Sacred Books of the East online

. (page 14 of 42)
Online LibraryVariousSacred Books of the East → online text (page 14 of 42)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

speech he obtains all names. The nose gives up to him all odors, so that
by scent he obtains all odors. The eye gives up to him all forms, so
that by the eye he obtains all forms. The ear gives up to him all
sounds, so that by the ear he obtains all sounds. The mind gives up to
him all thoughts, so that by the mind he obtains all thoughts. This is
the complete absorption in prâna. And what is prâna is pragñâ, or
self-consciousness; what is pragñâ, is prâna. For together do these two
live in the body, and together do they depart.

"Now we shall explain how all things become one in that
self-consciousness. Speech is one portion taken out of pragñâ, or
self-conscious knowledge: the word is its object, placed outside. The
nose is one portion taken out of it, the odor is its object, placed
outside. The eye is one portion taken out of it, the form is its object,
placed outside. The ear is one portion taken out of it, the sound is its
object, placed outside. The tongue is one portion taken out of it, the
taste of food is its object, placed outside. The two hands are one
portion taken out of it, their action is their object, placed outside.
The body is one portion taken out of it, its pleasure and pain are its
object, placed outside. The organ is one portion taken out of it,
happiness, joy, and offspring are its object, placed outside. The two
feet are one portion taken out of it, movements are their object, placed
outside. Mind is one portion taken out of it, thoughts and desires are
its object, placed outside.

"Having by self-conscious knowledge taken possession of speech, he
obtains by speech all words. Having taken possession of the nose, he
obtains all odors. Having taken possession of the eye, he obtains all
forms. Having taken possession of the ear, he obtains all sounds. Having
taken possession of the tongue, he obtains all tastes of food. Having
taken possession of the two hands, he obtains all actions. Having taken
possession of the body, he obtains pleasure and pain. Having taken
possession of the organ, he obtains happiness, joy, and offspring.
Having taken possession of the two feet, he obtains all movements.
Having taken possession of mind, he obtains all thoughts.

"For without self-consciousness speech does not make known to the self
any word.[20] 'My mind was absent,' he says, 'I did not perceive that
word.' Without self-consciousness the nose does not make known any odor.
'My mind was absent,' he says, 'I did not perceive that odor.' Without
self-consciousness the eye does not make known any form. 'My mind was
absent,' he says, 'I did not perceive that form.' Without
self-consciousness the ear does not make known any sound. 'My mind was
absent,' he says, 'I did not perceive that sound.' Without
self-consciousness the tongue does not make known any taste. 'My mind
was absent,' he says, 'I did not perceive that taste.' Without
self-consciousness the two hands do not make known any act. 'Our mind
was absent,' they say, 'we did not perceive any act.' Without
self-consciousness the body does not make known pleasure or pain. 'My
mind was absent,' he says, 'I did not perceive that pleasure or pain.'
Without self-consciousness the organ does not make known happiness, joy,
or offspring. 'My mind was absent,' he says, 'I did not perceive that
happiness, joy, or offspring.' Without self-consciousness the two feet
do not make known any movement. 'Our mind was absent,' they say, 'we did
not perceive that movement.' Without self-consciousness no thought
succeeds, nothing can be known that is to be known.

"Let no man try to find out what speech is, let him know the speaker.
Let no man try to find out what odor is, let him know him who smells.
Let no man try to find out what form is, let him know the seer. Let no
man try to find out what sound is, let him know the hearer. Let no man
try to find out the tastes of food, let him know the knower of tastes.
Let no man try to find out what action is, let him know the agent. Let
no man try to find out what pleasure and pain are, let him know the
knower of pleasure and pain. Let no man try to find out what happiness,
joy, and offspring are, let him knew the knower of happiness, joy, and
offspring. Let no man try to find out what movement is, let him know the
mover. Let no man try to find out what mind is, let him know the
thinker. These ten objects (what is spoken, smelled, seen, felt) have
reference to self-consciousness; the ten subjects (speech, the senses,
mind) have reference to objects. If there were no objects, there would
be no subjects; and if there were no subjects, there would be no
objects. For on either side alone nothing could be achieved. But the
self of pragñâ, consciousness, and prâna, life, is not many, but one.
For as in a car the circumference of a wheel is placed on the spokes,
and the spokes on the nave, thus are these objects, as a circumference,
placed on the subjects as spokes, and the subjects on the prâna. And
that prâna, the living and breathing power, indeed is the self of
pragñâ, the self-conscious self: blessed, imperishable, immortal. He
does not increase by a good action, nor decrease by a bad action. For
the self of prâna and pragñâ makes him, whom he wishes to lead up from
these worlds, do a good deed; and the same makes him, whom he wishes to
lead down from these worlds, do a bad deed. And he is the guardian of
the world, he is the king of the world, he is the lord of the
universe - and he is my (Indra's) self; thus let it be known, yea, thus
let it be known!"

