Sitanath Tattvabhushan.

The philosophy of Brahmaism, expounded with reference to its history : lectures delivered before the Theological Society, Calcutta, in 1906-1907 online

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we cannot say by what steps the Raja came to
occupy the standpoint as regards the higher Hind a
scriptures in which we find him in his writings, as
to the Maharshi we know the time when he had no
acquaintance with these scriptures, the time when
he had studied them only superficially and was carried
away by what seemed to him their excellences, ar$
again the time when, having studied them thorough-
ly, he discovered what seemed to him grave defects
in them and checked and modified his admiration
for them. We find, in his own history and the his-
tory of the Brahma Samaj contemporaneous with his,
how the Samaj itself changed with his personal
changes. We must notice some of these changes in
order to understand the Brahmaism represented by
him. It is evident from the Maharshi's Autobiogra-
phy that his belief in Theism preceded his study of
the 'Hindu scriptures and his acquaintance with


the Baj4's works. It was his own intuitions and
reflections that revealed God to him. The English
education that he had received must have had its
due influence on his mind, but as to the particular
Authors, if any, who influenced his thought, we know
nothing. He seems to have already formed a clear
conception of man's relation to God and of God's
attributes at the time he came across the Upanishads ;
for it was their confirmation of his cherished
convictions that, as he tells us, overjoyed him at
this stage of his life. When this was so, it is
somewhat unintelligible how, throughout a definite
period of his life, he accepted these writings as
the authoritative basis of religious faith and how,
when his faith in them as such was shaken
by the discovery of errors in them, he felt quite
at sea as to the grounds of Brahmicfaith. Again,
it seems to me rather strange that, though he
had, as he tells us,, gone through the eleven
principal UpnnitJi'tds before the return of the
four pandits from Benares, he had not yet discovered
in them those objectionable, features which latterly
struck him and the discovery of which led him to
reject the authority of the Upanishads. The features
spoken of, specially the doctrine of the unity of the
Divine and the human spirit, are nowhere absent in
the Upnnishnds, und in the Chhdndogya and the
Brihatliranyaka, they are most prominent, the former
repeating the monistic Mah''i-wiky<i, ' Tat tvam asi*
(' Thou art that ') not fewer than seven times in
the same chapter. I cannot, therefore, resist the


conclusion that during the period in which the Mahar-
shi believed and taught the doctrine that the Upani-
shads were the authoritative basis of the religion of
the Brahma Samaj, his study of these writings was
most superficial and perhaps even desultory con-
fined to portions selected by his teachers. How-
ever, it was during this period of his belief iu the
Vedanta as the basis of Brahmaism that the Mahar-
shi took an important step the first step towards
changing the Brahma Samaj from a mere Prayer
Meeting into a Church and a Society. He established
what he himself calls in his Autobiography the
Brahmic Covenant, but what others have more
correctly called the Vedantic Covenant, for when it
was established, the authority of the Vedanta had
not been rejected and the term ' Brahmaism ' or
' Brahma Dharma ' had not come into use. Babu
Rajnarayan Vasu said, in an article in the monthly
journal Ddsi (now defunct), t^hat where ' Brahma
Dharma ' stands now, there stood then the phrase
" Vcd&nta-pratipddya satyadharma " ''the true reli-
gion taught by the Vedartfa). The Maharshi's reli-
gion, then, in this period of his life, was, as appears
from what followed later on, Dualistic Theism,
coupled with the belief that the Upanishads taught
this form of Theism and were the authoritative basis
of theistic belief and worship. Really, as I have
already said, it was Intuition and Reason that lay at
the basis of his Theism, but either from an absence
in him of the power of close introspection or from a
feeling of modesty and diffidence arising from his


youth, added to an imperfect acquaintance with
what the Upunishads really taught, he did not see
and did not declare the real basis of his faith. The
change, the. discover} 7 of the real basis of his faith,
came, however, when the return of the four Vedic
students from Benares afforded him an opportunity
for a thorough study of the Upunishads and the
earlier portions of the Vedas. But the negative
discovery that the Upqniihada were not the real
basis of Brahmic faith was not immediately followed
by the positive discovery of the real basis. A period
of suspense and uncertainty intervened. And then it

