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Mankind and the Church
Being an Attempt to Estimate the Contribution of Great Races
To the Fulness of the Church of God

Edited by H. H. Montgomery

London, New York, Bombay and Calcutta: Longmans, Green and Co., 1907.

VI. "The Hidden Riches of Secret Places": The Possible Service of Hinduism to the Collective Thought of the Church
The Right Rev. L. G. Mylne, D.D., formerly Bishop of Bombay

Chapter II. A More Detailed Account of Hinduism

The relation between Hinduism as a religion, and Pantheism as a philosophy--

(1) Historically, Hinduism has passed through three stages: the first, Theistic, the stage of the Vedic hymns; the second, Pantheistic, the stage of the Vedantic literature; the third, Polytheistic, the stage of the Puranic legends.

(2) Essentially, it was Pantheistic even in the first stage, while the third is but a popularized Pantheism; the many gods only embodying for the vulgar the belief that all things that exist are divine.

(3) Philosophically, the cause of this downward progress was a refusal to sacrifice anything of intellectual completeness in the conception of God as Infinite, for the sake of securing moral completeness by recognizing the reality of the finite.

(4) Thoroughness of this refusal: belief in the Infinity of God carried out to the point of eliminating all other reality.

(5) The moral cost of this consistency is (a) On the Divine side, the identification of pure being with pure nothingness; (b) On the human side, the denial of free will and even of personal identity.

(6) Moral effect of this obliteration of distinctions: wicked gods believed in, and set forth in Hindu literature and art.

(7) Intellectual fascination exercised by the completeness and consistency of Pantheism, in spite of its moral issues.

Accordingly I shall proceed, as the next step, to show what, as matter of history, is the relation of the Hindu religion towards Pantheism as a system of philosophy.

Time was when Hindu thought was Theistic, and not Pantheistic; when, half-heartedly, it must be admitted, it set God before men to be worshipped, as distinct from that totality of the universe, which alone it recognized as Divine in its later, Pantheistic stage.

[323] In the earliest stage of its development, as we know it from the Vedic hymns, it acknowledged a personal Divinity, distinguishable in the thought of the worshipper from the things which He created and bestowed. The distinction, at even this stage, was less sharply denned than it should have been. In the religion of the Vedic hymns a Creator, it is true, is adored, but He has already begun to be adored under the form of the things which He creates. Instead of the Creator being worshipped as God, the bestower of all things, His material gifts were adored as embodiments of Him who bestows them. Yet, half-hearted as was Theism such as this, it had not wholly surrendered its character, had not reached the uncompromising Monism in which, under a full-blown Pantheism, the distinction between Creator and created is wholly obliterated and lost. The hard, intellectual concept of an absolute, unrelated One had not wholly obliterated the distinction between the Infinite, Uncreated Being and a universe which is not Himself. He still was allowed to transcend it, though held to be immanent in it. There was still in the mind of the worshipper, if he reasoned on the subject at all, a mystical accommodation of his thought to the distinction, impossible to logic, between Infinite Being on the one hand, and the reality of the finite upon the other.

But when confronted with a Monistic philosophy, the religion of the Vedas broke down, most completely and disastrously broke down, as a provision for the needs of man's soul. It surrendered the primary distinction, and the absolutely necessary subordination between the two essentials of a faith which I have tried to indicate above: it subordinated the moral necessities, which are man's first spiritual need, to a craving for logical completeness in its abstract conception of things.

I said but now that, under the system of the Vedas, [323/324] the worship of an Infinite Creator, distinguishable from the universe which He had made, necessitated on the part of the worshipper a mystical accommodation of his thought to a distinction impossible to logic. To draw this out a little more fully--to predicate of God that He is Infinite would seem, from the logical point of view, to render it totally impossible that anything can exist except Himself. For if it is not included in Himself, then the Infinity that was predicated of Him is nullified, invalidated, contradicted by the fact that He does not include it; while if it is included in Himself, then its existence as other than Himself is equally nullified in its turn.

Prom the dilemma thus created there is no purely logical issue. If the existence of both Infinite and finite as in any way separable from one another is to be maintained as the necessary foundation for relations between Creator and creature, some mystical accommodation of our thought must take the place of a dialectical solution for freeing us from this impasse.