[Footnote 14: The question put by Kitra to Svetaketu is very obscure,
and was probably from the first intended to be obscure in its very
wording. Kitra wished to ask, doubtless, concerning the future life.
That future life is reached by two roads; one leading to the world of
Brahman (the conditioned), beyond which there lies one other stage only,
represented by knowledge of, and identity with the unconditioned
Brahman; the other leading to the world of the fathers, and from thence,
after the reward of good works has been consumed, back to a new round of
mundane existence. There is a third road for creatures which live and
die, worms, insects, and creeping things, but they are of little
consequence. Now it is quite clear that the knowledge which King Kitra
possesses, and which Svetaketu does not possess, is that of the two
roads after death, sometimes called the right and the left, or the
southern and northern roads. The northern or left road, called also the
path of the Devas, passes on from light and day to the bright half of
the moon; the southern or right road, called also the path of the
fathers, passes on from smoke and night to the dark half of the moon.
Both roads therefore meet in the moon, but diverge afterwards. While the
northern road passes by the six months when the sun moves towards the
north, through the sun, moon, and the lightning to the world of Brahman,
the southern passes by the six months when the sun moves towards the
south, to the world of the fathers, the ether, and the moon. The great
difference, however, between the two roads is, that while those who
travel on the former do not return again to a new life on earth, but
reach in the end a true knowledge of the unconditioned Brahman, those
who pass on to the world of the fathers and the moon return to earth to
be born again and again. The speculations on the fate of the soul after
death seem to have been peculiar to the royal families of India, while
the Brahmans dwelt more on what may be called the shorter cut, a
knowledge of Brahman as the true Self. To know, with them, was to be,
and, after the dissolution of the body, they looked forward to immediate
emancipation, without any further wanderings.]

[Footnote 15: Who knows the conditioned and mythological form of Brahman
as here described, sitting on the couch.]

[Footnote 16: In the first chapter it was said, "He approaches the couch
Amitaugas, that is prâna" (breath, spirit, life). Therefore having
explained in the first chapter the knowledge of the couch (of Brahman),
the next subject to be explained is the knowledge of prâna, the living
spirit, taken for a time as Brahman, or the last cause of everything.]

[Footnote 17: Speech is uncertain, and has to be checked by the eye. The
eye is uncertain, taking mother of pearl for silver, and must be checked
by the ear. The ear is uncertain, and must be checked by the mind, for
unless the mind is attentive, the ear hears not. The mind, lastly,
depends on the spirit, for without spirit there is no mind.]

[Footnote 18: The vital spirits are called the highest treasure, because
a man surrenders everything to preserve his vital spirits or his life.]

[Footnote 19: This is one of the earliest, if not the earliest mention
of the yagñopavîta, the sacred cord as worn over the left shoulder for
sacrificial purposes.]

[Footnote 20: Professor Cowell has translated a passage from the
commentary which is interesting as showing that its author and the
author of the Upanishads too had a clear conception of the correlative
nature of knowledge. "The organ of sense," he says, "cannot exist
without pragñâ (self-consciousness), nor the objects of sense be
obtained without the organ, therefore - on the principle, that when one
thing cannot exist without another, that thing is said to be identical
with the other - as the cloth, for instance, being never perceived
without the threads, is identical with them, or the (false perception
of) silver being never found without the mother of pearl is identical
with it, so the objects of sense being never found without the organs
are identical with them, and the organs being never found without pragñâ
(self-consciousness) are identical with it."]


