The author believes that it would be necessary for a student of Indian religions to undertake first of all a long and difficult investigation into sources, and further that from the point of view of the study of religions what was wanted was not so much fresh study of individual books as a clear comprehensive survey of the literature so far as critical inquiry, translations and the publication of texts have made it known, so that the student might be able to begin the study of any part of it with intelligence, and to find his way without serious difficulty to all the existing literature, modern as well as ancient, which deals with the section of the field in which he is interested.
Having this end in view the author has prepared this already well known work which is obviously not a history of the religions but a sketch of the religious literature of India. He has attempted to divide the millenniums covered by the growth of the literature into periods corresponding as nearly as possible to the great waves of change in belief and practice, and within each period to group the books, as far as possible, according to the religion, the sect, and the sub-sect to which they severally belong.
To make the narrative readable despite the great compression which has been necessary the author has mentioned in the text only volumes of outstanding importance and has relegated all the rest of the detail involved to the Bibliography. The narrative is meant to give an outline of the history and to exhibit the position and influence of the chief masses of the literature and of the leading thinkers and writers, while the Bibliography is meant to supply lists of all the more important religious works, of the best critical books and articles written on these in modern times and of all available translations.
This book has been written from an overwhelming sense of personal need. On every occasion when I have fried to think my way through the history of any one of the chief Hindu sects or philosophies, or to realize the origin and growth of some doctrine or discipline, I have found my way barred, because the religious literature is so imperfectly known. Numberless friends have expressed in conversation and correspondence the same feeling of helplessness. In order to deal with any one of these subjects it would be necessary for the student to undertake first of all a long and difficult investigation into the sources.
The Vedic literature has been studied with the utmost care by a company of brilliant scholars; certain sections of the philosophical literature have been critically examined; the classical Sanskrit literature is well known; and portions of the literature of Buddhism and of Jainism have been carefully described; but on the mass of the books produced by Hindu sects and on great sections of Buddhist and Jam literature very little labour has yet been expended; while no attempt has over been made to deal with the religious history as an undivided whole which must be seen as one long process of development before the meaning of the constituent sects or religions can be fully understood.
Consequently, the question arose whether it would not be possible to write a sketch of the whole religious literature c - India. I was under no illusions as to the magnitude and the difficulty of the undertaking; and I was very painfully conscious of the slenderness of my own linguistic preparation for the task. On the other hand, I believed that, from the point of view of the study of religions, what was wanted was not so much fresh critical study of individual books as a clear comprehensible survey of the literature so far as critical inquiry, translations, and the publication of texts have made it known, so that the student might be able to begin the study of any part of it with intelligence, and to find his way without serious difficulty to all the existing literature, modern as well as ancient, which deals with the section of the field in which he is interested.
It was quite clear that to bring together all that is already known about Hindu, Buddhist, and Jam literature, whether in Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit, or the modern vernaculars, and exhibit it as one historical development, would be extremely illuminating. The three religions are moments in a single religious movement; and they have reacted on each other throughout their history. Vernacular religious books are as truly a vital part of the growth of the sects as their more formal Sanskrit manuals are. For a full understanding of the history, the whole must be envisaged as one great movement.
I was also conscious that during the last twenty years a very large number of elements in the religious and literary history have been illuminated by fresh discoveries. A good deal of work has been done on the vernacular literatures, and masses of sectarian works in Sanskrit have been unearthed. Yet most of these important advances lie buried in notes in learned journals, in prefaces to texts, in catalogues, in articles in encyclopaedias, or in obscure monographs. They have not yet found their way into any text-book of the literature or of the religions. For example, the problem of the date of the philosophical Sutras has quite recently been brought much nearer solution, and the result is a general clarifying 0f the perspective in one of the most important periods. Numerous books, articles, and stray observations have shed welcome rays of light on these systems and their history. Professor Keith’s Vedic works contain masses of historical and chronological observations referring to the whole of Vedic and sub-Vedic literature. Professors Hopkins’s book, Tue Great Epic of India, throws a flood of light on the religious changes of the time when the epics were gradually being formed. The serried phalanx of details exhibited in Guerinot’s splendid thesaurus has never been worked up into a history of Jam literature. Numerous works describe or throw light on sections of the literature of Buddhism; yet no one has reduced them to a single ordered narrative. H. P. Sastri’s catalogues of Nepalese manuscripts, Vidyabhushana’s volume on mediaeval logic, Bhandarkar’s work on the sects, and Schrader’s volume on the Vaishnava Samhitas, each contain notable contributions to religious and literary history. Finally, translations from various Indian tongues have in recent years brought many of the more interesting texts within reach of the student of religions.
