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coating of one's wedding cake.

It is stated that the average length of human
life in European countries, in the sixteenth cen-
tury, was between eighteen and twenty years.
To-day it is between forty and fifty years. The
death-rate has fallen as man's life has lengthened.
In the seventeenth century the mortality rate of
London was 50 per 1,000 of population; to-day
it is 15 per 1,000 of population. In the year
1700 the mortality rate of Boston was 34 per
1,000; to-day it is 19. Within a century,
London, Berlin, and Munich have cut their
death-rates nearly in half. In Sweden, the
home of school gymnastics and government-
controlled hygiene, the average length of life
is 50 years for men, and 53 years for women,
the highest in the world. In the United States,
the average lifetime is 44 for men, and 46 for


women. In India the average lifetime for men
is 23, and for women 24. It is almost impossible
to calculate the enormous increase of population
that these figures suggest; and an increase of the
number of men and women in the world of ma-
ture years, whose demands upon life for food,
for occupation, for education, for amusement,
and for governing are the demands of grown-up
people. This single problem of the increase of
the grown-up population of the world in the last
tW'O hundred years is never mentioned; and yet
it is outstanding, ever growing, all-else-includ-
ing, and as much more overshadowing all other
problems of civilization as the sky compared to
tents. To imagine that this greatest problem of
our time, perhaps of any time, is to be solved by
doles of money, smiles, and words, is not only
ridiculous as theory, but is proving itself deplor-
able as practice. Wherever else the way out of
the tangle lies, it is not there. To issue orders
for purdah parties, and for bows and smiles on
railway trains, makes one doubt the lucid writ-
ing, the clear thinking, the masterly grasp of great
problems, for which I for one have admired and
extolled John Morley for nearly a quarter of a
century. It is not only no solution of the prob-
lem in itself, but it is tempting the unthinking
and superficial to believe that the problem is


only as difficult as the suggestion of such sickly
remedies implies.

India has a negligible amount of machinery,
and an overwhelming population, consequently
the problem is more acute there than elsewhere;
but it exists in Germany and in Japan, and while
it is called "Unrest" in India, it is called the
"German Peril" in Europe, the "Japanese
Peril" in America. In addition to this machine-
made population, there has grown with advanc-
ing civilization and its wealth, a fashion of re-
lieving women of all share in productive labor.
America and England, for example, carry, in-
dustrially speaking, an enormous weight of idle
women, the most idle and luxurious of whom do
not even bear children, and who are the direct
incentive to extravagance and waste. Fortu-
nately they are comparatively few in number, but
they are nevertheless a factor in the problem.
Let us be frank, therefore, and say at once that
"Unrest" in India is not an exotic among social
and economic problems, it is a phase, an Ori-
ental phase, if you please, which presses upon
every country in the world, less in the United
States and in South America than elsewhere
merely because we have the food supply of the
world in our hands.

Manufactured sympathy will solve the prob-


lem neither in India nor anywhere else. On
the contrary the nnthinking philanthropist,
and the cunning politician, not only in India,
but in England, Germany, France, and Amer-
ica, are leading whole populations to believe
that the millions concentrated in a few hands
are the cause of the poverty and discomfort
of all the rest. There never was a meaner
nor a more dangerous lie: first, because it
tickles the fancy of the people, second, be-
cause it leads them in a wrong direction for the
solution of their troubles, and third, because it
is these very aggregations of capital that alone
make it possible even to feed these masses of pop-
ulation. Like every other remedy for human ills,
if it be easy and pleasant you may be sure it is
poisonous. There are room, and food, and leis-
ure, and opportunity for every honest, sober, hard-
working man in the world, still, whatever the
future have in store for the rapidly increasing
population of the world ; but the mill of competi-
tion is growing more and more terrible as modern
science fosters the growth of population, and the
shiftless, the dissipated, and the weak find it
harder and harder to keep on the road, and out of
the gutter, as the road becomes more and more
crowded. "Neither circumcision nor uncircum-
cision availeth anything, but a new man!" The


ghastly gospel which preaches that all our woes
are due to somebody else, and the demagogic
apostles of that gospel, will, and can, only land
their followers in a deeper ditch. Sympathy,
yes, but easy lies, never. The slightest move in
this direction, the faintest whisper to these three
hundred millions in India, would be on a par,
for fiendish cruelty, with persuading the chil-
dren of a family that all their woes were due to
the selfishness of their parents.