Translation by George Sale


The importance of the "Koran" lies in the fact that it is a religious
book of the East, read and stored in the memory of a hundred millions of
people of different races and civilizations, inhabiting countries
extending from the western borders of China to the pillars of Hercules.
It is considered by the Mohammedan to contain all the knowledge and all
the literature necessary for men. When it was demanded of Mohammed to
confirm the authority of his mission by some work of wonder, he pointed
to the "Koran," and exclaimed, "Behold the greatest miracle of all." The
learned men of Alexandria asked the Caliph Omar to give to them the vast
library at Alexandria. "If those books," he replied, "contain anything
which is contrary to the 'Koran' they deserve to be destroyed. If they
contain what is written in the 'Koran,' they are unnecessary." He
ordered them to be distributed among the baths of the city, to serve as
fuel for their furnaces.

The composition of the "Koran" is all the work of Mohammed. He himself
claimed that he spoke merely as the oracle of God. The commands and
injunctions are in the first person, as if spoken by the Divine Being.
The passionate enthusiasm and religious earnestness of the prophet are
plainly seen in these strange writings. Sometimes, however, he sinks
into the mere Arabian story-teller, whose object is the amusement of his
people. He is not a poet, but when he deals with the unity of God, with
the beneficence of the Divine Being, with the wonders of Nature, with
the beauty of resignation, he exhibits a glowing rhetoric, a power of
gorgeous imagery, of pathos, and religious devotion, that make the
"Koran" the first written work in the Arabian tongue.

If we take Mohammed's own account of the composition of the volume, we
must believe that the completed "Koran" existed from all eternity, on a
tablet preserved in the upper heavens. Once a year, during the period of
the prophet's active work, fragments of this tablet were brought down by
the angel Gabriel to the lower heavens of the moon, and imparted to the
prophet, who was periodically transported to that celestial sphere. The
words were recited by the angel, and dictated by the prophet to his
scribe. These detached scraps were written on the ribs of palm leaves,
or the shoulder-blades of sheep, or parchment, and were stored in a
chest, in which they were kept until the caliphat of Abu Bekr, in the
seventh century, when they were collected in one volume. Such marvels of
revelation were made at different periods to the prophet, and were
called Surahs, and formed separate chapters in the Koran as we have it
to-day. Some of these Surahs contradict what had previously been uttered
by the prophet, but this discrepancy is obviated by the expedient of
what is called "abrogation," and the more recent utterances were held to
supersede and rescind those which were contradictory to it in the
earlier revelation.

It may well be believed that these sibylline leaves of Mohammedanism
make up a heterogeneous jumble of varied elements. Some of the chapters
are long, others are short; now the prophet seems to be caught up by a
whirlwind, and is brought face to face with ineffable mysteries, of
which he speaks in the language of rhapsody. At other times he is dry
and prosaic, indulging in wearisome iterations, and childish
trivialities. Now he assumes the plain, clear voice of the law-giver, or
raises his accents into the angry threatenings of the relentless and
bloodthirsty fanatic. Yet throughout the whole volume there is a strain
of religious resignation, of trust in God, of hopefulness under
adversity, of kindliness towards men, which reveal a nobility of ideal,
a simplicity and purity in the conception of the Divine Being, and the
relations of human life, which make the work not without inspiration,
even to the thoughtful man of the nineteenth century. The Koran must
always be considered one of the most potent of religious books, one of
the greatest documents which reveal the struggle of the human heart
after a knowledge of God, and of faithful accomplishment of the Divine
will. Perhaps the essence of the work as furnishing a philosophy of
life, is contained in the axioms of Abu Bekr, one of the most exalted in
character of Mohammed's successors. "Good actions," he says, "are a
guard against the blows of adversity." And again, "Death is the easiest
of all things after it, and the hardest of all things before it." To
which we may add the sentence of Ali, "Riches without God are the
greatest poverty and misery."