found out that the true basis of Brahmaism was
Intuition, a real or supposed power of the mind to
know directly the fundamental principles of religion,
God, Immortality and Duty. What the doctrine of
Intuition as taught by the Maharshi and the Brah-
mananda is, and how far, if at all, it is true, I
shall discuss later 09. Here I must add a few
emarks to those I have already made as regards
the rejection of the Upanishads as the basis of
Bnihniaism. It seems to me that even when the
fallibility of the Upanishads had been found out,
might yet continue to be regarded as, in
a sense, the basi* of Brahmaism, in the sense
of Briihmjc literature, more or less imperfect
statements of the Brihmic faith. The works of
tho M;ih irshi are, we know, fallible, containing

we consider to be errors here and there*

ct deprive thf-m of the right of V>eing

M Jlrahmic literature, as more or less

\ '


imperfect and tentative statements of Brahmic
principles ? The basis of a religion may either be
philosophical or historical. No books as such can
be the philosophical basis of a religion. But any
book containing statements of the fundamental
principles of the religion may be called its basis in a
historical sense. I therefore hold that the Upani-
shads, though they contain some errors, are, in as
much as they are statements of the fundamental
principles of Brahmaism, Brahmic literature or the
historical basis of Brahmaism in the same sense as
the works of the Raja, the Brahmananda and the
later exponents of Brahmaism are so, making due
allowance, of course, for the change of thought
effected by the progress of scientific knowledge. I
believe that the ancient Hindu Theists and even
several mediaeval followers of the Vedanta looked
upon the scriptures as authoritative works in no
other sense than this. But $he Maharshi did not
see all this. His view of scriptural authority was
influenced by the idea, more Christian than Hindu,
that a scripture, to be real scripture, must be infalli-
ble. So, as soon as the fallibility of the Upanishads
was discovered by him, they ceased to be scriptures
for his ideal church. But, though discarding the
UpanisJiads as scriptures, he could not altogether
dismiss from his mind the idea that an authoritative
scripture is needed as a guide and basis of unity for
a church. He could not, it seems, fully trust that
the inner light that had revealed the truth to him
;and revealed also the fallibility of the Upanisliads,


would be a safe guide for the church. He, therefore,
proceeded to supply the place vacated by the Upani-
shads, and he did so by his annotated selections from
the Upunishads and the iSmritis, entitled ' Brahma
Itharma.' Those who carefully read what he says
on the claims of this book on the reverence of Brah-
mas, can scarcely doubt that in his estimation it is a
virtually infallible scripture for Brahmas. However,
I shall leave this part of my subject with only one
more remark on the discarding of the Upanishads as
the historical basis of Brahmaism. Perhaps the
Maharshi thought, as others have thought after him
that the Upanishads contained not only errors, but
fundamental errors, that such doctrines as the unity
of God and man, nirvdn jnukti and re-incarnation
were opposed to the fundamental principles of
Brahmaism as conceived by him, and that, therefore,
they could not be accepted by him as the basis of
Brahmaism even in a historical sense. If so, I have
nothing more to say than that those who think so
have no right to call their religion Hinduism in any
but a most superficial sense* Those who reject, as
opposed to their fundamental conceptions, the scrip-
tures recognised by all sects of Hindus as their
highest, had better leave that fondness for the Hindu
name and.that eagerness to be recognised as Hindu in
religion which characterised the Maharshi throughout
his life, and still characterise his immediate followers.

However, as already mentioned, the Mahryrshi's
faith now changed into Intuitional Dualistic Theism,


represented in substance by the Brahma Dliarma,
Blja, which he now drew up as the basis of unity for
Brahmas. He had already remodelled, according
to his own idea of Brahmaism, the form of worship
introduced by Raj;i Rainmohan Kay. He had
purged the stotra from the AJahdnirvdn Tantra of its
monistic elements and enriched the liturgy by
successive additions of texts from the Upanishads
and the Sanhitds till it took its present form. This
liturgy, though it is not used by the Progressive
sections of the Brahma Sarnaj, is really the basis of
their forms of worship. The combination of texts
showing the attributes of God was specially a most
important step, leading to great developments in the
devotional life of the Brahma Sarnaj. In the Adi
Brahma Sarnaj liturgy, indeed, these texts are left
with only a very scanty exposition. But the Mahar-
shi, both by his own intensely meditative habits
and his rich expositions of hese texts in his dis-
courses, taught the Brahmas how to use them in
private devotions and also how a more living form
of public worship than $he Adi Saniaj one could be
developed from it. For any regular system of
spiritual culture, however, we seek in vain in the
Maharshi's writings and discourses and I have
always felt an unsatisfied curiosity about the methods
and disciplines by which that great soul rose to that
dizzy height of communion with the Supreme
Spirit which appears dimly, though unmistakably,
even ^to our unenlightened eyes, in his invaluable