Another consideration which helped me to get over the feeling that it was extremely rash to undertake such a book was the fact that I have had personal religious intercourse with members of most of the modern sects which come under review, and that, in the ordinary course of my work, I am able to meet Indian scholars and in conversation to receive from them detailed information not otherwise obtainable.
Careful students are well aware that, if the religious history of India is to be understood, each of the leading sects of the three religions must be described by itself. Yet, if each is dealt with in isolation, where will the general movement make itself felt, and how shall we perceive the rise of changes common to all the sects? Clearly the unity of the history in all its length and breadth must be regarded as broken and diversified, on the one hand, by numerous religious communities which, so to speak, lie parallel to each other, and, on the other, by successive waves of change each of which has swept over all the communities in existence at the time of its appearance and has modified each in some degree. How, then, were these two forms of variation to he exhibited in a continuous narrative? I have attempted to divide the millenniums covered by the growth of the literature into periods corresponding as nearly as possible to the great waves of change in belief and practice, and within each period to group the books, as far as possible, according to the religion, the sect, and the sub-sect to which they severally belong.
The result of this method of procedure is to throw the broad changes marked by the periods into bold relief and to indicate clearly which sects were active within each period but it has this disadvantage that, in the case of every sect which has been prominent through several periods, the history is cut up into as many pieces. But this disadvantage is more apparent than real ; for the student who wishes to deal with a single community will probably find it a rewarding piece of work to study first the whole history throughout a number of periods, and then to re-read consecutively the portions which deal with the particular community.
The reason why the investigation ends with the eighteenth century is this, that from that point Western influence began to act on the Indian mind, and the new forces thereby released are still only in process of being revealed; so that it is not yet possible to write an account of them in any way comparable with the other chapters of the book. In my Modern Religious Movements in India an attempt has been made to sketch the religious organizations which have made their appearance since the dawn of the new day.
In preparing the book I have tried to make the narrative readable, if possible, despite the great compression which is necessary, if the subject is to be set forth within the compass of a single volume. I have, therefore, mentioned in the text only volumes of outstanding importance, and have relegated all the rest of the detail involved to the Bibliography. Thus the advanced student had better use the two parts of the book together. The narrative is meant to give an outline of the history and to exhibit the position and influence of the chief masses of the literature and of the leading thinkers and writers, while the Bibliography is meant to supply lists of all the more important religious works, of the best critical books and articles written on these in modern times and of all available translations. For two reasons I decided not to give particulars about editions in the original tongues: these are so numerous that it would take much space to catalogue them, and it is clear that, from the point of view of the average student of religions, books in the original languages are almost useless.
The text of each chapter is divided up by means of headings, so as to exhibit the sectarian relationships, and is then further subdivided into short sections, consecutively numbered, to facilitate reference. In the main part of the Bibliography the books of each sect or school are arranged as far as possible in historical order, and consecutively numbered, the dates and the numbers being printed in emphasized type, so that the chronology may stand out clear and the numbers may readily catch the eye.
It may be well also to point out the unavoidable limitations of the work. First of all, the whole of the secular literature is dropped out of sight. Secondly, since our aim is the study of the religions, the emphasis falls throughout on the religious rather than on the literary aspects of the books. Thirdly, our attention is restricted to the literature as the chief source of knowledge of the religions, and no attempt is made to deal, except in the most incidental way, with other sources, epigraphy, archaeology, art, and what not. Again, while the nature of the task makes it necessary to say a great deal about the religions, the work is not a history of the religions but a sketch of the religious literature. It may also be well to warn readers that large elements of Indian religion scarcely appear in our pages at all. Those cults which have produced no literature are necessarily outside our survey.
I owe a great deal of the most reliable information in the book to the assistance of friends. The subject is so vast and involves so much accurate knowledge that it was clear from the outset that I should have to rely largely on the help of others.
I owe the greatest debt of all to a number of Indian scholars who have most generously given me of their very best. I subjoin a list of my chief helpers with the subjects on which they have given me information:
Mahãmahopadhyaya Vindhyevari Prasäd of the Sanskrit Library, Benares: The Vedanta and the Smartas.
Dr. Ganga Natha Jha, Allahabad: The Karma Mimamsa.
Dr. Laddu, the Sanskrit College, Benares: The Bhagavatas and early Mararthi literature.
