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This webpage reproduces an article in the
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
April, 1907, pp311‑335

The text is in the public domain:
Sir George Grierson died in 1941.a

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

 p311  Modern Hinduism
and its Debt to the Nestorians1

By George A. Grierson, C. I. E., Ph. D., D. Litt., M. R. A. S.

Much of what I shall say here has appeared before in scattered essays which are not likely to have been seen by many members of the Royal Asiatic Society, and I am grateful for the opportunity now given for considering the question as a whole, and for hearing in the discussion which will, I hope, follow, any arguments that may have escaped my notice for and against the theories advanced. The object of the present paper is to show how the beliefs of the early Nestorian Christians have been absorbed by Hinduism, and how they have profoundly affected the religious system current over a large portion of India.

It is unnecessary for me to dwell at length on the fact that all religions are more or less syncretic. They take, often unconsciously, elements from other religions and adapt them to their own systems. In Hinduism the process is extremely wide in its application. Hinduism is a religion which can absorb anything and everything with which it is brought into contact. It has absorbed the aboriginal cults and deities, till in some parts of India the current Hinduism can hardly be recognized as an offspring of the nature-worship of the Vēdas. On the other side there are instances of its taking from the Musalmāns the idea of Monotheism, and an Allāh Upaniṣad2 has been added to the never completed canon of the Hindū scriptures. All this is well known, and there is no reason for surprise at finding, given the opportunity, the elements of Christianity also borrowed in the same way.

 p312  Let us first consider the opportunities. There were undoubtedly Christian colonies in India from very early times. For a convenient grouping together of all the ascertained facts I can refer you to chapter IX of Sir William Hunter's "India." The important points are as follows: — It is almost certain that St. Thomas the Apostle himself visited the North-West of India and preached there in the early part of the first century.3 Long before this there had been commercial traffic between the East and the West, and from the date of its foundation Alexandria had been the European entrepôt. Alexandria also became a great centre of early Christian influence. One of its exports to India was slave-girls, and it is reasonable to presume that some of these professed the new faith. Then the destruction of Jerusalem aided the spread of Christianity, and we read of colonies of Christian Jews existing on the west coast of Southern India not later than the commencement of the third century after our Lord's birth. Rumours of this community reached Alexandria, and several evangelists were then sent out to convert the heathen of India. The great source of missionary activity in those days was, however, not Alexandria, but the Nestorian Christians of Syria; and a flourishing Nestorian community gradually rose in Southern India. These being isolated from their brethren in the West, their faith became corrupt. In 660 A.D. they had no regular ministry. In the fourteenth century they had even given up the rite of baptism, and a mixed worship, Christian, Musalmān, and Hindū, went on at the old hill-shrine of St. Thomas at Mylapore, near Madras. We need not pursue their history further; what is important for our present purposes is that the Christians had been in India for fourteen hundred years, and that they were on friendly terms with their Hindū neighbours. The same phenomenon presents itself at the present day. There are still Christian shrines in Southern India at which both Hindūs and Christians worship, each in  p313 their own way. If the Christians became Hinduized, the Hindūs must also have become Christianized, or else all analogy is a mistake.

During the earlier centuries of the Christian era India was partly Hindū and partly Buddhist. As time went on Buddhism was gradually absorbed by the older faith, and orthodox Hinduism appears before us in two concurrent aspects. In one of these there was the Vēdāntic belief in a passionless, impersonal, Supreme Deity, unmoved by prayer or adoration, from whom souls were kept apart by ignorance. In the other aspect there was the belief in numerous subordinate gods and demons, whom it was judicious to propitiate, as they could save from trouble in this life, although they could not give final release (that is to say, loss of personal identity by absorption into the Supreme) after death. In both aspects the only way to this ultimate salvation, this mukti or 'release,' was to know oneself and thereby to know God. In the words of M. Barth, religion was resolved into a matter of knowledge, rational, intuitive, or revealed.

Beside this there was the universal belief in the "Old Stories" of gods, demigods, and deified heroes, and of these the most popular were the legends of the nine incarnations of Viṣṇu. According to these the Supreme, identified by the narrators with the ancient Vedic god Viṣṇu, became incarnate to relieve the world from some physical calamity or from some tyranny. Having performed his task, Viṣṇu returned to his impersonal condition, and to a Hindū of those days his exploits were merely an event in history to which he could look back with gratitude, but which in no way affected his present or his future existence.

Suddenly, like a flash of lightning, there came upon all this darkness a new idea. No Hindū knows where it came from, and no one can date its appearance; but all the official writings which describe it and which can be dated with certainty were written long after the Christian era. This new idea was that of bhakti. Religion was now no longer a matter of knowledge. It became a matter of emotion.  p314 It now satisfied the human craving for a supreme personality, to whom prayer and adoration could be addressed; inasmuch as bhakti, which may be translated by 'faith' or 'devotion,' requires a personal, not an impersonal, God. The late Professor Cowell pointed out how nearly it corresponds to what St. Augustine has said: "Quid est credere in Deum? Credendo amare, credendo diligere, credendo in Eum ire, et ejus membris incorporari."4 ("What is it to have faith in God? By faith to love Him, by faith to be discovered to Him, by faith to enter into Him, and by personal union to become one with Him.") The first works dealing with bhakti were written in Sanskrit, and European scholars are therefore to a certain extent familiar with its theory. Its official textbook is a modern Sanskrit treatise, which, with its commentary, has been admirably translated by Professor Cowell, under the title of The Aphorisms of Śāṇḍilya.5 In Appendix II, I give a summary of its contents so far as they refer to general question of bhakti, and it is unnecessary for me to do more than draw attention to the many striking points of resemblance with doctrinal Christianity, and even with actual texts in the Bible. That the whole scheme of belief is radically different from that of the ordinary Hinduism of Sanskrit literature needs no proof. It must be remembered that though we do not know the actual date of the work from which the abstract is compiled, it is certainly very modern.

