropriate chanting of hymns—in short, ritual magic. This mystic force the Rigvedic poets have represented in personal form as the god Brihaspati, in much the same way as they embodied the spirit of the sacrifice in Vishnu. Their successors, the orthodox ritualists of the Brahmanas, have not made much use of this term; but sometimes they speak of Brahma as an abstract first principle, the highest and ultimate source of all being, even of Prajapati (Samav. B. I. 1, Gop. B. I. i. 4); and when they speak of Brahma they think of him not as a power connected with religious ceremony but as a supremely transcendent and absolutely unqualified and impersonal First Existence. But the school of the Aupanishadas has gone further. Seeking through works mystic knowledge as the highest reality, they see in Brahma the perfect knowledge. To them the absolute First Existence is also transcendently full and unqualified Thought. As knowledge is power, the perfect Power is perfect Knowledge.
Brahma then is absolute knowledge; and all that exists is really Brahma, one and indivisible in essence, but presenting itself illusively to the finite consciousness as a world of plurality, of most manifold subjects and objects of thought. The highest wisdom, the greatest of all secrets, is to know this truth, to realise with full consciousness that there exists only the One, Brahma, the infinite Idea; and the sage of the Upanishads is he who has attained this knowledge, understanding that he himself, as individual subject of thought, is really identical with the universal Brahma. He has realised that he is one with the Infinite Thought, he has raised himself to the mystic heights of transcendental Being and Knowledge, immeasurably far above nature and the gods. He knows all things at their fountain-head, and life can nevermore bring harm to him; in his knowledge he has salvation, and death will lead him to complete union with Brahma.
The Aupanishadas have thus advanced from the pantheism of the orthodox ritualists to a transcendental idealism. The process has been gradual. It was only by degrees that they reached the idea of salvation in knowledge, the knowledge that is union with Brahma; and it was likewise only through slow stages that they were able to conceive of Brahma in itself. Many passages in the Upanishads are full of struggles to represent Brahma by symbols or forms perceptible to the sense, such as ether, breath, the sun, etc. Priests endeavoured to advance through ritual works to the ideas which these works are supposed to symbolise: the ritual is the training-ground for the higher knowledge, the leading-strings for infant philosophy. Gradually men become capable of thinking without the help of these symbols: philosophy grows to manhood, and looks with a certain contempt upon those supports of its infancy.
The nature of Brahma as conceived in the Upanishads is a subject on which endless controversies have raged, and we need not add to them. Besides, the Upanishads themselves are not strictly consistent on this point, or on others, for that matter; for they are not a single homogeneous system of philosophy, but a number of speculations, from often varying standpoints, and they are frequently inconsistent. But there are some ideas which are more or less present in all of them. They regard Brahma as absolute and infinite Thought and Being at once, and as such it is one with the consciousness, soul or self, of the individual when the latter rids himself of the illusion of a manifold universe and realises his unity with Brahma. Moreover, Brahma is bliss—the joy of wholly perfect and self-satisfied thought and being. Since Brahma as universal Soul is really identical with each individual soul or atma, and vice versa, it follows that each individual soul contains within itself, qua Brahma, the whole of existence, nature, gods, mankind, and all other beings; it creates them all, and all depend upon it. Our Aupanishadas are thoroughgoing idealists.
Another new idea also appears for the first time in the early Upanishads, and one that henceforth will wield enormous influence in all Indian thought. This is the theory of karma and samsara, rebirth of the soul in accordance with the nature of its previous works. Before the Upanishads we find no evidence of this doctrine: the nearest approach to it is in some passages of the Brahmanas which speak of sinful men dying again in the next world as a punishment for their guilt. But in the Upanishads the doctrine appears full-fledged, and it is fraught with consequences of immense importance. Samsara means literally a "wandering to and fro," that is, the cycle of births through which each soul must everlastingly pass from infinite time, and Karma means the "acts" of each soul. Each work or act performed by a living being is of a certain degree of righteousness or unrighteousness, and it is requited by a future experience of corresponding pleasure or pain. So every birth and ultimately every experience of a soul is determined by the righteousness of its previous acts; and there is no release for the soul from this endless chain of causes and effects unless it can find some supernatural way of deliverance. The Aupanishadas point to what they believe to be the only way: it is the Brahma-knowledge of the enlightened sage, which releases his soul from the chain of natural causation and raises him to everlasting union with Brahma.
The teaching of the Upanishads has had two very different practical results. On the one hand, it has moved many earnest thinkers to cast off the ties of the world and to wander about as homeless beggars, living on alms and meditating and discoursing upon the teachings of the Upanishads, while they await the coming of death to release their souls from the prison of the flesh and bring it to complete and eternal union with Brahma. These wandering ascetics—sannyasis, bhikshus, or parivrajakas they are called—form a class by themselves, which is destined to have an immense influence in moulding the future thought of India. The teaching of Brahmanism is beginning to recognise them, too. It has already divided the life of the orthodox man into three stages, or asramas, studentship, the condition of the married householder, and thirdly the life of the hermit, or vanaprastha, to which the householder should retire after he has left a son to maintain his household; and now it is beginning to add to these as fourth stage the life of the homeless ascetic awaiting death and release. But this arrangement is for the most part a fiction, devised in order to keep the beggar-philosophers within the scheme of Brahmanic life; in reality they themselves recognise no such law.
