Price Collier.

The West in the East from an American point of view online

. (page 12 of 29)
Online LibraryPrice CollierThe West in the East from an American point of view → online text (page 12 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

enthusiastic revivalist is a very lukewarm affair
when compared with this interminable vista of
animal impersonations which confronts the pious

The upper classes and intelligent Hindus have
become Theists, but the mass of the Hindu world


are crass Polytheists, who worship not only end-
less named gods, but sticks and stones, and trees,
and mounds of earth of their own choosing and
makinp'. On one occasion I asked a lower-caste
Hindu, who had been very attentive in his ser-
vice, if I was not taking too much of his time. I
had noticed that his forehead was not marked, a
sign that he had not bathed and prayed as his
ritual requires. "Oh," he replied, "I have my
own private god in my compound!" On the
other hand, an educated and travelled Hindu,
of whom I saw a good deal, told me that he was
what we would call a "Unitarian!" Another
Brahman, of the mystical type, is said to have
remarked quite casually: "I have never seen
Christ myself, but I have a friend who often sees
him, and he tells my friend that he finds many
of his followers very trying people."

I remember I took a course of study in the
Ethnic Religions when at the University, but of
these mystic refinements on the one hand, and
these crudities on the other, I knew nothing till
I was face to face with them here. One is rather
shocked at the abysmal gulf between the book
and the fact, between the professorial teaching
and the practice, when one is brought into close
contact with the latter in India. As I stand be-
side the reeking cow, ankle-deep in filth, in the


temple of this dark, crowded court in Benares,
and see the earnestness of the worshippers, I am
impressed by the fact that all I know, or may
have known, or shall know, is of little use in
interpreting this situation which is here and
now, and which has been for thousands of

All religions really, whether of Buddha, Brah-
ma, Muhammad, or Christ, maintain that life
is to die. The Buddhist and the Brahman and
the Muhammadan stick to the original text, to
the primitive message. We Westerners have
twisted the Christianity of Christ into a code and
a creed suited to our climate, our environment,
our temperament, and our ambitions, and we
maintain that life is to live. But no philosophy
and no religion which has its roots in the East
can be fairly interpreted as giving such a mes-
sage. We have interpreted isolated texts to please
our love of life, but the founder of Christianity
was an Oriental, with the same profound con-
viction that "my Father's many mansions" are
preferable to hut or palace here, which char-
acterizes the creeds of the Buddhist, the Brah-
man, and the Muhammadan. The Buddhist is
a Buddhist, the Brahman is a Brahman, the Mu-
hammadan is a Muhammadan but we West-
erners are not Christians. We merely wear an


ethical cloak, made up of a patchwork of sayings,
which we have wrenched from their context, to
enable us to do our work in the world with free-
dom of movement. Were we to wrap ourselves
in the genuine robes of Christianity we should be
as hampered, and as helpless, as are the thor-
ough-going disciples of Buddha, Brahma, or

Hinduism is not only a religious bond, but it
is also a sort of social league governing all the re-
lations of life. As a social league it rests upon
caste, that immovable barrier against reform or
progress ; as a religious bond it rests upon a union
of the Aryan and the Buddhistic faith. Hindu-
ism recognized the so-called twice-born, or Aryan
castes, that is, the Brahmans or priests, the Kshat-
triyas or warriors, the Vaisyas or agriculturists,
and the Sudras or serfs. But this is a mere guide-
book classification. If you investigate the make-
up of an Indian village you may find herdsmen,
fishermen, weavers, artisans, barbers, coolies,
some Muhammadans, some Brahmans, traders,
money-lenders, and here and there Mahrattas,
and a few other immigrants. But even these di-
visions do not begin to complete the list, for there
are still subdivisions of these. Even the Brah-
mans have ten distinct classes or nations, and
these again are divided into some two thousand


tribes. In Bombay alone, where there are more
than a million Brahmans, there are some two
hundred groups of them, none of which inter-
marries with another. In Madras there are six
groups, each speaking a different tongue, and no
member of one group will marry or eat with the
member of another ; while each of these groups,
again, has rules regarding the persons within its
own circle, with whom its members may marry
or eat cooked food.