Probably the earliest book in which we find the doctrine of bhakti developed as a working system is the well‑known Bhagavad Gitā. So long ago as 18696 Dr. Lorinser traced Christian influences in this beautiful work, and, indeed, the coincidences between its teaching and that of New Testament are often startling; but most scholars are agreed in laying no stress upon these; for, though the coincidences do exist, there is nothing essentially Christian in any of them. The quotations which were collected by Dr. Lorinser  p315 are all such as might have been written by any elevated thinker, Christian or non‑Christian, nor are all of them new to India. Moreover, the date of the poem is a matter of some dispute, and though I think myself that it is pretty certain that it is a comparatively late work, I do not consider that it should be taken into account in our argument. Bhakti is certainly described in it, but it is bhakti which has no distinctively Christian attributes, and if the work is pre‑Christian it only proves that the idea of bhakti is Indian, but proves nothing about its later developments.

In another7 and very late section of the Mahābhārata, there is a much more important account of a visit paid by three Hindū saints, under direct inspiration of God, to "a land of great splendour on the northern shore of one of the oceans," called the "White Continent." "The inhabitants have complexions as white as the rays of the moon, and are full of bhakti to Him who moves upon the waters. They believe and worship only one God." "Go ye thither," said the Oracle, "for there have I revealed Myself." When the saints arrived at this mysterious continent they found the inhabitants possessing "every mark of blessedness. The faces of some were turned to the north and of others to the east, all with hands clasped in prayer, silently, with unuttered words, meditating on the Supreme . . . All the inhabitants were perfectly equal in glory, there was no superiority nor inferiority among them. We then suddenly beheld a light arise that seemed to be the concentrated effulgence of a thousand suns. The inhabitants, assembling together, ran towards that light, with hands clasped, full of joy, and uttering the words 'We bow to Thee.' We then heard a very loud noise uttered by them all together. It seemed that those men were employed in offering a sacrifice to the Great God. . . . The sound said, 'Victory to Thee, O Thou of eyes like lotus-petals. Salutations to Thee, O Creator of the universe . . . O Lord of the organs of sense — O Foremost  p316 of Beings — Thou who art the First-born." This is what we heard, uttered distinctly and melodiously. . . . Without doubt God appeared in that place whence the sound arose, but, as regards ourselves, stupefied by His illusion, we could not see Him." It is then explained to them that "these white men, who are divested of all outer senses (i.e., who are pure in heart), are alone competent to see God. . . . Go hence, ye Saints, to the place whence ye came. That great Deity is incapable of being ever seen by one that is destitute of bhakti."

Is not this just the account that would be given by a devoutly-disposed stranger of the gorgeous ceremonies of some of the ancient Eastern Christian congregations? — the universal equality; the proclamation of monotheism; the necessity of pureness of heart for seeing God; the great church into which God, visible only to the eye of faith, Himself descended; the adoration of the First-born; the silent prayer; the bursting forth of the loud Gloria in excelsis; the melodious chant of the eucharistic ritual. This account is taken from the greatest and most popular of the religious books of India. The pilgrims tell the story of a state of affairs existing outside India, and for which India itself was not yet ripe. It was here, they were told, that perfect bhakti existed, and from here it must be brought to India. It came.

Still more decisively Christian are certain curious facts quoted by the late Professor Weber from the Bhaviṣya and Bhaviṣyōttara Purāṇas. We are familiar with the legend of the Kṛṣṇa incarnation of Viṣṇu. Kṛṣṇa, on his birth, was pursued by his wicked uncle, who wished to kill him; and his mother, in order to save his life, gave him away to some cowherds immediately after he was born. Moreover, in many parts of India the word 'Kṛṣṇa' is pronounced 'Krishta.' So far there is a slight resemblance to the accounts of our Lord's birth as recorded in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke. But Weber has shown, from the two purāṇas just mentioned and from other sources, that round this ancient legend there has grown up a festival.  p317 And the extraordinary part is that the ritual of the festival does not follow the legend, but alters it to agree with our Gospel narrative. The mother does not give away the child. She escapes while he is yet unborn to a cowherd's shed, there she gives birth to a son, and we are shown Indian pictures of her lying peacefully asleep, holding the suckling child to her bosom, with herdmen and herdmaidens round her glorifying her and singing her praises; an ox and an ass by her side, and the redemption-bringing star in heaven. There are other Indian pictures which resemble, even in minute details, Byzantine representations of the "Madonna Lactans," which it is known are of Egyptian origin.