IN writing a chapter on religion and caste in
India, as I have seen it, I wish to begin by
proclaiming how superficial this sketch must
be, and how well I know what I do not know of
a subject to which many volumes have been de-
voted by students of many years' residence in In-
dia, and for a full analysis and history of which
many volumes are still needed.

I am proposing merely to furnish enough mate-
rial to put the situation before my countrymen,
and to show how ludicrous is the ideal of self-
government, as we understand it, for a people
so unhomogeneous, and how calamitous will be
the result of going too fast in granting legislative

First of all, caste is a question of birth, and
there is no entry except by birth. A worker in
a coal-mine may become a part owner thereof,
and his daughter marry a peer, and his grand-
son become a peer in England. I can personally
introduce the reader to dozens of still unedu-



cated clerks, stenographers, mill-hands, newsboys,
and their wives, widows, sisters, and daughters,
whose millions seat them at the dinner-tables of
the Brahman class in America and in England.
But no millions will enable a low-caste Hindu
to marry into a Brahman family, or even to
touch the hand, or throw his shadow on the
food, of a Brahman in India.

If a man is excommunicated by his caste fel-
lows in India, no one of the caste will eat with
him, accept water from his hands, or marry him.
His own wife will not touch him or speak with
him. He is dead to his family. The barber
even will not shave him, or cut his hair or his

There is no legislation, no police work, no
trial in the courts, no adjustment of land rev-
enue or land tenure, no meeting of municipal or
district councils, no appointment to office small
or great, no handling of any community in time
of plague or famine, no hygienic precautions or
sanitary arrangements, into which does not enter
this question of caste to complicate, to make diffi-
cult, and perhaps to foil, the most reasonable and
necessary work of the administrator. A Brali-
man clerk has been known to distribute legal
documents by throwing them down at the end
of the village street in which live his low-caste


brethren. Letter-carriers have been known to
refuse to enter the houses of, or to permit them-
selves to come into personal contact with, those
of a lower status than themselves.

If one could picture to oneself social snobbery
lifted into a fanatical religious faith, it would
be a pale description of the iron subdivisions of
caste in India, but even then simple as compared
with the incomprehensible intricacies of this so-
cial pall. There is no patriotism, and can be
none, in a country thus divided against itself,
and divided against itself not geographically but

As I watch for hours at a time the worshippers
at the Ghats, on the banks of the Ganges at
Benares, I only find myself more puzzled. It is
more than complicated, it is cloudy confusion,
wherein one loses the support even of one's or-
dinary mental and physical working powers.

Benares has been the capital of the Hindu re-
ligion for more years than any historian has
counted. Buddha, who was born about 557 and
who died about 478 B.C., began his public teach-
ing in the deer-forest near what was even then
the great city of Benares. For nearly two thou-
sand five hundred years, of which we have some
knowledge, and for how many years more no man
knows, the Hindus have bathed and prayed here


on the banks of the Ganges. Buddhism and
Islamism have been absorbed or swept aside.

It must be said of Buddhism, however, that
it has left one indelible mark all over India,
China, and the East, and that is the teaching of
gentleness and kindness to one another and to
animals. Buddha taught that life is but a pro-
longed endeavor to escape from suffering, and
that, therefore, to cause others to suffer is the un-
forgivable sin. By meditation a man is to lose
the sense of the painfulness of life, and to earn
some mitigation from the cycle through which
he must pass before reaching Nirvana, where all
re-birth ends at last, and one loses consciousness
forever. This creed is pure agnosticism, holding
that a man's own acts alone make up the tale of
his faith.