There are twenty-nine chapters of the "Koran," which begin with certain
letters of the alphabet: some with a single one, others with more. These
letters the Mohammedans believe to be the peculiar marks of the "Koran,"
and to conceal several profound mysteries, the certain understanding of
which, the more intelligent confess, has not been communicated to any
mortal, their prophet only excepted. Notwithstanding which, some will
take the liberty of guessing at their meaning by that species of Cabbala
called by the Jews, Notarikon, and suppose the letters to stand for as
many words expressing the names and attributes of God, his works,
ordinances, and decrees; and therefore these mysterious letters, as well
as the verses themselves, seem in the "Koran" to be called signs. Others
explain the intent of these letters from their nature or organ, or else
from their value in numbers, according to another species of the Jewish
Cabbala called Gematria; the uncertainty of these conjectures
sufficiently appears from their disagreement. Thus, for example, five
chapters, one of which is the second, begin with the letters A.L.M.,
which some imagine to stand for _Allah latîf magîd_ - "God is gracious
and to be glorified" - or, _Ana li minni_ - "to me and from me" - belongs
all perfection, and proceeds all good; or else for _Ana Allah âlam_ - "I
am the most wise God" - taking the first letter to mark the beginning of
the first word, the second the middle of the second word, and the third
the last of the third word: or for "Allah, Gabriel, Mohammed," the
author, revealer, and preacher of the "Koran." Others say that as the
letter A belongs to the lower part of the throat, the first of the
organs of speech; L to the palate, the middle organ: and M to the lips,
which are the last organs; so these letters signify that God is the
beginning, middle, and end, or ought to be praised in the beginning,
middle, and end of all our words and actions; or, as the total value of
those three letters in numbers is seventy-one, they signify that in the
space of so many years, the religion preached in the "Koran" should be
fully established. The conjecture of a learned Christian is, at least,
as certain as any of the former, who supposes those letters were set
there by the amanuensis, for _Amar li Mohammed_ - "at the command of
Mohammed" - as the five letters prefixed to the nineteenth chapter seem
to be there written by a Jewish scribe, for _Cob yaas_ - "thus he

The general contents of the "Koran" may be divided under three heads:
First, precepts and laws in matters of religion, such as prayer,
fasting, pilgrimage; there are laws also given in the affairs of the
civil life, such as marriage, the possession and bequeathing of
property, and the administration of justice. The second division would
include histories, which consist in a great part of incidents from the
Bible, as Christians know it. Mohammed probably picked up a good deal of
hearsay knowledge in this department from Jews and Christians. Some of
his historical incidents are purely fabulous, others are perversions or
falsifications of the Scriptural narrative. This portion of the "Koran,"
interesting and anecdotic as it is, is the least satisfactory of the
work, and shows the writer in his true ignorance, and disregard for
historic verification. When, for instance, he confounds Miriam, the
sister of Moses, with Mary the Mother of Christ, he shows himself lost
in truly Oriental clouds of mystic error. The third element in the
"Koran" is a large body of admonitions, many of them addressed to the
outside world, and to unbelievers who are exhorted to accept the creed
that there is one God and Mohammed is His prophet. War is put forth as a
legitimate method of propagating the faith. The duties of life, such as
justice, temperance, resignation and industry, are enforced. Hell is
threatened to infidels and immoral people; and from whatever sources the
writer derived his materials there can be no doubt that the moral scheme
he promulgated was in every sense a revelation to the degraded idolaters
and fire-worshippers, amongst whom he discharged the mission of his
life. Mohammed preached what he called the truth, with the sword in one
hand and the "Koran" in the other. But the empire established by the
sword would long since have crumbled into dust like that of Alexander or
Augustus, unless the "Koran" had fixed its teaching in the minds of the
conquered, had regulated by its precepts their social and political
life, had supported and exalted their faith with the doctrine of one
Almighty and beneficent God; had cheered them with the hope of a
Resurrection, and illuminated their minds with the vision of a Paradise,
the grossest of whose delights were afterwards to be interpreted by
Arabic commentators in accordance with the highest spiritual
capabilities of the human race.



By Thomas Carlyle

From the first rude times of Paganism among the Scandinavians in the
North, we advance to a very different epoch of religion, among a very
different people: Mohammedanism among the Arabs. A great change; what a
change and progress is indicated here, in the universal condition and
thoughts of men!