The subject, as above described, has been much discussed by Sanskrit scholars, and to many here I have been telling no new thing; but it was necessary to repeat it, for the evidence is in its nature cumulative. So far we have been dealing with Sanskrit literature, and, on this evidence, opinion has been much divided. The late Professor Weber was the leader of those who maintained the Christian origin of this bhakti, while M. Barth may be mentioned as one of the most prominent of those who held the opposite opinion.8 Professor Hopkins occupies an intermediate position.9

So far, previous scholars.10 I now proceed to deal with the more modern phases of the doctrine. We are still in the stage when religious literature was couched in Sanskrit, when we see arising in Southern India two eminent teachers named Rāmānuja and Viṣṇuswāmī. The former flourished early in the twelfth century, and it is important to note that he was born at Perumbūr and studied at Kāñcīpura (Conjeeveram), each of which is within a few miles of the Nestorian Christian shrine of St. Thomas at Mylapore, to which allusion has already been made. Abyssinia Viṣṇuswāmī we know hardly anything, except that he came from the  p318 south. For our present purposes he is important, not so much for his own teaching, but as the founder of a sect which in later years had noteworthy developments. These two preached the doctrine of bhakti with great fervour and success. I have said that bhakti implies faith in a personal God, and as, according to the accepted belief of the time, the Supreme Deity was impersonal, each took one of the incarnations of Viṣṇu as the object of his adoration. Rāmānuja took Rāmacandra, and Viṣṇuswāmī took Kṛṣṇa. Rāmānuja's teaching was fully explained in this room by Dr. Thibaut in the year 1902. What he did was, not to controvert the fashionable Vēdāntic pantheism of his time, but to introduce into it the doctrine of bhakti. He taught that God was personal, and that by His prasāda or 'grace' the faithful after death obtained undisturbed personal bliss "near the Lord."

Let me pause for a moment to point out how this idea of Rāmānuja's of an everlasting life "near the Lord" has persisted through all the developments of the system. It is still the keynote of bhakti-mārga. As an I learn of this there is the story, very probably a true one, of Nanda Dāsa, the Bernard of Clairvaux, if I may so call him, of the modern sects. He was one of those mystics who ever dwelt in communion with his deity, and who fretted against the mortal chains which kept him from a still closer approach. The Emperor Akbar, hearing of his fame as a poet, sent for him, and asked him to sing one of his hymns. He sang one ending with the words Nandadāsa, thāṛhō nipaṭa nikaṭa, "My soul, stand thou very close and near Him." The Emperor pressed him hard to show what he meant by standing "very close and near Him." Stung by the unbelieving monarch's gibe, the mystic gave the most effective possible answer; for he became at once rapt in a trance which ended in his death, and, freed from its earthly shackles, his soul actually went, as he had sung, to stand "very close and near" his Master.

Rāmānuja taught all this rather as a system of philosophy, couched in Sanskrit, than as a religion, and it was studied only by Brāhmans, on whom the most stringent caste rules  p319 were imposed. It was not, nor was Viṣṇuswāmī's, a popular religion. Their doctrines were mainly confined to the country of their origin, southern India.

Late in the 14th century, or early in the 15th, a teacher of Rāmānuja's school, named Rāmānanda, drank afresh at the well of Christian influence, and, quarrelling with his co‑religionists on a question of discipline, founded a new sect, which he carried with him northwards to the Gangetic plain. From his time Sanskrit was no longer the official language of the bhakti-cult. It was preached and its text-books were written in the vernacular. Moreover, his motto was Jāti pāti pūchai nahi kōi, Hari‑kō bhajai sō Hari‑kā hōi, "Let no one ask a man's caste nor sects; whoever adores God, he is God's own." In other words, all castes were admitted to his communion. He had twelve apostles (note the number), and these included, besides Brāhmans, a Musalmān weaver, a leather-worker (one of the very lowest castes), a Rājput, a Jāt, and a barber. Nay, one of them was a woman.11

And now I must ask you to accompany me into a strange land, — strangest of all to those who have studied Indian religions only in the light of Sanskrit literature. We shall visit, for far too believe a space, a land of mysticism and rapture. We shall meet spirits akin, not to the giant schoolmen of Benares, but to the poets and mystics of Mediaeval Europe, in sympathy with Bernard of Clairvaux, with Thomas à Kempis, with Eckhart, and with St. Theresa. All this is unknown or almost unknown to Sanskrit literature, and yet here we are in the face of the greatest religious revolution that Indian has ever seen, a revolution the effects of which are still the moving force of the spiritual life of millions upon millions of Hindūs. Let me repeat the description which I gave on a former occasion of the theology of Rāmānanda's greatest follower, Tulasī Dāsa. Different teachers varied  p320 in details, but the essence of all was the same, — the love of a personal God for humanity, — an idea altogether foreign to the orthodox Hinduism of Sanskrit literature. There is one God, says Tulasī, inconceivable, unknowable and absolutely pure. The world is very wicked. Out of pity for the miseries of this world this Supreme Being became personal, i.e., he became incarnate in the person of Rāma, "the Redeemer of the world." He is now in heaven, still a personal deity, full of love, and, with all his experience of man's weakness, full of compassion. Knowing by actual experience how great are man's infirmities and temptations, and Himself incapable of sin, He is ever ready to extend His help to the sinful being that calls upon Him. "Although," he cries, "my every word is foul and false, yet, O Lord, with Thee do I hold the close kinship of a perfect love." Sin is no longer considered merely as an impediment to ultimate salvation. It is far more than that, for it is hateful in itself as being incompatible with the pure nature of the incarnate God. Finally, the belief in the universal brotherhood of man was not a duty, the brotherhood itself was a fact, for every man or woman was the child of the infinitely loving All‑Father.

The object of man's creation, the chief aim of man, is to glorify Him, and the end is mukti, salvation. A work called the Bhaktakalpadruma devotes an interesting chapter to discussing what this salvation really is. The author goes through all the old Indian theories, only to reject them, and shows that to the true follower of bhakti, Brahma-svarūpa hō-jānē‑kā nāma mukti hai" ("Salvation is the becoming like" or "having the nature of the Supreme"). There is no talk here of annihilation or of absorption; on the contrary, as I said above, this "likeness" causes the released soul to dwell for ever with the Lord (us paramapadamē vāsa kartā‑hai).