Agnosticism everywhere throws a man back
upon himself, and everywhere and always pro-
duces one of two results. It makes men, as in
India and China, pessimists, hopeless, helpless,
and without ambitions for either their souls or
their bodies ; or it makes men colossal egoists who
worship themselves. Nothing can be more por-
tentous of evil to the race than our agnostic de-
mocracies of the West, which are putting man on
a pedestal, and waving the incense of eight hours'
work, old-age pensions, no conscription, a vote


for each adult, state support, and so on, before

It was a moving spectacle, for example, to all
students of the ethnic religions when Mr. Keir
Hardie, as the exponent of Western agnosticism,
or man as his own god, came out to India to
preach this doctrine to the Buddhist-impreg-
nated Indians, steeped in pessimism. They im-
mediately dubbed him the "King of the Cool-
ies" and could not wrench their imaginations to
see how a man of no caste could be worth imi-
tating or following. The first flash of a picture
of that which will some day be a terrible conflict
between the Yellow and the White was revealed
when the man who cared everything for man
met the men who care nothing for man, and
neither understood the other in the least.

Buddhism has done for the East what ration-
alism has done for the West; it makes men doubt
the existence, even deny the existence, of any
power higher than themselves, but with the abys-
mal difference that it prostrates man in the East
while it puts him on a dangerous pinnacle in the
West. Man with nothing higher than himself
to obey, to fear, to love, or to placate, becomes
morally and mentally disorderly. The same is
true of the state, which brings itself to the con-
dition where the voting man is paramount, and


to be feared, obeyed, and placated. With no
higher ideal than that, a state disintegrates, drifts
into bureaucracy, then into pensionism, finally
into the bread-and-circus stage, and then disap-
pears. Such a failure was Athens, such a fail-
ure is before our eyes in modern France, France
the land of pose and phrase, egotism and scepti-
cism. Even the ethical code of agnosticism
fades and dies, lacking a higher sanction to
command obedience.

Buddha little thought that his teaching of the
valuelessness of life would result in the callous
cruelty of the Indian and the Chinese. Rous-
seau, if he thought about it at all, could hardly
have dreamed that his scheme of a return to the
simple and the natural life, with every man equal,
would make of France a shambles, and produce
a philosophy of life which, while attempting to
gain the whole world for each individual, not
only loses its soul, but loses the whole world, for
every body of individuals which attempts it.
The time is still aeons off when each man may
be his ow^n master. It is a pitiable failure in
the East. It will prove a colossal failure in the

Curiously enough, it was King Asoka, nick-
named "The Furious" in his youth, who, in 260
B. C, became the great apostle and missionary


of Buddhism. The lives he had taken, the suf-
fering he had caused, in the days of his auto-
cratic sway, led him to find comfort and repent-
ance in a creed which abhorred the taking of life.
It was through liis influence and the influence
of his saffron-robed priests, of whom he is said
to have supported forty thousand at his own ex-
pense, that Buddhism grew from a mere sect
of enthusiasts into the creed of a third of the
human race, and spread through Asia and
parts of Africa and Europe. The Brahmanism
of Benares is partly the result of this wave of
Buddhism. It is a gentle, mannerly, soft-
spoken crowd, absorbed in forgetting that it
lives. This carelessness of life, on the other
hand, breaks out in monstrous slaughter and
sickening brutalities, as in the Mutiny, when it
loses control of itself. The Mutiny was a pict-
ure of pessimism let loose; the French Revolu-
tion was a picture of how rationalism establishes
the rights of man, or in the happy phrase of that
most skilful and most brilliant modern political
diagnostician, Lord Rosebery, "the fierce equal-
ity of France."

Benares at the present time, so far as buildings
are concerned, is of the most modern. The idol-
breaking Muhammadans left nothing after their
conquering of the city except a spiteful mosque.


built by the fanatical Aurangzeb on one of the
sacred sites, which still rears its towers above all
the other buildings on the river bank; and there
are few buildings of an earlier date than the mid-
dle of the eighteenth century. But the Ganges
has never been conquered, nor turned aside, nor
has the Hindu faith.

