I Must begin this series of translations of the Sacred Books of the East with three cautions:- the first, referring to the character of the original texts here translated; the second, with regard to the difficulties in making a proper use of translations; the third, showing what is possible and what is impossible in rendering ancient thought into modern speech.
Readers who have been led to believe that the Vedas of the ancient Brahmans, the Avesta of the Zoroastrians, the Tripitaka of the Buddhists, the Kings of Confucius, or the Koran of Mohammed are books full of primeval wisdom and religious enthusiasm, or at least of sound and simple moral teaching, will be disappointed on consulting these volumes. Looking at many of the books that have lately been published on the religions of the ancient world, I do not wonder that such a belief should have been raised; but I have long felt that it was high time to dispel such illusions, and to place the study of the ancient religions of the world on a more real and sound, on a more truly historical basis. It is but natural that those who write on ancient religions, and who have studied them from translations only, not from original documents, should have had eyes for their bright rather than for their dark sides. The former absorb all the attention of the student, the latter, as they teach nothing, seem hardly to deserve any notice. Scholars also who have devoted their life either to the editing of the original texts or to the careful interpretation of some of the sacred books, are more inclined, after they have disinterred from a heap of rubbish some solitary fragments of pure gold, to exhibit these treasures only than to display all the refuse from which they had to extract them. I do not blame them for this, perhaps I should feel that I was open to the same blame myself, for it is but natural that scholars in their joy at finding one or two fragrant fruits or flowers should gladly forget the brambles and thorns that had to be thrown aside in the course of their search.
But whether I am myself one of the guilty or not, I cannot help calling attention to the real mischief that has been done and is still being done by the enthusiasm of those pioneers who have opened the first avenues through the bewildering forest of the sacred literature of the East. They have raised expectations that cannot be fulfilled, fears also that, as will be easily seen, are unfounded. Anyhow they have removed the study of religion from that whole some and matter-of-fact atmosphere in which alone it can produce valuable and permanent results.
The time has come when the study of the ancient religions of mankind must be approached in a different, in a less enthusiastic, and more discriminating, in fact, in a more scholar like spirit. Not that I object to dilettanti, if they only are what by their name they profess to be, devoted lovers, and not mere amateurs. The religions of antiquity must always be approached in a loving spirit, and the dry and cold-blooded scholar is likely to do here as much mischief as the enthusiastic sciolist. But true love does not ignore all faults and failings: on the contrary, it scans them keenly, though only in order to be able to understand, to explain, and thus to excuse them. To watch in the Sacred Books of the East the dawn of the religious consciousness of man, must always remain one of the most inspiring and hallowing sights in the whole history of the world; and he whose heart cannot quiver with the first quivering rays of human thought and human faith, as revealed in those ancient documents, is, in his own way, as unfit for these studies as, from another side, the man who shrinks from copying and collating ancient MSS., or toiling through volumes of tedious commentary. What we want here, as everywhere else, is the truth, and the whole truth; and if the whole truth must be told, it is that, however radiant the dawn of religious thought, it is not without its dark clouds, its chilling colds, its noxious vapours. Whoever does not know these, or would hide them from his own sight and from the sight of others, does not know and can never understand the real toil and travail of the human heart in its first religious aspirations; and not knowing its toil and travail, can never know the intensity of its triumphs and its joys.
In order to have a solid foundation for a comparative study of the religions of the East, we must have before all things complete and thoroughly faithful translations of their sacred books. Extracts will no longer suffice. We do not know Germany. if we know the Rhine; nor Rome, when we have admired St. Peter's. No one who collects and publishes such extracts can resist, no one at all events, so far as I know, has ever resisted, the temptation of giving what is beautiful, or it may be what is strange and startling, and leaving out what is commonplace, tedious, or it may be repulsive, or, lastly, what is difficult to construe and to understand. We must face the problem in its completeness, and I confess it has been for many years a problem to me, aye, and to a great extent is so still, how the Sacred Books of the East should, by the side of so much that is fresh, natural, simple, beautiful, and true, contain so much that is not only unmeaning, artificial, and silly, but even hideous and repellent. This is a fact, and must be accounted for in some way or other.
To some minds this problem may seem to be no problem at all. To those (and I do not speak of Christians only) who look upon the sacred books of all religions except their own as necessarily the out come of human or superhuman ignorance and depravity, the mixed nature of their contents may seem to be exactly what it ought to be, what they expected it would be. But there are other and more reverent minds who can feel a divine afflatus in the sacred books, not only of their own, but of other religions also, and to them the mixed character of some of the ancient sacred canons must always be extremely perplexing.