A century later than Rāmānanda, Vallabhācārya, another teacher from southern India, and a follower of Viṣṇuswāmī, did for Kṛṣṇa-worship what Rāmānanda had done for Rāma-worship, and since then these two branches of bhakti  p321 have gone on peacefully side by side. There is this difference between the two, that in Rāma-worship the love of God to man is compared to that of a father for his son, while in the case of Kṛṣṇa it is compared to that of a man for a maid. The latter belief has in modern days occasionally degenerated into the grossest lewdness, but in the times of which I am now speaking there was nothing of the sort. The converts lived and moved in an atmosphere of the highest spiritual exaltation, while over all there hovered, with healing in its wings, a divine gospel of love in its purest ideal, smoothing down inevitable asperities, restoring breaches, and reconciling differences between conflicting modes of thought. Each sect naturally considered its own tenets the right ones, but the story of the saint Alī Bhagavān shows the mutual relations which existed between them. He was a follower of Rāma, and in the course of his wanderings came to Mathurā, the headquarters of the Krishnaites. Attracted by the ecstacies and raptures which presented themselves to his notice, he abandoned his worship of Rāma, and followed that of Kṛṣṇa instead. His old spiritual teacher heard of this and came to remonstrate with him; nevertheless, when he found that his quondam disciple was not moved by a mere passing impulse, but was heartily devoted to the new doctrine, he gave him his blessing, saying that so long as he loved the God behind the incarnation the rest was of small import.

In those early days the north of India was filled with wandering devotees, vowed to poverty and purity. Visions, trances, raptures, and even reputed miracles were of common occurrence. Rich noblemen abandoned all their possessions and gave them to the poor, and even the poorest would lay aside a bundle of sticks to light a fire for some chance wandering saint. Nor were these confined to the male sex. Of devout and honourable women there were not a few. There were Mira Bāī, the queen-poet of Udaipur, who gave up her throne rather than join in the bloody worship of Śiva; Bānkā, the poor woodcutter's wife, who could not be tempted by a purse of gold; the chaste Surasurī with her  p322 tiger guardian; Gaṇēśa Dērānī, queen of Madhukara Shāh of Orchā, who hid the wound inflicted by a mad ascetic, for fear her husband should take indiscriminating vengeance; the penitent Magdalen of Delhi, who gave her life and the only art she possessed, her dancing, to the service of the deity in whom she had taken refuge; and many others. Of men, there were Haridāsa, the sweet singer, to hear whom Akbar disguised himself as a menial servant and travelled far; Nanda Dāsa, already mentioned, the hymn-writer; Caitanya, the prophet of Bengal; Caturbhuja,12 the apostle of the Gōṇḍs, who taught that right initiation meant "being born again"; Jayadēva, the author of the mystical Gīta Gōrinda (one of the few Sanskrit works of the sect); Sūra Dāsa, the blind bard of Agra; and, greatest of all, to my mind the greatest poet that India has produced, Tulasī Dāsa, the teller of the deeds of Rāma. These are but a few of many, and I mention but three others for the sake of the legends attached to them. There were Gōpāla,13 who when smitten on one cheek turned the other to the smiter; Vilvamaṅgala,14 whose eye offended him, and who blinded himself; and the unnamed king of Purī,15 who cut off his right hand and cast it from him for the same reason.16 Legend after legend has accumulated round all these persons, and miracle on miracle is recorded about them. Much that we read is insipid and perhaps even childish to our Western minds, but the student who possesses sympathy with the naive joy of an Oriental nation that has discovered divine love for the first time will never regret the hours spent in its study. He beholds the profoundest depths of the human heart laid  p323 bare with a simplicity and freedom from self-consciousness unsurpassed in any literature with which I am acquainted. As Tulasī Dāsa himself says in the preface to his great poem, "If the hearers have no understanding of true devotion to the Lord, the tale will seem insipid enough: but the singer's bhakti towards his Master will itself be an embellishment sufficient to make the good to hear and praise the melody."

We have seen how this bhakti-cult suddenly appeared as a practical basis of religion in the immediate vicinity of the Christian colony in Madras. We have seen how it spread over India in wave after wave, always receiving fresh impulse from the south, and we have further seen the remarkable resemblances between its ground principles and their effects and those of Christianity, but when we come to details the cases of evident borrowing are even more striking.

No one seems to have noticed how absurd it is to call the well-known group of three gods — Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Śiva — the Indian Trinity. Nevertheless, the comparison is one of our English commonplaces. Excepting the number, three, there is no single element in the group which suggests it. But Vaiṣṇava Hinduism has a Trinity closely corresponding to ours, viz., the Supreme Deity, His incarnation, and His Śakti, or energic power.17 Curiously enough, the energic power has become personified as a woman, just as the Syrian Christians substituted the Virgin Mary for the Third Person of our Trinity.18

In minor points, too, there are numerous instances of agreement with Christianity, each by itself of small importance, but all adding to the cumulative proof. There is the same remarkable reverence for spiritual teachers. The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles says, "Thou shalt by night  p324 and day remember him that speaketh to thee the word of God; thou shalt know him as the Lord"; and the bhakti-scriptures are full of similar remarks. The early Christians not early bhakti-teachers alike insisted on the paramount necessity of a teacher of the highest grade being a wanderer from city to city. Just as the Gnostics deified the Apostles and called them 'Saviours of men' (Σωτῆρες τῶν ἀνθρώπων), so the companions of Rāma and Kṛṣṇa have been given godlike rank. In both there is the same extravagant belief in the power of the Name of the incarnate God. Thomas à Kempis speaks of "the holy utterance, short to read, easy to retain, sweet to think upon, strong to protect," while Tulasī Dāsa praises "these two gracious syllables, the eyes as it were of the soul, easy to remember, satisfying every wish, a gain in this world and felicity in the next." Nay, in southern Indian, bhakti-worship has developed the same quarrel that has cursed the West between the followers of the doctrine of 'irresistible; and that of 'co‑operative grace.'