This was just what Hindu thinkers declined. God, after being worshipped as Giver, and then worshipped under the figure of His gifts, ceased gradually to be distinguished from His gifts, and the gifts to be distinguished from Him. He was identified with the things which He had given, and they were identified with Him, until the half-hearted Theism of the Vedas gave place to that thorough-going Pantheism which formed the second or Vedantic stage in the development of the Hindu system.

The spiritual needs of the worshipper cried aloud, one would think, then as now, for a Being to whom to be responsible, for a Creator to know and to adore. But the intellectual system of Pantheism, if consistently and thoroughly carried out, gives a logical completeness to thought which is lacking to a spiritual system acknowledging both Infinite and finite as subsisting independently [324/325] of one another, or as distinguishable in thought from one another. And Hinduism surrendered itself completely to the demands of its Monistic ontology, and passed into the Pantheism of the Vedantas, in which God is identified with the universe, and the universe is identified with Him. Instead of holding to a mystical position, which refuses to apply human logic to the definition and explanation of the Divine, it succumbed to that craving for unity which exists in the Indian mind as it does nowhere else in the world. It eliminated the conception of Personality from its ideas concerning the Creator. In this, of course, it was perfectly logical. The thought of an Infinite Creator with a universe distinct from Himself, not absolutely identical with Himself, is, on the side of pure logic, inconceivable. And in deference to this demand of the reason for a system complete in its logic, admitting no apparent contradiction, requiring no mystical faith whicli cannot be explained to the understanding, the belief in the existence of a Creator, distinguishable from that which He creates, was abandoned under the creed of the Vedantas. With this there had to go by the board all thoughts of a Euler of the universe, to whom creatures can render obedience, and to whom they must answer for their lives. But this act of moral suicide was accepted on the part of religion, to satisfy the demands of metaphysics, and Hinduism contents itself with a God who is regarded as immanent in the universe, and as in no sense transcending it. [The religion which aims at completeness in exactly the opposite direction is Buddhism. Being essentially a reaction from Hinduism, it eliminated from its system of metaphysics the thought of any spiritual existence distinguishable from the universe of matter. It forms the religious counterpart of the modern Materialism of Europe, as Hinduism is the religious counterpart of the modern Pantheism of Europe.]

A Hindu thinker, then, if true to his Pantheistic [325/326] creed, cannot rest, as Newman did, in the thought of two existences, still less two self-existent beings, dis. tinguishable in any real sense.

If it can be said that any being at all survives the irresistible solvent which a thorough-going Pantheism applies, it is the one undiscriminated Absolute, the pure being, which is also pure nothingness. [For the best account I know of the identity of pure being with pure nothing from the standpoint of Pantheistic thought, I would refer the reader to the Bampton Lectures for 1899, by Professor Inge, p. 110, etc.]

To point to any other existence as actual, nay, as possible, side by side with it, were blasphemy against its one, lone attribute, that of being the all in all, the self-existent, all-existent Brahm.

Nay, to predicate anything of it, in such sense that the polar opposite should by that predication be excluded, were to stultify and contradict the predication; since the subject of which it is predicated is that in which opposites are included, in which all contradictories are merged, in which every antinomy is reconciled, in which each member of a total opposition is alike a moment in the Oneness, or a dream in the eternal contemplation of the One--that One which is self, which is God, which is thought, which is fact, which is nature, which is all.

This position a Hindu follows out with an absolute, uncompromising consistency, which to a Western is hardly comprehensible. He takes it up in its every bearing, he applies it in every direction, be its consequences what they may in philosophy, in religion, in society, in morality.

Does its application in the field of philosophy mean that the thinker, who is speculating upon it, has himself no personal existence distinct from the object of his thought--nay, that neither thinker nor object have any [326/327] existence at all, save so far as the Infinite Object finds a mode of realization in the thought of the finite thinker, or so far as the thinker himself has emerged, a temporary manifestation in the eternal existence of the Object--this denial of thinker and of thought is accepted without hesitation.

Does it demand in the sphere of religion that the God in whom we believe exists only so far as He is believed in; that the believer believing in a God, is himself nothing else but a name for that God as contemplating Himself--then all distinction whatsoever between the worshipper and Him who is worshipped must be totally and ruthlessly eliminated, at the cost, admitted and accepted, of obliterating responsibility and free-will.