I can account for it to a certain extent, though not entirely to my own satisfaction. Most of the ancient sacred books have been handed down by oral tradition for many generations before they were consigned to writing. In an age when there was nothing corresponding to what we call literature, every saying, every proverb, every story handed down from father to son, received very soon a kind of hallowed character. They became sacred heirlooms, sacred, because they came from an unknown source, from a distant age. There was a stage in the development of human thought, when the distance that separated the living generation from their grandfathers or great-grandfathers was as yet the nearest approach to a conception of eternity, and when the name of grandfather and great-grandfather seemed the nearest expression of God. Hence, what had been said by these half-human. half-divine ancestors, if it was preserved at all, was soon looked upon as a more than human utterance. It was received with reverence, it was never questioned and criticised.
Some of these ancient sayings were preserved because they were so true and so striking that they could not be forgotten. They contained eternal truths, expressed for the first time in human language. Of such oracles of truth it was said in India that they had been heard, sruta, and from it arose the word sruti, the recognised term for divine revelation in Sanskrit.
But besides those utterances which had a vitality of their own, strong enough to defy the power of time, there were others which might have struck the minds of the listeners with great force under the peculiar circumstances that evoked them, but which, when these circumstances were forgotten, became trivial and almost unintelligible. A few verses sung by warriors on the eve of a great battle would, if that battle ended in victory, assume a charm quite independent of their poetic merit. They would be repeated in memory of the heroes who conquered, and of the gods who granted victory. But when the heroes, and the gods, and the victory were all forgotten, the song of victory and thanksgiving would often survive as a relic of the past, though almost unintelligible to later generations.
The ancient Vedic literature, the foundation of the whole literature of India, which has been handed down in that country in an unbroken succession from the earliest times within the recollection of man to the present day, became known for the first time beyond the frontiers of India through the Upanishads. The Upanishads were translated from Sanskrit into Persian by, or, it may be, for Dara Shukoh, the eldest son of Shah Jehan, an enlightened prince, who openly professed the liberal religious tenets of the great Emperor Akbar, and even wrote a book intended to reconcile the religious doctrines of Hindus and Mohammedans. He seems first to have heard of the Upanishads during his stay in Kashmir in 1640. He afterwards invited several Pandits from Benares to Delhi, who were to assist him in the work of translation. The translation was finished in 1657. Three years after the accomplishment of this work, in 1659, the prince was put to death by his brother Aurangzib, in reality, no doubt, because he was the eldest son and legitimate successor of Shah Jehan, but under the pretext that he was an infidel, and dangerous to the established religion of the empire.
When the Upanishads had once been translated from Sanskrit into Persian, at that time the most widely read language of the East and understood likewise by many European scholars, they became generally accessible to all who took an interest in the religious literature of India. It is true that under Akbar's reign (1556-1586) similar translations had been prepared, but neither those nor the translations of Dara Shukoh attracted the 'attention of European scholars till the year 1775. In that year Anquetil Duperron, the famous traveller and discoverer of the Zend-avesta, received one MS. of the Persian translation of the Upanishads, sent to him by M. Gentil, the French resident at the court of Shuja ud daula, and brought to France by M. Bernier. After receiving another MS., Anquetil Duperron collated the two, and translated the Persian translation into French (not published), and into Latin. That Latin translation was published in 1801 and 1802, under the title of ' Oupnek'hat, id est, Secretum tegendu : opus ipsa in India rarissimum, continens antiquam et arcanam, seu theologicam et philosophicam doctrinam, e quatuor sacris Indorum libris Rak baid, Djedjer baid, Sam baid, Athrban baid excerptam; ad verbum, e Persico idiomate, Samkreticis vocabulis intermixto, in Latinum conversum: Dissertationibus et Annotationibus difficiliora explanantibus, illustratum: studio et opera Anquetil Duperron, Indicopleustze. Argentorati, typis et impensis fratrum Levrault, vol. i, 1801; vol. ii, 18023.’
This translation, though it attracted considerable interest among scholars, was written in so utterly unintelligible a style, that it required the lynxlike perspicacity of an intrepid philosopher, such as Schopenhauer, to discover a thread through such a labyrinth. Schopenhauer, however, not only found and followed such a thread, but he had the courage to proclaim to an incredulous age the vast treasures of thought which were lying buried beneath that fearful jargon.
