Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

extreme selfishness. It impressed on each man to secure his own salvation, no matter what became of all

Its anthropoothers. Of what concern to him were parents, centric phase wife, children, friends, country, so long as he philosophical attained Nirwana !

declining. Long before Buddhism had been expelled from India by the victorious Brahmins, it had been overlaid with popular ornaments. It had its fables, legends, Its legends miracles. Its humble devotees implicitly be- and miracles. lieved that Mahamia, the mother of Gotama, an immaculate virgin, conceived him through a divine influence, and that thus he was of the nature of God and man conjoined ; that he stood upon his feet and spoke at the moment of his birth; that at five months of age he sat unsupported in the air; that at the moment of his conversion he was attacked by a legion of demons, and that in his penancefasting he reduced himself to the allowance of one pepperpod a day; that he had been incarnate many times before, and that on his ascension through the air, to heaven he left his footprint on a mountain in Ceylon ; that there is a paradise of gems, and flowers, and feasts, and music for the good, and a hell of sulphur, and flames, and torment for the wicked ; that it is lawful to resort to the worship of images, but that those are in error who deify men, or pay respect to relics; that there are spirits, and goblins, and other superhuman forms; that there is a queen of heaven; that the reading of the Scriptures is in itself an actual merit, whether its precepts are followed or not; that prayer may be offered by saying a formula by rote, or even by turning the handle of a mill from which invocations written on paper issue forth; that the revealer of Buddhism is to be regarded as the religious head of the world.

The reader cannot fail to remark the resemblance of these ideas to some of those of the Roman Church. When a knowledge of the Oriental forms of religion was first brought into Europe, and their real origin was not understood, it was supposed that this coincidence had arisen through the labours of Nestorian, or other ancient missionaries from the West, and hopes were entertained that the conversion of Eastern Asia would be promoted thereby. But

diffusion of

this expectation was disappointed, and that which many good men regarded as a preparation for Christianity proved to be a stumbling-block in its way. It is not improbable that the pseudo-Christianity of the Chinese revolters, of which so much has recently been said, is of the same nature, and will end with the same result.

Decorated with these extraneous but popular recommendations, Buddhism has been embraced by two-fifths of the human race. It has a prodigious literature, great The great

temples, many monuments. Its monasteries are

scattered from the north of Tartary almost to Buddhism.

the equinoctial line. In these an education is imparted not unlike that of the European monasteries of the Middle Ages. It has been estimated that in Tartary one-third of the population are Lamas. There are single convents containing more than two thousand individuals; the wealth of the country voluntarily pours into them. Elementary education is more widely diffused than in Europe; it is rare to meet with a person who cannot read. Among the priests there are many who are devout, and, as might be expected, many who are impostors. It is a melancholy fact that, in China, Buddhism Its practical has led the entire population not only into godīessness. indifferentism, but into absolute godlessness. They have come to regard religion as merely a fashion, to be followed according to one's own taste; that as professed by the state it is a civil institution necessary for the holding of office, and demanded by society, but not to be regarded as of the smallest philosophical importance; that a man is entitled to indulge his views on these matters just as he is entitled to indulge his taste in the colour and fashion of his garments; that he has no more right, however, to live without some religious profession than he has a right to go naked. The Chinese cannot comprehend how there should be animosities arising on matters of such doubtful nature and trivial concern. The formula under which they live is : “Religions are many; reason is one; we are brothers.” They smile at the credulity of the good-natured Tartars, who believe in the wonders of miracle-workers, for they have miracle-workers who can perform the most supernatural cures, who can lick red-hot

iron, who can cut open their bowels, and, by passing their hand over the wound, make themselves whole again—who can raise the dead. In China, these miracles, with all their authentications, have descended to the conjurer, and are performed for the amusement of children. The common expressions of that country betray the materialism and indifferentism of the people, and their consequent immorality. “ The prisons," they say, are locked night and day, but they are always full; the temples are always open, and yet there is nobody in them.” Of the dead they say, with an exquisite refinement of euphemism, “He has saluted the world.” The Lazarist Huc, on whose authority many of these statements are made, testifies that they die, indeed, with incomparable tranquillity, just as animals die; and adds, with a bitter, and yet profoundly true sarcasm, they are what many in Europe are wanting to be.