Does it mean in the realm of morality that every act of every being which exists, or seems to exist, is equally moral or immoral, indifferently right or wrong; that thero is no immorality or morality, because everything that is done or omitted is alike the inevitable outcome of a Divine self-realization--then morality must go to the winds: there is no self to be moral or immoral, no neighbour to be sinned against or helped; no God to command or to forbid; there is nought, can be nought, but the One, the Eternal, the Inevitable; which is neither conscious nor unconscious; which is neither holy nor unholy; which is neither moral nor immoral; which is simply non-moral, because it cannot be other than it is.

The attitude, then, of Hinduism as a religion towards Pantheism as a system of philosophy, is one of absolute surrender in the region of speculative thought. And this surrender, alas! is carried out to its utmost logical consequences in the regions of religion and of morals.

To begin with the most terrible result which has ensued from the Pantheism of the Hindu, the grossly immoral acts which he attributes to his various divinities--the [327/328] thievishness or the lewdness of Krishna, the ferocity or the blood-thirstiness of Kali are but expressions of the ultimate belief that every passion of humanity is not only implanted by the Creator, but displays, in its every manifestation, the very working of God, the act of the Creator Himself. No act can be so foul or so vindictive as to exclude it from the category of things divine; because the One indivisible Essence, which is Deity and worshipper alike, is acting as directly in it as in the sublimest of virtues. Why hesitate to attribute to a Divinity every action possible to man, when there is, in the ultimate analysis, no distinction between the two actors?

To the Christian each passion of humanity is an impulse indifferent in itself, implanted by the God who created him, to be restrained from evil tendencies, and to be mastered for lawful uses. The acts by which every passion finds actual expression in life, are to the Christian either holy or the opposite according as they are permitted by God, or are done in defiance of His law. He holds nothing unclean in itself, and nothing hallowed in itself; because to him all holiness and its opposite are constituted by the single consideration, how his Father has willed that he should act. To the Hindu, if consistent with his creed, no act whatsoever can be unholy; because the fact of its having taken place must constitute it necessarily divine: since there is but one Will in the universe, lasciviousness and chastity, vindietiveness and love, are alike the acts of that One. To the Christian all things are holy when ruled by holy conditions and done for a holy end. To the Hindu all are holy in themselves, and simply as existent; since they are proved by the fact of their existence to be the outcome, directly, of the Divine.

This presence of Deity in all things, this identification, indeed, of the Divine with everything that is, or can be, [328/329] may be held by the enlightened philosopher as an abstract Pantheistic creed. It embodies itself for the vulgar in the unutterably degraded Pantheon sculptured in shameless stone on the popular temples of India.

For if God be so immanent in nature as to be no longer distinguishable from it, then everything that exists in nature may be equally regarded as divine. If the totality of nature be divine, and therefore an object of worship, it is then both obvious and easy to embody this distributed divinity in particular objects of adoration. The mind of the uneducated vulgar can grasp with difficulty, if at all, the conception of the One and All, of the body of nature as a whole, in which the Divinity is immanent. It is easier--more profitable also--to tell the uneducated worshipper to adore this man or this symbol which he can visit, and can see before his eyes, than to tell him to elevate his thoughts to Him who is everywhere and in all tilings. And, indeed, on the Pantheistic theory it is all one to which you direct him. The God who is present in nature, nay, who is identified with nature, is equally present in the whole of it, and in every part of that whole--in the temple, as in the universe; in the stock which grew out of the earth, as in the earth from which it grew; in the stone which has been formed through long ages, as in the ages through which it was formed; in the individual hero now dead, as in the race from which he sprang. What need, then, to trouble the vulgar with thoughts about the One and All? Give them sight of a portion of the whole, and that part so fashioned by our hands as to bring some divinity before them. Tell them, here is He whom you would worship; for He is everywhere, and therefore He is here. Go one step farther than this--tell them "these be thy gods, O India;" for God is all things that exist, and all things that exist are God, and therefore this is God, and this it is easy to adore.

[330] Alike, then, in the horrible legends which record the wickedness of the gods, and in the forms, grotesque or lascivious, which portray them to the popular eye, the enlightened student of the system discerns but the single tendency which characterizes Hinduism as a whole. They mean simply that everything is divine, that our worst deeds as well as our best are the direct, the inevitable outcome of the Infinite, self-realized as the finite.