Reserving for a subsequent part of this lecture
a detailed notice of the Philosophy of Intuition
which the Maharshi, in close association with
Brahmananda Kesavchandra Sen, gave to the
Brahma Samaj, I now come to notice his scheme of
social reform. The country will ever remain deeply
grateful to him for conceiving and carrying into
practice the idea that a Theist cannot, without
morally degrading himself, practise idolatry or any
other ceremonial worship of gods and goddesses.
The association of the most refined form of Theism
with the grossest forms of polytheism and idolatry
h'ad gone on in the country for centuries. It was
reserved for the second great leader of the Brahma
Samaj to sever this unholy connection, to arouse
the dormant conscience of the country and lay the
foundation of a reformed, unidolatrous Hindu com-
munity. It was the Maharshi who performed the
first two Bnihmic Aiquthdn* or domestic rites ever
Celebrated in the country and thereby became the
progenitor of generations of truly Theistic reformers.
He banished polytheism and idolatry once for all
from the reformed society he thus founded. And
he proceeded further. As soon as he felt though
the inspiration in this case came from another
source that a Brahma, a disbeliever in caste, should
not wear any badge of caste, he threw away his
sacrificial thread and never again wore it himself.
He had already given up caste-restrictions as to
eating and drinking, freely eating and drinking with
non-Brahmanas in public dinners. It now seemed


as if he was going to abolish caste altogether, in all
its varied forms, from his society. Besides discard-
ing his own thread and discontinuing giving threads
to the other members of his family when going
through the ceremony of upanayan or presentation
to a spiritual teacher, he went so far with the
younger and more ardent spirits of his church from
whom the inspiration in this matter really came as
to appoint a non-Brahmana in the person of the
Brahmananda to the ministry of the Samaj and to
dismiss Brahrnanas wearing threads from the
ministry, thereby declaring that those who supported
caste in any shape fell short of the true ideal of
Brahmaship and were unfit for the Brahma Samaj
ministry. But the fact is, as was proved by
subsequent events, that in this matter of abolishing
caste, the Maharshi had overstepped the real growth
of his mind, and the consequence was that he
receded. It does not fall within the scope of this
lecture to tell the history of this recession. All the
steps of this backsliding, the reinstatement of the
dismissed thread-wearing Brahrnanas to the Samaj
ministry, the acceptance of the resignation of the
ministers belonging to the reform party, the non-
appointment of any other non-Brahmana to the
Adi Samaj ministry, the re-introduction of ,the thread
into the upanayan ceremony, the interdiction of
intercaste marriages in the Adi Brahma Samaj,
all these go to prove that the Maharshi never really
outgrew the caste notions, at any rate the caste
feeling, prevalent in the country, and that, in


common with the caste-ridden Theists of Mediaeval
times, he believed the Brahmanas to be a privileged
community whose sanctity should not be desecrated
by marital unions with other castes, or even by
partnership in the ministry of religion with non-
Brahmanas. But it must be noticed that the
Maharshi has never put forward any public defence,
oral or written, of his opinion on this subject. On
the contrary, the rather awkward manner in which
he has dealt with thorough-going reformers in this

ter has seemed to show as if he was half-ashamed
of his back-sliding and was conscious that he was
going against a strong and irresistible tide of pro-
gress. It must also be mentioned in justice to him
that he has shown himself in favour of the re-union of
the various sub-divisions of the Brahmana caste. He
has contracted marriage relations in his family not
only with high-class Brahmanas of other sub-divisions
than his own, but even with those who are called
Yarna-Brahmanas, the priests of the lower classes,

t'orrn which seems in one respect to be even
more radical than the marriage of high-caste
Brahmanas and high-caste non-Brahmanas.