The Brahmans of the south of India claim to
be of higher rank than the Brahmans of the north,
holding that the Brahma nism of the north has
been defiled by one conqueror after another,
while they of the south have remained more or
less untouched by foreign influences. Unlike
the northern Brahman, there is no lower caste
from whom the southern Brahman will take

In this matter of religion, as in political and
social matters, the women of India are bigotedly
conservative, and insistent upon maintaining
all the traditional observances. The most out-
spoken and the fiercest rebels against the Eng-
lish power whom I met in India were women.
The two I remember best were, one the wife of
a prominent Maharaja, and the other the sis-
ter of a distinguished Muhammadan. They were


ready to take any measures to rid India of Brit-
ish rule. So, too, the Kshattriyas, or Rajputs,
are divided into some six hundred tribes in differ-
ent parts of India. The authorities say that it
is impossible to number all the castes in India.
They number thousands at least.

\Mien it is remembered that the members of
these different castes cannot intermarry, cannot
eat together, and that as a rule no Hindu of good
caste may eat food prepared by a man of inferior
caste, and that much the same rule obtains in
regard to the drinking of water, one begins to un-
derstand dimly the difficulties inherent in any
dealings with these people, whether for hygienic,
social, or military purposes. Verily, their ways
are not as our ways. Even at the railway sta-
tions in some parts of India you see notices
posted: "Water for Hindus." "Water for Mu-

Just as one example, imagine the difficulty
of helpfulness to one another when the neglected
and the help-needing person may be one whom
to touch, or to come in contact with in any way,
is a social and religious degradation, imperilling
not only one's social position, but one's salvation.
The enlightened ruler of Baroda, His Highness,
the Gaekwar, calls these people the "Untoucha-
bles," a very happy description of them, and he


estimates their numbers at six million, or a fifth
of the population. He, a Hindu of the Maratha
branch himself, says: "The system which divides
us into innumerable castes, claiming to rise by
minutely graduated steps from the Pariah to the
Brahman, is a whole tissue of injustice, split-
ting men equal by nature into divisions high and
low, based not on the natural standard of per-
sonal qualities, but on the accident of birth.
The eternal struggle between caste and caste for
social superiority has become a source of con-
stant ill-feeling in these days. The human de-
sire to help the members of one's caste also leads
to nepotism, heart-burnings, and consequent mu-
tual distrust."

The polluting power of a cat, as an example
of the intricacies of this subject of caste, is small,
of a dog greater, but nothing equals the pol-
lution of a Pariah. Man, in this connection, is
degraded below the beasts. Such people are de-
nied the advantages of social sympathy and in-
dustrial aid. They are denied all influence for
good, arising out of free intercourse with their
neighbors. The full and free use of hospitals,
of public inns, public conveyances, wells, and
even temples, is withheld from them. They are
even refused the opportunities of earning a liv-
ing. Menial service even is denied them, as they


cannot touch the food or enter the houses of the
higher castes.

My friend, the iNIaharaja Gaekwar of Baroda,
is possibly the most outspoken prince in India,
so I quote another saying of his, that my readers
may know something of his poHtical and social
views: "I can quite understand the difficulty in-
volved in giving up one's inherited ideals of
thought and custom, especially in conservative
India. If the Indian people wish to progress,
and to make the most of their national influence,
they must consciously give up these old false
ideals and open their eyes to the light of prog-
ress, in which not one class or many classes, but
all shall share. Men are asking for a constitu-
tion, by which they may limit the powers of
princes and governments; they neglect to limit
the tyrannical and despotic sway of religion,
which is crushing the life out of our people by
driving out of them all sense of personal pride,
all individuality and ambition. There is no
room in the world of to-day for such priests as are
little gods with an exaggerated idea of their own
importance, insisting upon their infallibility, con-
tent with ignorance, contemptuous of knowledge.
Priests of this kind are a drag on the wheels of
progress. Instead of ministering to the people
they are their bad angels."