As Anquetil Duperron's volumes have become scarce, I shall here give a short specimen of his translation, which corresponds to the first sentences of my translation of the Khandogya-upanishad (p. I) :- ‘Oum hoc verbum (esse) adkit ut sciveris, sic TO maschghouli fac (de eo medi- tare), quod ipsum hoc verbum aodkit est; propter illud quod hoc (verbum) oum, in Sam Beid, cum voce alta, cum harmonia pronunciatum fiat.
'Adkiteh porro cremor (optimum, selectissimum) est: quemadmodum ex (prae) omni quieto (non moto), et moto, pulvis (terra) cremor (optimum) est; et e (prae) terra aqua cremor est; et ex aqua, comedendum (victus) cremor est; (et) e comedendo, comedens cremor est; et e comedente, loquela (id quod dicitur) cremor est; et e loquela, aret TOV Beid, et ex aiet, TO siam, id est, cum harmonia (pronunciatum); et e Sa m, TO adkit, cremor est; id est, oum, voce alta, cum harmonia pronunciare, aokit, cremor cremorum (optimum optimorum) est. Major, ex (prae) adkit, cremor alter non est.'
Schopenhauer not only read this translation carefully, but he makes no secret of it, that his own philosophy is powerfully impregnated by the fundamental doctrines of the Upanishads. He dwells on it. again and again, and it seems both (air to Schopenhauer's memory and highly important for a true appreciation of the philosophical value of the Upanishads, to put together what that vigorous thinker has written on those ancient rhapsodies of truth.
In his 'Welt als Wille und Vorstellung,' he writes, in the preface to the first edition, p. xiii:
‘If the reader has also received the benefit of the Vedas, the access to which by means of the Upanishads is in my eyes the greatest privilege which this still young century (1818) may claim before all previous centuries, (for I anticipate that the influence of Sanskrit literature will not be less profound than the revival of Greek in the fourteenth century,)-if then the reader, I say, has received his initiation in primeval Indian wisdom, and received it with an open heart, he will be prepared in the very best way for hearing what I have to tell him. It will not sound to him strange, as to many others, much less disagreeable; for I might, if it did not sound conceited, contend that everyone of the detached statements which constitute the Upanishads, may be deduced as a necessary result from the fundamental thoughts which I have to enunciate, though those deductions themselves are by no means to be found there.'
And again :
‘If I consider how difficult it is, even with the assistance of the best and carefully educated teachers, and with all the excellent philological appliances collected in the course of this century, to arrive at a really correct, accurate, and living understanding of Greek and Roman authors, whose language was after all the language of our own predecessors in Europe, and the mother of our own, while Sanskrit, on the contrary, was spoken thousands of years ago in distant India, and can be learnt only with appliances which are as yet very imperfect ;-if I add to this the impression which the translations of Sanskrit works by European scholars, with very few exceptions, produce on my mind, I cannot resist a certain suspicion that our Sanskrit scholars do not understand their texts much better than the higher class of schoolboys their Greek. Of course, as they are not boys, but men of knowledge and understanding, they put together, out of what they do understand, something like what the general meaning may have been, but much probably creeps in ex ingenio. It is still worse with the Chinese of our European Sinologues.
'If then I consider, on the other hand, that Sultan Mohammed Dad Shukoh, the brother of Aurangzib, was born and bred in India, was a learned, thoughtful, and enquiring man, and therefore probably understood his Sanskrit about as well as we our Latin, that moreover he was assisted by a number of the most learned Pandits, all this together gives me at once a very high opinion of his translation of the Vedic Upanishads into Persian. If, besides this, I see with what profound and quite appropriate reverence Anquetil Duperron has treated that Persian translation, rendering it in Latin word by word, retaining, in spite of Latin grammar, the Persian syntax, and all the Sanskrit words which the Sultan himself had left untranslated, though explaining them in a glossary, I feel the most perfect confidence in reading that translation, and that confidence soon receives its most perfect justification. For how entirely does the Oupnekhat breathe throughout the holy spirit of the Vedas! How is every one who by a diligent study of its Persian Latin has become familiar with that incomparable book, stirred by that spirit to the very depth of his soul! How does every line display its firm, definite, and throughout harmonious meaning! From every sentence deep, original, and sublime thoughts arise, and the whole is pervaded by a high and holy and earnest spirit. Indian air surrounds us, and original thoughts of kindred spirits. And oh, how thoroughly is the mind here washed clean of all early engrafted Jewish superstitions, and of all philosophy that cringes before those superstitions! In the whole world there is no study, except that of the originals, so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Oupnekhat. It has been the solace of my life, it will be the solace of my death!