The whole of these hideous distortions of moral and religious truth are the result, and the necessary result, of that first intellectual surrender by which Hinduism became false to itself as a religion, a spiritual provision for the moral needs of its adherents. It elected for logical completeness as an account of all that exists, at the cost of that spiritual satisfaction which it was bound to secure to its votaries as creatures in relation to a Creator. Refusing all mystical accommodations secured by denying to logic the right to dictate unchecked to the moral nature of man, it elected for a rounded-off system which should leave, on the side of pure reason, no room for dialectical difficulties to mar its philosophical completeness.

It may possibly seem at first sight as though such a system as this, or as though a race which could evolve such a system, and use it as a guide in life, could have little or nothing to contribute to the scheme of thought and living by which the Catholic Church is guided. But it is as true of systems as of men that if they have the défauts de ses qualités, they are bound to have the qualités de ses défauts--that the very points where the truth is misread in a system of philosophy or of religion will offer the surest indication, where to look for the special contribution to be made to the many-sidedness of truth by those who have thus misread it. Nay, the very completeness of the distortion, the very thorough-goingness of the error, will but indicate the depth of the lesson which [330/331] the errant thinker has to offer. If Hinduism be sounded to its depths, in its religious and its moral aberrations, it will be found that European Christianity, and that English Christianity in especial, may gather from the fulness of the exposure some teaching profoundly needed for supplementing its own deficiencies. For while the Christian faith, indeed, may, in its fulness, acknowledge no deficiencies; that faith, as held by individuals, or as held by whole communities, may be simply honeycombed by them. [It were hardly too much to affirm that in the ordinary religious thought which prevails at this day among ourselves such deficiencies extend so far, and have penetrated so terribly deep, that most of what we call our Christianity is hardly to be distinguished from Theism--save in so far as a few stock phrases embodying a belief in the Atonement are held to be a necessary corollary of attendance at church on Sundays. How far a great many of our church-goers believe or understand the Incarnation was brought home to my mind years ago by the following incident: I had been preaching, one Trinity Sunday, on the subject of the Nicene Creed, and in especial of the doctrine of the Homoousion; explaining as well as I could how our Lord is "of one substance with the Father." A prominent member of the congregation, an educated man and a communicant, was asked by a friend, when he went home, what the bishop had preached about that evening--"About Transubstantiation," he replied.]

What, then, is the underlying truth, what the sound way of looking at things, represented by distortions so gross as those characteristic of Hinduism? And how may the exaggerations or the deficiencies in an Englishman's contemplation of truth be chastened down or supplied by their study?

To put it first in the most general terms, Hindus have a sense of the totality of things, of the many being also the One, which is foreign to the English mind. A Hindu has a sense of relations where an Englishman sees only distinctions; lie is always conscious of the forest where we see only the trees; has intuitions of ultimate unity [331/332] where nothing is patent to us save only immediate variety. These intuitions, distinguishing the point of view, are of course what bring it about that a Hindu's thought about God in His relations with nature and with man are exclusively concerned with His immanence; whereas in English popular theology His transcendence is alone kept in mind.

And here it is that Hindu thought may do such marvellous service to Christianity. For wild as are the errors and aberrations, not spiritual only, but moral, which result from denying His transcendence, I believe that losing sight of His immanence proves equally fatal, in the long run, to any belief in Him at all.

Apart from an ultimate relation between God and all that exists, which no other term can express than that of His immanence in it all, we cannot believe in Him as Creator; while the Incarnation becomes absolutely unthinkable if we deem of Him as transcending His universe, and not also as immanent in it, and especially immanent in man. Indeed, if we do not find God in nature as well as above it, we shall end by eliminating Him altogether from the sphere of thought and of being.

The Pantheistic conception of God is but the thought of His immanence run mad. And yet the very wildness of its amentia is the measure of the truth which it exaggerates; the very hideousness of the distortions which ensue does but indicate the profundity and the beauty of the truth which we must be losing if we run into the opposite error.