Sir Harry Johnston, who at least cannot be ac-
cused of not knowing India, writes: "The one
hundred and sixty-two million Hindu men and
women and children follow for the most part
wholly imreasonal)le forms of religion, quite in-
compatible with modern ideas of physical devel-
opment, social progress, sanitation, avoidance
of cruelty, and unrestricted intercourse with one's
fellows-men." To this he adds: "If all forms
of the Hindu religion — Brahmanism — could be
submitted to an impartial world-congress of non-
Hindus, the members of which were selected from
all parts of non-Hindu Asia, from America, Eu-
rope, and Africa, the Hindu religion would be
universally condemned as a mixture of night-
mare nonsense and time-wasting rubbish, ful-
filling no useful end whatever, only adding to
the general burden borne by humanity in its
struggle for existence. And, of course, so long
as two hundred million Indians remain attached
to these preposterous faiths, with their absurd
and useless ceremonials and food taboos, so long
— if for that reason alone — will the British be
justified in ruling the Indian Empire with some
degree of absolutism."

In this connection, one should remember that
of the fifty-five million adult Muhammadans,
about seventy-five per cent can read and write


in Hindustani, and some ten per cent are ac-
quainted with English; while of the one hun-
dred and sixty-two million Hindus only twenty
per cent of the adult males can read and write
in the vernacular, and only three per cent are
acquainted with English.

It is somewhat disconcerting to an observer
and student of Indian affairs, therefore, to find
that it is from the Hindu element and largely
from the Brahman caste that the murderers,
bomb-throwers, seditious editors of the vernac-
ular press, and the men who shoot down the
English oflBcials on platforms and in theatres are
drawn. It can only mean that the great Brah-
man caste, which for centuries have been the
social and political leaders of these timid and
ignorant masses, are jealous of the English au-
thority. Instead of aiding in all efforts to im-
prove the sanitation, in all efforts to protect the
peasant from the money-lender, in all schemes
for irrigation and education, the Brahman is the
leader of the reactionist party. He prefers, ap-
parently, that the mass of the people should re-
main ignorant, debased, diseased, and helpless,
as his position is magnified by just the w^idtli of
the social chasm between himself and them. He
both hates the English and despises his own peo-
ple. He and his people have been the victims of


the Turk, the Tartar, the Mongol, who, times
without number, have swept through the Afghan
passes, and robbed, slaughtered, and deflowered,
but he has always heretofore reappeared as the
religious, social, and political lord of these poor
people. He would rather have chaos again than
see his acknowledged superiority slip away from
him, through the uplifting of the masses, slow
though the process be, by the English rulers.

There are numbers of sympathizers with the
so-called Indian patriots in America, who con-
tribute to their funds and to their excitement.
They should realize that it is the Brahman agi-
tator they are backing, and they should take
some pains to assure themselves that they are not
putting their money on the wrong horse. It is
well enough to sympathize with, I will go farther
and say, and to help any body of men suffering
from the tyranny of injustice and brutality,
whether at home or abroad. Though we have
many such down-trodden people in America
needing attention, it is perhaps excusable in cer-
tain temperaments to prefer the excitement of
participation in revolutions abroad, where at any
rate their own skins may remain whole, whatever
happens. But this attempt of the Brahman agi-
tators to oust the British, or at all events to gain
more offices, more authority, and more power for


themselves, is an effort to replace British control
by the rule of the Brahman, which represents the
most tyrannical, the most un-American, and the
most revolting social, religious, and political
autocracy the world has ever seen. How any
American, whatever his ideals or his sympathies,
can lend his influence in support of a movement
to increase the power of the Brahman caste in
India, politically or otherwise, can only be ex-
plained on two grounds : he is either maliciously
mischievous, or he is ignorant. If one were to
search the world to find ideals utterly unlike, and
destructive of American ideals of government, of
religious liberty, and of social freedom, he could
find them nowhere better than in Brahmanism.
The Brahman has never been a fighting-man;
he has fattened upon superstition, and conse-
quently has aided it, and continues to encour-
age it to the utmost, and holds, consequently,
the strange position in India of being a sedi-
tionist as against the English and a reactionary
as against his own people. There is a harsher
word than I care to use for this type of citizen,
but whatever he may be, he is distinctly a
stumbling-block in the present situation. Men
who ask for larger representation in the govern-
ment, knowing full well that they alone are suf-
ficiently educated to profit by it, and who are