From the theology of India I turn, in the next place, to the civilization of Egypt. The ancient system of isolation which for

many

thousand years had been the policy of Egypt was overthrown by Psammetichus about B.C. 670. Up to that time the inhabitants of that country had been shut out from all Mediterranean or European contact by a rigorous exclusion exceeding that until recently practised in China and Japan. As from the inmates of the happy valley, in Rasselas, no tidings escaped to the outer world, so, to the European, the valley of the Nile was a region

Egypt a mysof mysteries and marvels. At intervals of cen- terious turies, individuals, like Cecrops and Danaus, country to

Europe. had fled to other countries, and had attached the gratitude of posterity to their memories for the religion, laws, or other institutions of civilization they had conferred. The traditions connected with them served only to magnify those uncertain legends met with all over Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, Sicily, of the prodigies and miracles that adventurous pirates reported they Its reported had actually seen in their stealthy visits to wonders. the enchanted valley-great pyramids covering acres of land, their tops rising to the heavens, yet each pyramid nothing more than the tombstone of a king; colossi

[ocr errors]

sitting on granite thrones, the images of Pharaohs who lived in the morning of the world, still silently looking upon the land which thousands of years before they had ruled; of these, some obedient to the sun, saluted his approach when touched by his morning rays; obelisks of prodigious height, carved by superhuman skill from a single block of stone, and raised by superhuman power erect on their everlasting pedestals, their faces covered with mysterious hieroglyphs, a language unknown to the vulgar, telling by whom and for what they had been constructed; temples, the massive leaning and lowering walls of which were supported by countless ranges of statues ; avenues of sphinxes, through the shadows of which, grim and silent, the portals of fanes might be approached ; catacombs containing the mortal remains of countless generations, each corpse awaiting, in mysterious embalmment, a future life; labyrinths of many hundred chambers and vaults, into which whoso entered without a clue never again escaped, but in the sameness and solitude of those endless windings found his sepulchre. It is impossible for us to appreciate the sentiment of religious awe with which the Mediterranean people looked upon the enchanted, the hoary, the civilized monarchy on the banks of the Nile. As Bunsen says, “ Egypt was to the Greeks a sphinx with an intellectual human countenance.”

Her solitude, however, had not been altogether unIts history:

broken. After a duration of 1076 years, and

the reign of thirty-eight kings, illustrated by pire; the Hycksos; the the production of the most stupendous works new empire.

ever accomplished by the hand of man, some of which, as the Pyramids, remain to our times, the old empire, which had arisen from the union of the upper and lower countries, had been overthrown by the Hycksos, or shepherd kings, a race of Asiatic invaders. These, in their turn, had held dominion for more than five centuries, when an insurrection put an end to their power, and gave birth to the new empire, some of the monarchs of which, for their great achievements, are still remembered. In the middle period of this new empire those events in early Hebrew history took place-the visit

the old em

of Abram and the elevation of Joseph-which are related with such simplicity in the Holy Scriptures. With varied prosperity, the new empire continued until the time of Psammetichus, who, in a civil war, having attained supreme power by the aid of Greek mercenaries,

overthrew the time-honoured policy of all the old dynasties, and occasioned the first grand impulse in the intel

Opening of lectual life of Europe by opening the ports of the Egyptian Egypt, and making that country accessible to ports. the blue-eyed and red-haired barbarians of the North.

It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the influence of this event

upon the progress of Europe. An immense extension of Greek commerce by the demand for the products of the Euxine as well as of the Mediterranean was the smallest part of the advantage. As to Egypt herself, it entailed a complete change in her policy, domestic and foreign. In the former respect, the employment of the Egypt to

This compels mercenaries was the cause of the entire emigra- become amation of the warrior caste, and in the latter it brought things to such a condition, that, if Egypt would continue to exist, she must become a maritime state. Her geographical position for the purposes of commerce was excellent; with the Red Sea on the east and the Mediterranean on the north, she was the natural entrepôt between Asia and Europe, as was shown by the prosperity of Alexandria in later ages. But there was a serious difficulty in the way of her becoming a naval power; no timber suitable for ship-building grew in the country-indeed, scarcely enough was to be found to satisfy the demands for the construction of houses and coffins for the dead. The early Egyptians, like the Hindus, had a religious dread of the sea, but their exclusiveness was, perhaps, not a little dependent on their want of material for ship-building. Egypt was therefore compelled to enter on a career of foreign conquest, and at all hazards possess herself of the timber-growing districts of Syria. It was this urgent necessity which led to her collisions with the Mesopo- collisions with

and brings on tamian kings, and drew in its train of conse- the Baby quence the sieges, sacks, and captivities of Jerusalem, the metropolis of a little state lying directly between

« AnteriorContinuar »