They are here by the thousands this morning,
washing themselves, washing their clothes, sit-
ting wrapt in contemplation some of them, only
their lips moving. Old and young, men and
women, all bathing, and in curiously decent fash-
ion. Their arrangement of clothing must be pe-
culiar, for they undress, and dress, and bathe,
and somehow each one so manages his or her
clothing that there is not a hint of indecency or
even of immodesty. You are rowed along with-
in a few feet of the bank of the river where these
thousands are bathing, drying themselves, dress-
ing and undressing, and nothing could be more
sedately proper. You see the Brahman rub-
bing his sacred triple thread round and round
his shoulder and body, others scrubbing their
mouths violently with their fingers, others wasli-
ing their clothes, babies being dipped by father
or mother, and soundly rubbed afterward, youths
more particular, using combs; and higher up on
the bank the barbers are busy, shaving and cut-


ting hair, while the customer sits cross-legged,
holding a mirror.

Even my travelled Brahman friend, who told
me that he was what we would call a Unitarian,
wore, and showed me, his sacred thread. The
Rajput father binds round the arm of his son a
string made of a sacred grass which is to ward off
evil spirits. No doubt the sacred cord of the
twice-born castes of India originated in a simi-
lar belief. The cord is made in various ways.
"Among the Madras Brahmans, who are most
careful in such matters, it is of fine country-
grown cotton, not foreign, and spun by hand.
Three very fine threads are twisted by a Brah-
man into a single cord sixteen feet long. He then
squats on the ground, winds it thrice around his
knees, and fastens the ends in a special knot
known as that of Brahma." In the north, the
four fingers of the hand are closed, and a thread
is wound back and fourth over them ninety-six
times. This thread forms one strand of the cord,
and three of them make it complete. During
worship of the gods it remains over the left shoul-
der; when the wearer is unclean, or when he per-
forms the rites for the dead, he shifts it to the
right shoulder.

The thread is put on a boy between his eighth
and twelfth year, when he is supposed to assume


the religious obligations and the authority and
duty of a Brahman. When the thread is first
put on the boy he makes pretence of leaving the
house to become an ascetic, but he is, of course,
persuaded to return and live as a layman.

It seemed to me strange that there was no
swimming. In any Western crowd there would
have been scores of boys and men diving, swim-
ming, playing games in the water; but there is
no sign of any desire for exercise or play here.
Rubbing themselves, thrashing their clothes on
the flat rocks, moving their lips and hands in
prayer, but no other exercise.

They are a sitting, riding race, not a walking
or running one. Their posture is as peculiar
to them as their color. It is always the same,
wherever you see them, whether it be the prince
in his palace, these people praying by the river-
bank, the passengers waiting for the train at the
railway stations, or sitting on the seats in the
train, your bearer waiting outside your door, or
the cab-driver on his box in the great cities. The
hinges in their knees must be different from ours.
They squat down with their knee-caps under
their chins, and that part of their persons which
the French describe as ou le dos change de nom
close up against their heels. I was told at Udai-
pur that His Highness, the Maharana of Udaipur,


has no chairs in his private apartments, but al-
ways sits cross-legged on the floor, whether to eat,
or to read, or to rest. When you return to your cab
you will find the driver almost invariably perched
up on the seat with his legs under him. Thou-
sands of years of chairlessness have made this
the most comfortable posture for them. I sup-
pose in a country of three hundred millions of
people there is only room for them to sit on the
ground, and, at any rate, among these people
there is no money to provide any piece of furni-
ture which is, at one and the same time, so con-
venient to carry, and so cheaply upholstered, as
that part of the person, oii le dos change de nom!
Benares is evidently a cosmopolitan place; you
notice the difference in the people as you drive
or walk through the streets. They are less shy,
the women do not cover their faces so care-
fully, they are more accustomed to strangers, and
well they may be, since it is estimated that there
are a million pilgrims here every year, w ho come
to bathe, to pray, and to take the long, dusty
walk, or pilgrimage, of some forty-five miles,
around the sacred precincts of the city. Into the
sacred waters of the Ganges, too, every Hindu
wishes his ashes thrown. At one of the Ghats on
the bank I saw bodies burning, and others lying
waiting to be burned.