Here is an echo of a well-known text in the Gospel of St. John (iii.16): — "A certain king once said to a learned sage, 'As God is all‑powerful, what necessity was there for Him to become incarnate? Why should He not provide in some simpler way for those that love Him?' The sage made no reply at the time, but went away and got a doll made exactly like the king's little son. He gave the doll to the child's bearer, and said to him, 'Carry it in your arms along the bank of the river when his Majesty and I go out for an airing in a boat.' The bearer did so, and when the boat came to the shore the sage reached out and took the doll from him as if to give it to the king. But, as he did so, he let it drop into the river. The king, under the impression that it was his own son that had been let fall, without considering the risk to his own life or the danger of drowning, leaped himself into the Jamna. The sage had him pulled out, and said, 'There were hundreds of your Majesty's servants and sailors ready to help. Why did you yourself leap into the river?' The king replied, 'Owing to my love and affection for the boy, I could not stop to think or give orders, but at once  p325 jumped in myself.' 'So,' said the sage, 'is it with God. When He seeth His servants in sorrow He tarrieth not, but Himself cometh as an incarnate Deity to save them.' "19

Of all bhakti-writers, the most Christian in his ideas was Tulasī Dāsa, but he has already formed the subject of a paper lately published in the Journal of this Society, and therefore I do not particularly refer to him on the present occasion. Kabīr, the Musalmān weaver, and one of Rāmānanda's twelve apostles, has also left many reflections of Christianity in his writings. He talks of God as 'Life.' "From not knowing God," he says, "the world has been swallowed up in death." He cries, "When the Master is blind, what becomes of the scholar? When the blind leads the blind, both will fall into the well." Again, speaking in the person of the Deity, he says, "I have wept for mankind, but no one has wept with me; he will join in my tears who comprehends the watchword. All have exclaimed, 'Master, Master,' but to me this doubt arises, 'How can they sit down with the Master whom they do not know?' "

Note the use of the expression śabda or 'Word' in the last quotation. Kabīr's doctrine of the Word is a remarkable copy of the opening verses of St. John's Gospel. Here is the account given by a follower of the sect to Mr. Foss Westcott, the missionary: — In the beginning God alone existed, but from Him issued forth the Word. When God willed that creation should come into existence, He gave command by His Word, i.e. the Word was uttered, and thus through the Word were all things made that were made. Although the Word issued from God, it is not distinct from God, but remains with Him, as thought remains in the heart of man. God's voice goes forth that men may have knowledge of the Word, and so the Word is in the world, and also with God.

It is difficult to imagine whence this, and much more like it, could have come, if it did not come from Christian sources.

 p326  A common feature of many of these bhakti-sects is the sacramental meal or Mahāprasāda (i.e. 'Great Grace'). It is well known that it is distributed in the temple of Puri, and it was in consequence of the disrespect offered to it there that the king of whom I spoke a short time ago cut off his right hand. But the fullest and best account of the ceremony is that given by Mr. Foss Westcott as current among the Kabīrpanthīs. It has been suggested that the ceremony may have been borrowed from the Jesuit missionaries at Agra, but this is not likely, for (1) the headquarters of the sect are at Benares, not Agra; (2) the sacrament is performed in widely distant places in India, and is not confined to any particular sect; (3) it is certainly not a modern innovation, being mentioned over and over again in the Bhaktamāla; (4) communion in both kinds is permitted to the laity; and (5) amongst the Kabīrpanthīs it is followed by a love-feast, which is not a Roman Catholic institution, but was common among the early Christians. On the evening of the appointed day the worshippers assemble, and the Mahant, or leading celebrant, reads a brief address, and then allows a short interval for prayer and meditation. All who feel themselves unworthy to proceed further then retire to a distance. Those that remain approach the senior celebrant in turn, and placing their hands together receive into the palm of the right hand, which is uppermost, a small consecrated wafer and two other articles of consecrated food. They then approach another celebrant, who pours into the palm of the right hand a few drops of water, which they drink. This food and water is regarded as Kabīr's special gift, and it is said that all who receive it worthily will have eternal life. Part of the sacramental food is 'reserved' and is carefully kept from pollution for administration to the sick. After the sacrament there is a substantial meal which all attend, and which in its character closely resembles the early Christian love-feasts.

I trust that I have shown that the great Indian reformation of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was suggested by ideas borrowed from the Nestorian Christians of southern  p327 India. The evidence is, as I have said, cumulative, and there are numerous small matters of detail which time has not allowed me to catalogue, but I think that what has been brought forward is sufficient proof.

At the present day this bhakti is the foundation of the beliefs of the large majority of Hindūs. In certain parts of the country the worship of Śiva or of Durgā is predominant, but even there a well-defined section of the community follows the cult of Viṣṇu. A small, a very small, minority of the educated bases its religious conceptions on the pantheistic Vēdānta philosophy about which a great deal has been heard in Europe. In the hills the aboriginal tribes, even when nominally Hindū, are still in the stage of animistic belief; but over the great plains of India, south and north, the mass of the non-Musalmān population is Vaiṣṇava, and Vaishnavism means a bhakti-cult. That all who profess it follow its precepts, I do not pretend; but it is the theoretical working basis of their conduct, and the lives of the Vaiṣṇava saints are everywhere accepted as models of a perfect life.