I now come to the time of our third great leader,

nn uiiuida Kesavchandra Sen. His mental his-

es with tlu> Mabarshi's in respect of being

rised by great changes, even greater and

o frequent changes than those experienced by the

Maharshi, and in that of his coming to his tlu-istic

faith by the help of his own intuitions and reflections ;



but he was fortunate in arriving directly at the Intui-
tional Dualistic Theism which he held in common
with the Maharshi in his early life without going
through the semi-Vedantic stage of the latter's
history. When Mr. Sen joined the Brahma Samaj,
the second and final form of the Maharshi's creed had
been already formulated, and the former only helped
in developing the philosophy of Intuition, the sub-
stance of which the Maharshi had already conceived.
The writers of Mr. Sen's Bengali biography claim
that he made a substantial addition to the Maharshi's
theory of Intuition. The latter had taught that a belief
in God and other fundamental religious truths is due
to Atmapratyaya or Intuition. Brahmananda added,
" Yes, we really do so, but before believing in them
through Intuition we know them through Common
Sense or sahaj jndn, our innate power of knowing
things, both earthly and heavenly, without the
intervention of reasoning." ^ The writers of the book
named assert that the Maharshi accepted this addi-
tion to his philosophy and accordingly changed his
previous statement of o the doctrine in the Brahma
Dharma Grantha. They prove this by comparing
the edition of the book published before Mr. Sen's
joining the Brahma Samaj with another published
after he had joined it. I need not and do not ques-
tion the claim put forward in favour of Mr. Sen by his
biographers. What I wish to point out is that his
amendment of the theory does not substantially add
to it. The only change is that while in the first form
Intuition used to be called pratynya, belief, in the


second form it came to be called jndn, knowledge.
Knowledge is indeed higher than belief; but a
phenomenon claiming to be knowledge, and not mere
belief, can be accepted as knowledge only if it can stand
the tests of true knowledge. Now, as to the question
of tests, the theory of Intuition or Common Sense in
both the forms mentioned above stands on the same
footing. Both the forms have the same strength or
the same weakness, by whatever name we may call
their common characteristic. That common charac-
teristic is that intuitive truths or the principles of
common sense are claimed to be universal and

-istible, but their universality and irresistibility
are not shown by any philosophical analysis of know-
ledge, such as the students of higher inataphysics are
familiar with. When the universality and irresisti-
bility of the higher truths of religion are denied by

e numbers of both sceptics and believers, they can
be placed on a sound basis only, if at all, by such close
amd searching analysis. But neither Maharshi nor

hmananda displayed any great power of philoso-
phical analysis even in their best days. Babus
K:ijn;ir;iv:in Vasu and Dvijendranath Thakur showed
somewhat better powers of analysis in their writings ;
but their philosophical writings seem to have made
little impression on the members of the Brdhma
Samaj. Their theories of Intuition being substan-
tially at on- with UK; theory of the two great leaders,
th'-ir special contributions to the philosophy of
;re not much attended to. However, I
purpose to do greater justice to tin. in than is implied


in this bare mention of their work, in a subsequent
lecture, in which the theory of Intuition will be made
the subject of more detailed exposition and examina-
tion than is possible h- Bo iice it to say here,
that the theory of Intuition, as taught by these four
Brahma thinkers, received no embellishment or c
lopment at the hands of subsequent writers, even of
such an able writer as the Reverend Babu Pratap-
chandra Mazumdar, till it was materially changed,
changed almost to non-recognition, by writers be-
longing to the Sadharan Brahma Samaj. Be:
however, I leave this stage - theology, I

may as well point out his intellectual affinity with
some of the schools of European philosophy. For
all that he wrote and spoke about this time on the
philosophical basis of religion, he seems to have been
mostly indebted to Reid and Hamilton, the most pro-
minent writers of whaB^js called the Scot - 1 of
Philosophy. He was also an admirer of Victor
Cousin, the French philosopher. Of Hamilton iie
spoke as " that unrivalled thinker.' 7 This seems
rather strange, as Hamilton is really the father of
modern English Agnosticism. I cannot r
conclusion that Mr. Sen was not a thorough
student of Hamilton. He seems to have been cap-
ped by the philosopher's theory of percep:
according to which we have a direct, presentative
knowledge of Reality. This theory . er, is of

no use to religion ; but Mr. Sen seems to have con-
rd his theory of man's direct knowledge of God
somewhat after its fashion. But nothing like.