The Rev. Francis Kingsbury, United Theological College, Bangalore: Tamil literature and the history of the Tamil Saivas.
A. Govindãcharya Svamin, Mysore City: the Sri-Vaishnavas.
Rao Sahib P. G. Halkatti, Bijapur, and another distinguished Vira Saiva: the Vira Saivas.
Pandita M. L. Sãstri, Broach and Poona: the Vallabhachãryas.
Prof. Bhagavata Kumara Gosvami’ Sastri, MA., Hoogly: the Chaitanya sect.
Pandita Radha Charana Gosvami Vidyavagisa, Honorary Magistrate, Brindaban: the Nimbarkas.
Dr. V. V. Ramana Sastri, Tanjore: the later Saiva literature. Dr. M. Krishnamacharya, Tanuku, Kistna dist.: chronological questions.
Mr. Justice j. L. Jaini, Indore: the Digambara fain Secondary Canon.
Mr. P. P. Subramanya Sãstri, Balliol College, Oxford: Appaya Dikshita, and Sakta worship among Smãrtas.
So many Missionaries have been of service to me that I must not attempt to mention them all.
The late Dr. K. S. Macdonald of the United Free Church Mission, Calcutta, set about gathering material on the Hindu Tantras a few years before his death, and persuaded a number of his friends to analyse or translate one or more Tantras each, in order to help him in the study. The Ms. material which he left, most obligingly placed at my service by Mrs. Macdonald, has helped me considerably with the later history of the Sakta sect in Bengal. These MSS. may be found on p. 389. of the Bibliography, each described as belonging to the Macdonald MSS.
I owe a special debt to my friend the late Rev. J. J. Johnson of the Church Missionary Society, Benares, who passed suddenly away shortly after my visit to him in December, 1917. It will be something of a consolation for my heavy loss if I bear testimony here to his worth. He was thoroughly well known all over India among Hindu scholars and ascetics for his beautiful Sanskrit speech and his interest in Hindu philosophy. Every one called him Pandit Johnson. How often did the three of us meet— Mr. Johnson, his loved and trusted friend, Mahämahopadhyaya Vindhyesvari Prasad, a scholar of rare judgement who has been already mentioned, and myself. We met so because of my inability to express myself in the classic tongue of India, and our procedure was always the same. I asked my questions in English, and Mr. Johnson expressed them in Sanskrit. I was then usually able to follow the Sastri’s Sanskrit replies, but if I failed to catch a point Mr. Johnson again interpreted. Now that he is gone Benares can never again be the same to me.
To the Rev. Dr. James Shepherd, of Udaipur—charming host and beloved missionary—I owe the settlement of the date and history of Mira Bãi, the Rajput princess whose lyrics of passionate devotion for Krishna have won her enduring fame.
A pair of Poona friends, the Rev. Dr. N. Macnicol and the Rev. A. Robertson, have given me most generous help toward the interpretation of the religion and the poetry of the Maratha saints and the elucidation of Manbhau problems.
To all others, whether Indians or Missionaries, who have answered my questions, orally or by letter, or who have led me to fresh sources of information, I wish to express my unfeigned gratitude and thanks.
My teacher, Prof. A. A. Macdonell of Oxford, read the first and second chapters of the book in manuscript, and made many valuable suggestions. For the assistance of his ripe Vedic scholarship I am deeply grateful. Prof. A. Berriedale Keith of Edinburgh read the whole manuscript, and sent me a large number of critical notes which have saved me from blunders, from dangerous statements, and from reliance on weak- evidence, and have suggested numerous fresh points of view. For such help no thanks dan make an adequate return.
But while I owe much precious information and help to these scholars, Indian and European, they must not be held responsible for any statement in the text for I have not accepted all their conclusions. The final historical judgement in every case is my own. It is therefore quite possible that my suggestions as to what the history behind the evidence is in any particular case may seem to them quite unjustifiable. This is above all likely to happen in the case of the sects. Dr. Berriedale Keith is certainly of opinion that I have been a good deal too optimistic in attempting to assign individual Puranas, Tantras, and Upanishads to the chronological periods adopted in the book. I have, however, in each case indicated that the ascription is tentative and at best only probable; and it has seemed wise even to run the risk of being discovered in error, in the hope that the tentative history may stimulate further investigation.
Letters indicating errors or omissions or fresh points of view will be very warmly welcomed.
To Dr. James Morison, Librarian of the Indian Institute, Oxford, who has faithfully carried out the long toilsome task of revising the proofs, I wish to offer my sincere gratitude.
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