Let me conclude, therefore, with a plea for the serious study of the Indian vernacular literature by all interested in our great Eastern possession, whether as administrators or as missionaries. Practically nothing is known about it. Its extent is so great that one or two students can make no impression upon it. Unfortunately it is not fashionable. Fashion decrees that we must study Sanskrit or else books written by scholars, great scholars I freely admit, whose linguistic horizon is bounded by that language. Sanskrit has a noble past, but it belongs to that past. From it little can be learnt of the hopes and fears, of the beliefs and superstitions, which build up the character of the modern Hindū. No one would pretend that a knowledge, however complete, of the glories of Latin literature would enable anyone to understand or describe modern Italy; and yet it is thus that we seem to think that we can act towards India. Believe one who has tried it, that the quotation of a single verse of Tulasī Dāsa or of a single pithy saying of the wise  p328 old Kabīr will do more to unlock the hearts and gain the trust of our eastern fellow-subjects than the most intimate familiarity with the dialectics of Śaṅkara or with the daintiest verses of Kālidāsa. A knowledge of the old dead language will, it is true, often win respect and admiration, but a very modest acquaintance with the treasures, — and they are treasures, — of Hindī literature endows its possessor with the priceless gift of sympathy, and gains for him, from those whose watchword is bhakti, their confidence and their love.

 p329  Appendix I
List of works consulted

Śāṇḍilya bhakti sūtras, with Svapnēśvara's commentary (ed. Ballantyne, Calcutta, 1861; and English translation by Cowell, Calcutta, 1878).

Bhaktanāmamālā (commonly called the Bhaktamāla), of Nārāyaṇa Dāsa, alias Nābhājī, with the commentary of Priyā Dāsa, entitled Bhaktirasa­bōdhini (ed. Lucknow, 1883).

Bhaktakalpadruma, of Pratāpasiṁha (ed. Lucknow, 1884). This is a paraphrase of the foregoing in modern Hindī, with some additional matter.

Caurāsī Vaiṣṇavō-kī Vārttā, by Gōkulanātha (ed. Mathurā, 1883).

Bhaktanāmāvalī, of Dhruva Dāsa, with commentary of Rādhākṛṣṇa Dāsa (ed. Allahabad, 1901).

Sri-Rasikaprakāśa-Bhaktamāla, of Jīvarāma, with commentary of Vāsudēva Dāsa (ed. Bankipur, 1887).

The following works by the late Hariścandra, of Benares. They can all be found in the collected edition of his works entitled the Hariścandra­kalā (Bankipur, 1897 and ff. years): —

(1) Caritāvalī (Lives of Rāmānuja, Śaṅkarācārya, Jayadēva, Vallabhācārya, Sūradāsa).

(2) Vaiṣṇava­sarvasva (a history of the early Vaiṣṇava sects)

(3) Vallabhīya­sarvasva (a history of the sect founded by Vallabhācārya).

(4) Yugula­sarvasva (accounts of Kṛṣṇa's companions in Gōkula)

(5) Tadiya­sarvasva (the Nāradiya bhakti sūtras, with a translation and commentary in Hindī).

(6) Bhaktisūtra­vaijayantī (the Śāṇḍilya bhakti sūtras, with a similar translation and commentary).

(7) Īśū Kṛṣṭa aur Īśa Kṛṣṇa.

 p330  Appendix II
The official Hindū account of bhakti:

According to the Aphorisms of Śāṇḍilya and his commentator Svapnēśvara as translated from the Sanskrit by Professor Cowell.

(Numbers refer to aphorisms in the original text.)


In the following I have throughout left the word 'bhakti' untranslated. I have only abstracted those portions which deal directly with this subject.


In his preface the commentator attacks the Vēdānta doctrine that 'liberation' or salvation arises from knowledge of the soul.
Mark xvi, 16.
The true method is bhakti, or devotional faith, directed to the Lord. This is the immediate cause of salvation. Knowledge is an auxiliary to bhakti, and may become useful by washing away the filth of unbelief, but it will not itself abolish the veil which exists between the Soul and the Supreme, any more than the knowledge that he has jaundice will prevent a man's seeing a white shell as yellow.

Chapter I,
Section 1:

What the highest bhakti is, and what it is not.
Bhakti is of two kinds, either highest or inferior. In the highest form it is an affection fixed upon the Lord. It is an affection directed to a person, not mere belief in a system. Affection is its essence.
Cf. Jas. ii, 19.
It is not mere knowledge of God, for it is possible that even those who hate Him may have knowledge of Him. Nor is it knowing the Lord as an object of worship, etc., for these are outward acts, and bhakti is not necessarily present in them. It is simply an affection.
Cf. 1 Cor. ii, 2;
Rom. x, 17.
It follows knowledge of the greatness and other attributes of the Adorable One, but is not that knowledge. The particular knowledge which it follows is that
John vi, 57.
there is a promise of immortality to him who abides (i.e. has bhakti) in Him (3).  p331 'Abiding' is something more than mere knowledge. A hater (as above) may have knowledge, but does not abide in Him (4). Moreover, affection is unselfish. It is not a wish. It is expressed by the phrase "I love, I have an affection for, and yet I do not wish for," since 'wish' refers only to what one has not obtained, but affection refers equally to what is obtained and what is not obtained (6).

Bhakti is not an action (a 'work'). It does not depend, as knowledge does, upon an effort of the will (7). Hence, as it is not an action, its fruit (beatitude) is endless. Every action, on the other hand, ultimately comes to an end, so that everything gained by works ultimately perishes (8).

Section 2:
The nature of knowledge, concentration, etc., and bhakti, as respectively the means and the end.
The means are knowledge, concentration, etc. The end is bhakti (10).