satisfy a soul hankering after philosophical truth
nothing capable of standing a searching criticism,
was erupted eith ' r. Sen or his imme-

diate predecessors or immediate successors. And it
may be added that neither his nor their proper work
suffered anything for not attempting that task. It
was the childhood of the Brahma Samaj. It was
the age, not of philosophical doubt and criticism, but
of easy, trustful faith and spiritual hankering. The
critical spirit was awakened just enough to question
the authority of accredited scriptnreE and prophets ;
and by showing that the acceptance of scriptures and
prophets as from God itself implied a previous know-
ledge of the first principles of religion, and that this
knowledge could not but be direct, untaught by man
the thinkers of the period gave spiritually-disposed
people a resting place in natural religion a religion
based on natural revelation. People gladly accepted
the idea, of such a revelation, though they did not
trouble themselves about its precise nature and

I now invite your attention to the second stage
of Mr. Sen's theology, the stage occupied by the
years immediately following his separation from the
Adi Brahma ^arnaj and immediately preceding the
declaration of the New Dispensation. In this period
Mr. Sen formulated a number of doctrines which
differentiated more and more, as time passed, hi?
:a the simple Br&hmaism of the
Adi Brahma Samaj and which still continue to divide


the Brahma Samaj into two bodies of believers, to
whichever section of the Samaj they may belong
to divide them into those who still stick to the simple
creed of the Adi Brahma Samaj and those who accept,
under various forms it may be, Mr. Sen's more
elaborate creed. These doctrines are those of Great
Men, Inspiration, Special Dispensation, Yoga, Bhakti
and Vairdgya. To briefly define these doctrines,
the theory of Great Men teaches that there are some
men, such as Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, Chaita-
nya, etc., whose lives and teachings are special
revelations from God and should be made the subject
of special study and sddhan. The doctrine of In-
spiration teaches that, besides God's general revela-
tion of truth through our Intuition and Eeason, he
reveals his will to us on special occasions and in a
special manner. According to the doctrine of Special
Dispensation, the chief systems of historical religion
are due to direct Divin*e agency, which works
through chosen bodies of men claiming special
reverence from us. Yoga means direct communion
with God, seeing, hearing and touching him with
our souls and living in constant union with him.
Bhakti means rapt and fervent love of God, leading
the devotee to such manifestations of feeling as
laughing, crying and dancing, and to humbling
himself to all lovers of God. Vairdgya means absence
of attachment to earthly things and living a simple
and ascetic life. These doctrines aroused great
opposition among the adherents of the Adi Brahma
Samaj and also among a large body of men who


belonged to Mr. Sen's own church, the Brahma
Samaj of India. There is, indeed, a rational interpre-
tation of these doctrines which might be made
acceptable to these oppositionists, and it may be said
that some of Mr. Sen's opponents recognised the
underlying truth of the doctrines. But the form in
which he taught them, or, at any rate, the way in
which his opponents understood him, made opposi-
tion on their part inevitable. In the first stage of
his public life, Mr. Sen had, to a certain extent,
appealed to the intellect of his auditors, had taken
some care to convince them. But in his second
stage, he grew more and more dogmatic and prophetic
as years passed on and failed to reach the intellect
of the more critical even among his own friends and
followers. It happened, therefore, that, even before
tli;- Kuchbehar Marriage, a tolerably large body of
Brahmas had been formed in the Brahma Samaj of
India for whom Mr. Sen's leadership had more or
-ome to an end. Those who have closely studied
the history of the Brahma Sarnaj know that this fact
made the establishment of the Sadharan Brahma
ij much easier than it would have been otherv

However, I now come to the third and last stage

of Mr. s. n's theological development, the stage

i>y the formulation of the New Dispen-

the ' New I ition ' I understand

Mi ican the doctrines I have just noticed,

rites and ceremonies introduced

by him with the purpose of assimilating the truths


of previous dispensations, i.e., the principal systems
of religion chronologically preceding the advent of
Brahmaism. Necessarily, Mr. Sen being the first
preacher of the system, he is the central figure in it,
and the system is more or less identified with his

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Online LibrarySitanath TattvabhushanThe philosophy of Brahmaism, expounded with reference to its history : lectures delivered before the Theological Society, Calcutta, in 1906-1907 → online text (page 2 of 23)