inciting the weak-minded to assassinate, and the
ignorant to balk, the alien reformers, are difficult
to deal with, especially when one hears on every
side from disinterested natives that they tremble
at the idea of their future magistrates, having
as much concern with the increase of their sal-
ary as with their caste elevation, and who say:
"It would be treason to humanity to place us
by force of British bayonets under the yoke of
those whose flesh creeps on their bones when
they hear of war." I quote from a Rajput noble
of Oudh.

We have only to picture to ourselves the Pres-
byterians, the Methodists, the Catholics, the
Episcopalians, and the railway employees, the
shop-keepers, the clerks, the barbers, the butch-
ers, the money-lenders, and the lowest class of
laborers, say in Utica, N. Y., divided into sects
and sub-sects, not permitted to intermarry, to eat
together or to touch food cooked one for the
other, to get an idea of the helpless chaos so far
as any effective work or progress as a community
is concerned. And this is by no means an ex-
aggerated picture of thousands of communities
all over India. On the contrary, it is but a
very rough sketch of communities far more mi-
nutely subdivided and far more intricately dis-


This system of caste, which, by the way, is
the great stumbHng-block in the way of native
reformers, whether revolutionary or otherwise, is
not limited to social and religious matters, but
permeates even the industries of the people, since
each caste is also, in a way, a sort of trade-guild.
It makes law^s and rules for the different trades,
and even goes so far as to promote and support

This is but a passing and superficial state-
ment of a most intricate, and to the Western mind
most incomprehensible, social and religious con-
dition. I mention it not as an indication of eru-
dition, nor as an attempt to explain or to make
clear what years of study and experience would
hardly compass, but to give an example of one
of the most difficult problems facing the Eng-
lish administrators of this huge continent.

It is easy to see that the visible ruler is soon,
and surely, held responsible for everything that
goes wrong. The English government has in-
troduced authority which insists upon standing
absolutely aloof, as it must, from all interfer-
ence in religious matters. But here, as we have
seen, the religious life begins w^ith the brush-
ing of the teeth in the morning, and thoroughly
permeates the hourly life of the people, their
eating, drinking, marrying, and dying. There


are new and strange desires, there are distress
and discontent among the peasants, there is a
rearrangement of classes, there is the ignoring of
caste, as in the railway trains, where all must of
necessity be treated alike.

Fancy the New York Central Railway at-
tempting to cater to the prejudices of Catholics
and Unitarians, Vegetarians and Christian Scien-
tists, New York hoodlums and Brahmans from
Boston, and when I say that such a problem
is easy as compared to this problem of caste
in India, I tell even less than the bare truth.
The government is, of course, blamed for
this by the ignorant. The sages and teach-
ers of the Hindus have been preaching for cen-
turies asceticism as an escape from the distresses
and wearisome problems of life. Now comes a
spirit of progress, rejoicing in and lauding ma-
terial possessions, comfort, and the prolongation
of life. Life is to be a struggle to overcome the
impediments, whether physical or climatic, to
an agreeable existence even in India. Men are
pushed forward to live, and to live as comforta-
bly as possible, who heretofore have been taught
that the heights of human perfection are reached
only by those who live most simply, who ignore
most completely the material side of life, and
who quit most speedily this tenement for another.


The Brahman looked forward to absorption in
Brahma, the Buddhist to Nirvana, or absolute
loss of consciousness, so far as the material world
is concerned.