‘Though I feel the highest regard for the religious and philosophical works of Sanskrit literature, I have not been able to derive much pleasure from their poetical compositions. Nay, they seem to me sometimes as tasteless and monstrous as the sculpture of India.
‘In most of the pagan philosophical writers of the first Christian centuries we see the Jewish theism, which, as Christianity, was soon to become the faith of the people, shining through, much as at present we may perceive shining through in the writings of the learned, the native pantheism of India, which is destined sooner or later to become the faith of the people. Ex oriente lux.’
This may seem strong language, and, in some respects, too strong. But I thought it right to quote it here, because, whatever may be urged against Schopenhauer, he was a thoroughly honest thinker and honest speaker, and no one would suspect him of any predilection for what has been so readily called Indian mysticism. That Schelling and his school should use rapturous language about the Upanishads, might carry little weight with that large class of philosophers by whom everything beyond the clouds of their own horizon is labelled mysticism. But that Schopenhauer should have spoken of the Upanishads as 'products of the highest wisdom' (Ausgeburt der hochsten Weisheit), that he should have placed the pantheism there taught high above the pantheism of Bruno, Male- branche, Spinoza, and Scotus Erigena, as brought to light again at Oxford in 1681, may perhaps secure a more considerate reception for these relics of ancient wisdom than anything that I could say in their favour.
This second volume completes the translation of the principal Upanishads to which Sankara appeals in his great commentary on the Vedanta-Sutras, viz.:
1. Khandogya-upanishad, 2. Talavakara or Kena-upanishad, 3. Aitareya-upanishad, 4. Kaushitaki-upanishad, 5. Vagasaneyi or Isa-upanishad, 6. Katha-upanishad, 7. Mundaka-upanishad, 8. Taittiriyak'a-upanishad, 9. Brzbadaranyaka-upanishad, 10. Svetarvatara-upanishad, 11. Prasna-upanishad. These eleven have sometimes been called the old and genuine Upanishads, though I should be satisfied to caIl them the eleven classical Upanishads, or the fundamental Upanishads of the Vedanta philosophy.
Vidyaranya, in his 'Elucidation of the meaning of all the Upanishads,' Sarvopanishadarthanubhuti-prakasa, confines himself likewise to those treatises, dropping, however, the Isa, and adding the Maitrayana-upanishad, of which I have given a translation in this volume, and the Nri- simhottara-tapaniya- upanishad, the translation of which had to be reserved for the next volume.
It is more difficult to determine which of the Upanishads were chosen by Sankara or deserving the honour of a special commentary. We possess his commentaries on the eleven Upanishads mentioned before , with the exception of the Kaushitaki -upanishad. We likewise possess his commentary on the Mandukya-upanishad, but we do not know for certain whether he left commentaries on any of the other Upanishads. Some more or less authoritative statements have been made that he wrote commentaries on some of the minor Upanishads, such as the Atharvasiras, Atharva-sikha, and the Nrisimhatapani. But as, besides Sankarakarya, the disciple of Govinda, there is Sankarananda, the disciple of Anandatman, another writer of commentaries on the Upanishads, it is possible that the two names may have been confounded by less careful copyists.
With regard to the Nrisimhatapani all uncertainty might seem to be removed, after Professor Rarnamaya Tarkaratna has actually published its text with the commentary of Sankarakarya in the Bibliotheca Indica, Calcutta, 187I. But some uncertainty still remains. While at the end of each Khanda of the Nrisimha-purvatapani we read that the Bhashya was the work of the Paramahamsa-parivra- gakakarya Sri-Sankara, the pupil of Govinda, we have no such information for the Nrisimha-uttaratapani, but are told on the contrary that the words Sri-Govindabhagavat &c. have been added at the end by the editor, because he thought fit to do so. This is, to say the least, very suspicious, and we must wait for further confirmation. There is another commentary on this Upanishad by Narayanabhatta, the son of Bhatta Ratnakara, who is well known as the author of Dipikas on several Upanishads.
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