The Hero is not now regarded as a God among his fellow-men; but as one
God-inspired, as a Prophet. It is the second phasis of Hero-worship: the
first or oldest, we may say, has passed away without return; in the
history of the world there will not again be any man, never so great,
whom his fellow-men will take for a god. Nay we might rationally ask,
Did any set of human beings ever really think the man they _saw_ there
standing beside them a god, the maker of this world? Perhaps not: it was
usually some man they remembered, or _had_ seen. But neither can this
any more be. The Great Man is not recognized henceforth as a god any

It was a rude gross error, that of counting the Great Man a god. Yet let
us say that it is at all times difficult to know _what_ he is, or how to
account of him and receive him! The most significant feature in the
history of an epoch is the manner it has of welcoming a Great Man. Ever,
to the true instincts of men, there is something godlike in him. Whether
they shall take him to be a god, to be a prophet, or what they shall
take him to be? that is ever a grand question; by their way of answering
that, we shall see, as through a little window, into the very heart of
these men's spiritual condition. For at bottom the Great Man, as he
comes from the hand of Nature, is ever the same kind of thing: Odin,
Luther, Johnson, Burns; I hope to make it appear that these are all
originally of one stuff; that only by the world's reception of them, and
the shapes they assume, are they so immeasurably diverse. The worship of
Odin astonishes us, - to fall prostrate before the Great Man, into
_deliquium_ of love and wonder over him, and feel in their hearts that
he was a denizen of the skies, a god! This was imperfect enough: but to
welcome, for example, a Burns as we did, was that what we can call
perfect? The most precious gift that Heaven can give to the Earth; a man
of "genius" as we call it; the Soul of a Man actually sent down from the
skies with a God's-message to us, - this we waste away as an idle
artificial firework, sent to amuse us a little, and sink it into ashes,
wreck, and ineffectuality: _such_ reception of a Great Man I do not call
very perfect either! Looking into the heart of the thing, one may
perhaps call that of Burns a still uglier phenomenon, betokening still
sadder imperfections in mankind's ways, than the Scandinavian method
itself! To fall into mere unreasoning _deliquium_ of love and
admiration, was not good; but such unreasoning, nay irrational
supercilious no-love at all is perhaps still worse! - It is a thing
forever changing, this of Hero-worship: different in each age, difficult
to do well in any age. Indeed, the heart of the whole business of the
age, one may say, is to do it well.

We have chosen Mohammed not as the most eminent Prophet; but as the one
we are freest to speak of. He is by no means the truest of Prophets; but
I do esteem him a true one. Further, as there is no danger of our
becoming, any of us, Mohammedans, I mean to say all the good of him I
justly can. It is the way to get at his secret: let us try to understand
what _he_ meant with the world; what the world meant and means with him,
will then be a more answerable question. Our current hypothesis about
Mohammed, that he was a scheming Impostor, a Falsehood incarnate, that
his religion is a mere mass of quackery and fatuity, begins really to be
now untenable to any one. The lies, which well-meaning zeal has heaped
round this man, are disgraceful to ourselves only. When Pococke inquired
of Grotius where the proof was of that story of the pigeon, trained to
pick peas from Mohammed's ear, and pass for an angel dictating to him,
Grotius answered that there was no proof! It is really time to dismiss
all that. The word this man spoke has been the life-guidance now of a
hundred-and-eighty millions of men these twelve-hundred years. These
hundred-and-eighty millions were made by God as well as we. A greater
number of God's creatures believe in Mohammed's word at this hour than
in any other word whatever. Are we to suppose that it was a miserable
piece of spiritual legerdemain, this which so many creatures of the
Almighty have lived by and died by? I, for my part, cannot form any such
supposition. I will believe most things sooner than that. One would be
entirely at a loss what to think of this world at all, if quackery so
grew and were sanctioned here.

Alas, such theories are very lamentable. If we would attain to knowledge
of anything in God's true Creation, let us disbelieve them wholly! They
are the product of an Age of Scepticism; they indicate the saddest
spiritual paralysis, and mere death-life of the souls of men: more
godless theory, I think, was never promulgated in this Earth. A false
man found a religion? Why, a false man cannot build a brick house! If he
do not know and follow _truly_ the properties of mortar, burnt clay and
what else he works in, it is no house that he makes, but a rubbish-heap.

Online LibraryVariousSacred Books of the East → online text (page 14 of 42)