There was a thick-headed citizen of Mar-
seilles who was known to have little enthusiasm
for the church, but who was none the less a fre-
quent attendant at mass. When asked why he
attended mass, he replied: "Oh, j'attends que
9a soit fini!" There are millions in India who
have that hopeless, helpless air. Then* whole
physical and mental attitude seems to say: "Oh,
nous attendons que 9a soit fini!" Into this state
of mind, into this situation, the Englishman in-
troduces the wedge of Western civilization. Rail-
ways, telegraph wires, canals, hospitals, dispen-
saries, police, justice without bribery, and the
cheery Englishman himself, playing, shooting,
making himself comfortable, doing his duty, and
hoping and believing in, not only to-morrow, but
the day after to-morrows "You need not die if
you don't want to !" this Western civilization says
to three hundred million people who have seen lit-
tle in life but to die; who look upon disease and dis-
aster, famine and plague, as visitations of God;
who, some of them, have held it blasphemy to
try to cure a small-pox patient, because it must
be a very powerful god who could produce such


an awful disease. In this connection it is fair
to remind readers that even the English were
frightened when vaccination was first intro-
duced, and the more ignorant expressed the fear,
that the race might become minotaurs: semi-
bovemque viruvi, semivirumque hovem. England
comes blandly ignoring these gods, smilingly sure
that life is worth living, and ready to spend an
immense amount of energy in giving to life,
what every Englishman all over the world be-
lieves to be the only proper setting for such a
jewel — comfort! England comes offering prizes
to those who win material prosperity, and these
people have not merely been taught, but have
had it ground into them for centuries, that ma-
terial possessions are merely the hampering bag-
gage of spirits, which should be always on the
alert to escape to another place.

India, for all these centuries, has had no stand-
ards but those of birth, blood, caste, and the
personal power of conquest. Poverty was no
disgrace; on the contrary, the religious beggar,
the Brahman, the Buddhist priest, however poor,
was a person of dignity, looked up to, and rever-
enced, because he had stripped himself of every
form of wealth. Now India is being inoculated
with the economic lymph of the West. They
see men treated with respect, and placed in dig-


nified positions, partly at least because they are
rich. It is hard, for an American particularly,
to understand what a tremendous change this
marks for India. What a man accumulates and
holds counts. This is new to India. This situa-
tion adds measurably to the existing discontent
of an ever-increasing number, who measuring
themselves by this entirely new standard find in-
equalities they equally dislike and do not un-

They are beginning to wonder if one may
not at the same time be holy and rich. It is
easier to be good than to be rich and vulgar,
they see evidences of this, but many, none the
less, are being influenced to prefer the latter.

Their own miseries were not enough. They
have now this new source of discontent, the poi-
son of the West; the standard of money! The
social and even political tyranny of the irrespon-
sible rich is yet to be their portion, and their po-
tion, and it will prove more unpalatable to them
than any that has yet been forced upon them.
They must go through all this, and then, alas!
learn all over again that comfort is not prosper-
ity, that luxury is not culture, and that a mind
besmeared with odds and ends of learning is not
education. Even England and America are only
just beginning to see this.


So far as the masses of India are concerned,
they still preserve and adhere to their centuries-
old polytheism, they worship innumerable gods;
the class slightly above them still worship the
gods of the Hindu pantheon as manifestations
of divinity which is everywhere, in short, they
are Pantheists; while the students, and teachers,
and intellectuals of the higher castes are weav-
ing and unravelling the fine theological threads
which were doing duty for the scholars' exercises
of the fourth century and the school-men of the
Middle Ages. Mr. K. G. Gupta, writing of
orthodox Hinduism, says, "It is mainly and
substantially idolatrous; and image-worship, in
which anthropomorphism plays an important
part, is its principal feature. It has many cults,
many sects, each having its special gods and god-
desses, but all combine to venerate the entire
Hindu pantheon. The worship of a certain
deity representing the active female principle of
the universe is never complete without the shed-
ding of blood, and she has even to plead guilty
to a hankering for human sacrifice." There is
more than one example, even of late years, where
this goddess has been offered human sacrifices
by her ignorant worshippers.

If there were no problems of taxation, of hy-
giene and sanitation, of education, of adminis-


tration, of safeguarding the country within and
from without against sedition and attack, to cure
this disease of the religious and social skin, within
which these people move and have their preju-
dices, were surely a task of momentous difficulty
in and of itself. Fortunately for the problem, and
probably for themselves, this hard-playing, unan-
alyzing, governing race of Englishmen, with un-

Online LibraryPrice CollierThe West in the East from an American point of view → online text (page 12 of 29)