Knowledge is subsidiary to bhakti. Experience teaches us that in common life knowledge produces affection, and not vice versa (13). Moreover, knowledge is not essential, though a means, and an important one. Affection occurs even in the absence of knowledge (14). It is inaccurate to say that we know by bhakti. All that we can say is that we recognize by bhakti, a term which implies previous knowledge (15).

Concentration of thought, indifference to worldly objects, and the like, so far from being ends are only subsidiary to both knowledge and bhakti (19).

Bhakti is therefore superior to both these categories (20). Bhakti (or 'faith') is not śraddhā (or 'belief'). Belief may be merely subsidiary to ceremonial works, not so faith. Belief is a preliminary subsidiary to faith, but is not faith (24, 25).

Chapter II:
Aids or means to the attainment of the highest form of bhakti.
Section 1:
Knowledge and concentration (yōga).
Knowledge means "the certain knowledge concerning the Supreme." Its acquisition is to be practised till bhakti is thoroughly confirmed (27).

Digression. What should be the object of this knowledge?

Kāśyapa (i.e., according to Cowell, probably Rāmānuja) says the object should be the attributes of the Supreme (28).

The Vēdāntists say it should be the soul.

Śāṇḍilya (the author) says it should be both the attributes of the Supreme and the soul (29‑42).

 p332  This includes a further digression in which the author asserts the real existence of matter (denied by Vēdāntists). The two ultimate causes are the Supreme (i.e. the intelligent) and primaeval matter (i.e. the non‑intelligent) (37‑42).

How do we know that bhakti is thoroughly confirmed?
Cf. Jas. ii, 18.
We infer it from signs (43). Such signs are respect, honour, joy, sorrow for sin, doubt in every other object,
Cf. Gal. v, 22, 23.
celebration of His praise, continuing to live for His sake, considering everything as His, regarding Him as being in all things,
Cf. Acts xxi, 14;
xv, 9.
resignation to His will, etc. (44); absence of anger, envy, greed, and impure thoughts (45).

The highest bhakti may be directed not only to the Supreme, but also to His incarnations. This is proved from (Hindū) scripture (47), and from the fact that His incarnate body is produced solely by His will and power, and not from any material cause or grosser elements as is the case with an ordinary body. The circumstance that His incarnate body is not composed of grosser elements is no bar to its being considered to be actually a body, for the true idea of a body is (not that it is the seat of enjoyment and hence necessarily based on grosser elements, but) that it is the seat of voluntary effort. Effort implies a certain kind of action (48). His object in thus acting is 'compassion' in its highest sense. No earthly compassion is entirely disinterested. His alone is disinterested,
Cf. Is. liii, 5.
as he disinterestedly abolishes others' woe (49). This is true of any incarnation, although the example taken by the author is that of Kṛṣṇa. It is accordingly also true of the Rāma-incarnation (55).

Section 2:
Aids to bhakti continued. Inferior forms of bhakti.
Other aids to bhakti are the inferior forms of bhakti itself. Such are: —

Worship (56).

Recitation of the Name (57).


Cf. Matt. x, 42.
Offering. "He who gives to Me, in bhakti, a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water — I receive it as offered in bhakti. Whatever thou doest, whatever thou eatest,
Cf. 1 Cor. x, 31;
Col. iii, 17
whatever thou offerest, whatever thou givest, whatever penance thou undergoest, give it all to Me" (58).

 p333  Fasting (58).

Paying homage (58).

Meditation on Him (58).

These all result in purification, which is itself a means to bhakti (59). Purification implies surrender of all one's actions, or 'works,' to Him, as it is said, "Whatever I do, good or evil,
Cf. Ph. ii, 13.
with or without my will, that being all surrendered to Thee, I do it as impelled by Thee." Good actions must be done, but not for the good results which they produce (for then they are bondage).
Cf. Ph. iii, 6, 7.
They must be surrendered in bhakti to Him. Here, when we say "surrendered to," we recognize that such actions are impelled by Him and are not our own. Nor would it follow in this way that a man might do as he pleased, under the pretence of acting as impelled by Him; because the absence of doing evil is really one part of the divine impulsion (64).

Aphorisms 65‑70 discuss in detail the results of various good actions, such as sacrifices, worship, etc. In all these ceremonial acts, the various forms of bhakti contained in them are the chief things, because they tend to produce the highest bhakti described in the first chapter (71).

Aphorisms 72‑75 discuss the various kinds of subordinate bhakti, e.g. bhakti arising from sorrow, from desire to know, from desire to be happy. These are all subordinate means towards the highest bhakti.

It has been said above (Aph. 8) that bhakti is not an action;
Cf. Jas. ii, 22;
Rom. iv, 2‑5.
but even a little act, if done in bhakti, is effectual in destroying sin, because, being done in bhakti, the fruits of the net are abandoned (i.e. are not a reason for the act). Even such an act as a single remembrance of His Name is an effectual expiation, provided it be done in bhakti (76).


Cf. Matt. xi, 5.
All, even the despised castes, are capable of practising bhakti. All have a right to the doctrine of bhakti, as may be seen from the universality of its practice in the White Continent (78, 79) (the home of perfect bhakti).20 No person is too sinful to practise it. A sinner first acquires the  p334 subordinate bhakti arising from sorrow (see 72‑75 above), which destroys sin, and renders him capable of the highest bhakti (82).

As the highest bhakti is the true identity with the Supreme, and is therefore the summum bonum, it follows that religious duties and the like are means of salvation only so far as they produce that highest bhakti (84).