The other current among the Aupanishadas is flowing in a very different direction. We have seen how the worship of Rudra-Siva has grown since the old Rigvedic days, and how some souls have been able to see amidst the terrors of the god a power of love and wisdom that satisfies their deepest hopes and longings, as none of the orthodox rituals can do. A new feeling, the spirit of religious devotion, bhakti as it is called, is arising among them. To them—and they number many Brahmans as well as men of other orders—Siva has thus become the highest object of worship, Isvara or "the Lord"; and having thus enthroned him as supreme in their hearts, they are endeavouring to find for him a corresponding place in their intellects. To this end they claim that Siva as Isvara is the highest of all forms of existence; and this doctrine is growing and finding much favour. Among the Aupanishadas there are many who reconcile it with the teaching of the Upanishads by identifying Siva with Brahma. Thus a new light begins to flicker here and there in the Upanishads as the conception of Siva, a personal god wielding free grace, colours the pale whiteness of the impersonal Brahma; and at last in the Svetasvatara, which though rather late in date is not the least important of the Upanishads, this theistic movement boldly proclaims itself: the supreme Brahma, identified with Siva, is definitely contrasted with the individual soul as divine to human, giver of grace to receiver of grace. Later Upanishads will take up this strain, in honour of Siva and other gods, and finally they will end as mere tracts of this or that theistic church.
Yet another current is now beginning to stir men's minds, and it is one that is also destined to a great future. It starts from Krishna.
The teaching of the Upanishads, that all being is the One Brahma and that Brahma is the same as the individual soul, has busied many men, not only Brahmans but also Kshatriyas, noblemen of the warrior order. Some even say that it arose among the Kshatriyas; and at any rate it is likely that they, being less obsessed with the forms of ritual than the Brahmans and therefore able to think more directly and clearly, have helped the Brahmans in their discussions to clear their minds of ritual symbolism, and to realise more definitely the philosophic ideas which hitherto they had seen only dimly typified in their ceremonies.
Krishna was one of these Kshatriyas. He belonged to the Satvata or Vrishni tribe, living in or near the ancient city of Mathura. Sometimes in early writings he is styled Krishna Devakiputra, Krishna Devaki's son, because his mother's name was Devaki; sometimes again he is called Krishna Vasudeva, or simply Vasudeva, which is a patronymic said to be derived from the name of his father Vasudeva. In later times we shall find a whole cycle of legend gathering round him, in which doubtless there is a kernel of fact. Omitting the miraculous elements in these tales, we may say that the outline of the Krishna-legend is as follows: Krishna's father Vasudeva and his mother Devaki were grievously wronged by Devaki's cousin Kamsa, who usurped the royal power in Mathura and endeavoured to slay Krishna in his infancy; but the child escaped, and on growing to manhood killed Kamsa. But Kamsa had made alliance with Jarasandha king of Magadha, who now threatened Krishna; so Krishna prudently retired from Mathura and led a colony of his tribesmen to Dvaraka, on the western coast in Kathiawar, where he founded a new State. There seems to be no valid reason for doubting these statements. Sober history does not reject a tale because it is embroidered with myth and fiction.
Now this man Krishna in the midst of his stirring life of war and government found time and taste also for the things that are of the spirit. He talked with men learned in the Upanishads about Brahma and the soul and the worship of God; and apparently he set up a little Established Church of his own, in which was combined something of the idealism of the Upanishads with the worship of a supreme God of grace and perhaps too a kind of religious discipline, about which we shall say more later on. It must be confessed that we know sadly little about his actual doctrine from first hand. All that we hear about it is a short chapter in the Chhandogya Upanishad (iii. 17), where the Brahman Ghora Angirasa gives a sermon to Krishna, in which he compares the phases of human life to stages in the diksha or ceremony of consecration, and the moral virtues that should accompany them to the dakshina or honorarium paid to the officiating priests, and he concludes by exhorting his hearer to realise that the Brahma is imperishable, unfailing, and spiritual, and quoting two verses from the Rig-veda speaking of the Sun as typifying the supreme bliss to which the enlightened soul arises. This does not tell us very much, and moreover we should remember that here our author, being an Aupanishada, is more interested in what Ghora preached to Krishna than in what Krishna accepted from Ghora's teaching. But we shall find centuries later in the Bhagavad-gita, the greatest textbook of the religion of Krishna, some distant echoes of this paragraph of the Chhandogya.
The beginnings of the religion of Krishna are thus very uncertain. But as we travel down the ages we find it growing and spreading. We see Krishna himself regarded as a half-divine hero and teacher, and worshipped under the name of Bhagavan, "the Lord," in association with other half-divine heroes. We see him becoming identified with old gods, and finally rising to the rank of the Supreme Deity whose worship he had himself taught in his lifetime, the Brahma of the philosophers and the Most High God of the theists. As has happened many a time, the teacher has become the God of his Church.
For the original mortality of the gods see TS. VII. iv. 2, 1, SB. X. iv. 33 f., XI. i. 2, 12, ii. 3, 6; for their primitive non-differentiation, TS. VI. vi. 8, 2, SB. IV. v. 4, 1-4.
Cf. e.g. KB. III. 4 6, VI. 2-9, and Ap. SS. VI. xiv. 11-13.