Both here and at Bombay I have been present
at these burnings. The bodies are brought in
on a frail litter. A pile of logs is built up, held
in place by four iron stanchions. The body
with the head uncovered is placed on the logs,
more logs are piled on top, the litter is broken
up and added to the small fagots underneath, and
the fire is lighted. There are various ceremo-
nies connected with the rite. The body is car-
ried several times around the pile before being-
placed upon it. The nearest relative walks
around the pile with a jar of water, letting it drip
down as he goes, till of a sudden he dashes the
jar to the ground, breaking it to pieces. A sym-
bol of all life, everywhere. At a certain mo-
ment, too, the skull is fractured by the nearest
relative, to allow the easy escape of the spirit to
another world. Where the deceased is rich, the
fire is made of costly and sweet-smelling wood,
sandal-wood and the like, and the ceremonies
are more elaborate and more prolonged. No
doubt it is the ideal way to dispose of a dead
body, but when I have seen it done here it
seemed to me a callous and a careless rite.

It is true, if one have faith death should not be
a cause of mourning, but parting from those one
adores is a poignant sorrow, even if there is to be
another meeting here on earth. So far as I have


studied the faces of mourners here, I could see
nothing. In these matters they are either be-
hind or very far in advance of us. No doubt
Mrs. Annie Besant, who has her Hindu College
here at Benares, and her Theosophical Institu-
tion at Adyar near Madras, would maintain the
latter. She and her former associates Colonel
Olcott and Madame Blavatsky preach the su-
periority of the Hindu system to any philosophy
or religion of the West. One cannot perhaps
curtail the freedom of speech of these people,
but they can hardly be accepted as scholarly
authorities in the study of the ethnic religions.
It would be a useful addition to the curriculum
of one of our great universities if there could be
lectures on applied ethnic religions, as there are
lectures on applied ethics. I have noticed all
over India the absolute indifference of the natives
themselves to the pain, and deformities and mal-
adies that are displayed as an excuse for alms.
It is not the stoicism of our Western Indians who
thought it dishonorable to show fear, or to shrink
from pain, but an imbedded indifference, a
numbness to this particular influence. We, on
the contrary, dislike the sight of these things, and
turn from them, and pity is forced from us, but
all such spectacles seem to pass absolutely un-
noticed by the Oriental. And what horrible de-


fonnities are exhibited! One might think them
invented and carved, so hideously grotesque are
they sometimes.

It is a wonder there are not more. A wonder,
too, that there is not more plague, more cholera,
more disease of every kind. Here on the banks
of this river are thousands, bathing, washing
their clothes, and drinking, all within a few
yards of one another. One man drinks the
dregs from another man's body, another the
scourings from another's clothes, and women
and children the same. It is not strange that
India is the paradise of contagion.

I have heard it maintained that the Ganges,
which is the most bathed-in river in the world,
is different from other rivers, in that the water
itself has certain antiseptic qualities, and that
microbes do not flourish in it as in other waters.
If one rows up and down the river front, or walks
through the narrow streets leading to the river,
the stench and mud and crowds make it appear
a very incubator of microbes.

I stood for a long time within a small court,
in the middle of which was a much-frequented
temple. Cows stood about in their own filth,
men, women, and children crowded in, went to
the shrine where they bowed and prayed, and
were given something by the attendant, or priest.


which they popped into their mouths. Some
came away with garlands, but all of them evi-
dently impervious to the smells and the mud. It
was warm outside, but in this particular tem-
ple the smell of hot humanity, and hot cow, was

Nor Mecca, nor Jerusalem has known such
hordes of worshippers, so many thousands of
years of continuous pilgrimage. No matter
what his caste, no matter what his occupation, no
matter how black his heart or red his hands, the
Hindu who dies within a radius of fifty miles of
Benares is spared all future torment, so it is said.

In the theory of the transmigration of souls,
or metempsychosis, the Hindu believes that there
are some millions of species of animals that he
may be obliged to pass through, one after an-
other, before he arrives at the house of his god,
if he does not pay due attention to the duties and
formalities of his religion. This saving of one's
own soul becomes a very important business un-
der these circumstances. The hell of the most

Online LibraryPrice CollierThe West in the East from an American point of view → online text (page 11 of 29)