Chapter III,
Section 1:

What is the object of bhakti?
(The doctrine of bhakti is described in the foregoing two chapters. The author now attempts to deal with an altogether different set of ideas, the nature of God, and the nature of liberation or salvation. He follows Rāmānuja, as against Śaṅkara, in asserting the real existence of matter, but follows the latter, as against the former, in asserting that the soul, on attaining liberation, lodes its individuality. As these theories do not form an essential part of the doctrine of bhakti, and as at least one, and that the most numerous, of the sects which follow the doctrine, adopts the teaching of Rāmānuja that the soul does retain its individuality after attaining liberation, it will be sufficient to give a very brief sketch of the contents of this chapter. It must be remembered that the teaching of this chapter is not in its entirety followed by those bhakti-worshippers whose incarnate God is Rāma.)


Cf. Heb. iv, 13.
He is existence. All that exists is Him. Existence is knowledge, because the certainty or real existence of a thing depends on knowledge.21 The Vēdānta and Nyāya systems of philosophy are wrong on this point. (Argument too long to be quoted (85).) His almighty power is called Māyā, which is not an unreal illusion as maintained by the Vēdānta, but is the totality of the non‑intelligent creation. The Supreme consists of pure Intelligence united with the unintelligent Creation, and both are real (86). He is the  p335 ultimate efficient cause as well as the material cause. His material causality consists in His being identical with all His effects; His efficiency arises from His knowledge extending to all objects which are to be known (87).

Order of creation described (87‑91).

Section 2:
What is liberation or salvation?
Liberation consists in the individual soul becoming one with the Supreme. The highest bhakti destroys that internal organ which is the soul's disguiser, viz., that which hinders the soul's appreciation of its oneness with the Supreme. When the disguiser is destroyed the essential oneness comes out without any contradiction (93).

The disguiser is 'understanding' (buddhi). This is destroyed by undeviating bhakti (96). This mundane existence (with its separation from the Supreme) arises from want of bhakti, and not (as the Vēdāntists and other philosophers assert) from ignorance (98).


The Author's Notes:

1 Read at a meeting of the Royal Asiatic Society on January 15th, 1907.

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2 It was written under the auspices of the Emperor Akbar. See J. A. S. B., XL, p170.

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3 The latest researches on this subject will be found in Mr. Philipps' "The Connection of St. Thomas the Apostle with India," in Indian Antiquary for 1903.

Thayer's Note: Philipps' paper was published in two parts,

pp1‑15 pp145‑161

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4 See the preface to Cowell's translations of Śāṇḍilya's Aphorisms.

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5 Calcutta, 1878.

Thayer's Note: A complete facsimile is online at Archive.Org.
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6 See also Indian Antiquary for 1873.

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7 Mahābhārata, XII.337 ff.

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8 See, for instance, The Religions of India, pp219 ff.

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9 See, for instance, Religions of India, pp428 ff.

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10 H. H. Wilson, of course, in his Essays on the Religion of the Hindus, deals with some of the people whom I shall mention, but not from my point of view.

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11 The Bhaktamāla list of these twelve apostles is: (1) Anantānanda, (2) Kabīr, (3) Sukhānanda, (4) Surasurānanda, (5) Padmāvat, (6) Naraharyānanda, (7) Pipā, (8) Bhavānanda, (9) Raidāsa, (10) Dhanā, (11) Sēna, (12) Surasurī (a woman). Wilson's list on p55 of The Religious Sects of the Hindus (ed. 1861) is wrong, owing to the misreading of the somewhat difficult text.

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12 Bhaktamāla, 123. Cf. John iii. 3.

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13 Bhaktamāla, 106. Cf. Matt. v, 39.

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14 Bhaktamāla, 46. Cf. Matt. v, 29. The "offence" was exactly the same as that mentioned in the preceding verse.

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15 Bhaktamāla, 51. Cf. Matt. v, 30.

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16 Mr. Kāśīprasād Jayaswāl has drawn my attention to Bhaktamāla, 201. Here the author gives examples of the incarnate God's graciousness to his servants. One of three examples is that Kṛṣṇa washed his servants' feet. The reference is to Mahābhārata, II.35. But there Kṛṣṇa is represented as washing the feet of Brāhmaṇas. Nabha has put "Santas," i.e., those who possess bhakti, in place of "Brāhmaṇas." Here the original Hindū legend is actually changed to agree with our Gospel narrative. Cf. John xiii, 5.

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17 It is hardly necessary to point out that the Śiva religions of India, although the more modern forms also have their Śaktis, have (with one or two insignificant exceptions) no incarnations as objects of worship.

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18 There are many Sanskrit words for God. Of these Śaṅkara and Rāmānuja agreed in selecting one for the personal deity. It was Īśvava, the exact equivalent of the Κύριος of the Septuagint and of the New Testament. In the Septuagint this word represents the Hebrew YHWH, Jehovah.

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19 From the Bhaktakalpadruma.

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20 Vide ante, p315.

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21 Here Professor Cowell points out that He is not the possessor of knowledge, a desire to create, and will, as Nyāya would maintain: He is Himself pure knowledge. Cf. Zanche, De nat. Dei: "Haec est causa cur verius appelletur Deus vita quam vivens, sapientia quam sapiens, lux quam lucidus, atque ita de reliquis. Quamobrem? Quia seipse vivit, non per vitam; seipse perque suam essentiam sapiens est, non per sapientiam aliquam quae essentiae divinae sit addita." Cyprian, Ep. 52: "Unus ille et verus Pater, bonus, misericors, et pius; immo ipsa bonitas, misericordia, et pietas."


Thayer's Note:

a Sir George Grierson's obituary appeared in the Oct. 1941 issue of the Journal, pp383‑386.


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