One need only look rather more deeply--more sympathetically, which is much the same thing--into the intellectual consistency of Pantheism, to discern how fascinatingly complete is its appeal to the logical sense. It is a resolutely consistent attempt to solve the riddle of existence by reducing all that is to a single intellectual [332/333] category; to find one eternal mode of being which shall include and account for the Universe in all its infinite variety; to solve the ancient problem of the many in relation to the One by bringing matter and spirit, finite and infinite, time and eternity, nature and God, man and his surroundings, under a single, all-embracing conception which shall include and explain them all. The fascination of a conception such as this it is difficult to bring home very deeply to our practical English common sense. Yet it has its appeal to us, as it undoubtedly has had its appeal to every thinking man in every reflective age. The form in which Englishmen take hold of it is generally materialistic. If we reduce all things that are to a single inclusive conception, we are apt to eliminate spirit, or to treat it as a mode of matter. The "infinite azure" of Tyndall, not absorption into the Divine, is that which an Englishman thinks of if he ceases to believe in immortality, and conceives of himself as returning at death into that from which he issued at birth.

The distinction of mind from matter has its difficulties for us as for others. We try, as our neighbours do, to bridge the impassable chasm which yawns between organism and consciousness; to find a common term which shall include the material process by which nerve communicates with brain, yet not wholly exclude from our purview that realization in consciousness which constitutes its spiritual correlative. But to us the temptation is to resolve the mental fact into a higher function of matter: we stand in little danger of resolving the facts of matter into being but a function of spirit.

Now, exactly the opposite holds good if we turn from the Briton to the Hindu. With a like, or a keener impatience of the natural dualism of conception with which he starts, like ourselves, he accepts as its obvious solution that spirit makes the necessary starting-point when he [333/334] sets himself to resolve the antinomy; that matter, as it encounters us everywhere, will be found, in the ultimata analysis, to be but the necessary foil against which spirit is displayed. And he carries out this monistic conception with a ruthless logical consistency which is all but unattainable by us. Monism once accepted as a theory, he is prepared to carry it through, entirely indifferent to its consequences--though one of those consequences be to deny his own personal existence as anything different, or distinguishable from the existence of God or of Nature. His doctrine of muya, or illusion, is ever ready to come in if his argument requires extrication from difficulties such as this. True, he seems to himself to exist, to have a veritable, incommunicable identity distinct from everything else. True, the fact of his thinking and arguing would appear, he will admit, upon the face of it, to presuppose his thus existing. But all this exists only in seeming. He himself, his consciousness, his arguing, are a ripple on the boundless surface of the One and All of Being, which is God, which is Nature, which is all things. The stream exists and it flows on: the ripple is but a mode of its flowing, cast up for an instant to the surface, to be smoothed out of being again by the same mighty, ceaseless flow which threw it off, or seemed to do so. The stream, he says, is God, the ripple on its surface is man. The Godhead subsists for ever, in a ceaseless act of contemplation. God thinks--God dreams, if you will--and a moment in the thought of God, a vision in the dream of the Eternal, one effortless, inevitable realization of the infinite possibilities of His Being--it is this that constitutes the being in which man believes himself to exist. God has thought, God thinks, God will think; each moment the thought of the Eternal is passing from the future of possibility into the past of what has been; and that moment, that passing realization, that [334/335] "confluence of two eternities" is a life, a human existence. Nay--why should we not go farther?--it is time, is the universe itself. The immanence of the Divinity in all things is that which gives them existence. And it were almost as true to say that from the standpoint of Hindu Pantheism His immanence in all things that are is that which gives Him His Existence. For on the Pantheistic theory He has no other existence; He does not transcend His creation, and support it as other than Himself; He is all things that are, simply as being immanent in them all, as realizing Himself in them, coming forth in them from the possible to the actual, so far as the two can be distinguished.

Apart from such expression of Himself, such realization in act of His eternal potentialities of Being, the Deity of consistent Pantheism is in no wise distinguishable from nothingness. The coalescence in His One sole Being, of opposites, of contradictory attributes, results in a final contradiction, by which each must cancel the others till colour and positive qualities are lost in absolute indifference. Pure Being is also pure nothingness if the theory of Pantheistic ontology be consistently followed out to its issues. Let good and evil, activity and passivity, power and weakness, love and hate be but predicated consistently and thoroughly of a Being, whether Infinite or finite, and the result will be blank nonentity. And such is the Brahm of the Hindu. He is everything and He is nothing alike.

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