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Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : CHAPTER XXIX. THE PEOPLE AMONG WHOM WE LABOUR (Continued).

Life And Work In Benares And Kumaon 1839-1877 by James Kennedy



I have endeavoured in my account of Benares to describe the Hindu idolatry there practised, and in my account of our missionary preaching I have stated the arguments by which that idolatry is defended. The Hindu system, it is well known, is at once pantheistic and polytheistic. The universe, we are told, is God expanded. Brahm -- he alone is the Existent One; but there are several persons and objects in which he is more manifest than in others, and as owing to Maya (illusion) we believe in our separate existence, it is fitting that to these objects special honour should be paid. I have mentioned the hideous aspect of the images worshipped at Benares, and their hideous aspect well accords with the character attributed to the gods worshipped under these forms.


We are all familiar with the maxim, Like priest, like people. May we say, Like God, like worshipper? If so, we must regard the Hindus as in the very mire of moral debasement. Just think of a whole people acting like Shiva, Doorga, and Krishna! I think it cannot be doubted by any one who looks at the nature of the human mind, and the power exercised over it by its belief, that the worship of these and similar gods, along with the prevalent pantheistic and fatalistic views, which strike at the very root of moral distinctions, have done much to deprave the Hindu mind. The people, indeed, often assert |to the powerful there is no fault.| The gods had the power and the opportunity to do what they did, and therefore no fault attached to their conduct; but ordinary persons have neither the one nor the other, and for them it would be very culpable to pursue the same course. Can a people fail to occupy a low place on the plane of morals to whom the maxim I have quoted would be tolerable? I believe they do as a people occupy a low place, and yet not nearly so low as might have been anticipated.

There is much to counteract the influence exerted on the Hindus by the evil example of their gods, by their excessive trust in outward rites apart from all mental working, and by the pantheistic teaching of their philosophers. They retain a moral nature, and acknowledge the distinction between right and wrong as readily as we do, though the distinction be inconsistent with the views they often express. The requirements of society and of daily life exert a powerful and salutary restraint by the obstacle which they present to a vicious career. The family constitution has conferred immense benefit on the Hindus, as on other nations.

It must be acknowledged that however long we may reside in India, our knowledge of the inner life of the people is very limited. We may be for years on the best terms with them; we may meet them frequently, and converse with them freely on all subjects; there may be not only acquaintance, but to all appearance friendship: and yet we have no entrance into the family circle, we cannot join them in the family meal, we can scarcely get a glimpse into their home life. If they be of the poorer class they would be shocked at our entering their houses, and conversing with their women and children. If of a higher class, they visit us and we visit them. They have a room of audience in which they welcome us. On occasions they prepare sumptuous feasts for Europeans, of which they themselves do not partake. However friendly we may be with natives of rank in Northern India, it is difficult, often impossible, to secure an interview between our wives and the female members of their families. As to English gentlemen, they never see the face of a native lady. Still, notwithstanding our being kept so far outside Hindu family life, we know enough about it to be sure there is often strong family affection. We have many proofs that parents regard their children with the most tender love; and we know that in the lower classes, at least, children often requite this love by sending a large portion of their wages to their aged parents. I myself have often been the channel of communication. It cannot be doubted that this family affection is widely extended, and has a very happy influence on the character and life of the people.


Professor Max Muller, in his recently-published book, |India, what can it teach us?| discusses at length the character of the Hindus. He quotes the views entertained by persons of large Indian experience, who had mixed freely with all classes, and yet differ widely in their testimony, showing that in forming an estimate of the character of a community we are greatly influenced by our temperament and by the standard we employ. Sir Thomas Munro, the famous Governor of Madras, speaks of the character and attainments of the Hindus in the most laudatory terms. He says, |If civilization is to become an article of trade between England and India, I am convinced that England will gain by the import cargo.| Sir Charles Trevelyan, on the other hand, speaks of them as a morally depraved people, to whom |the phenomenon is truly astonishing| |of a race of men on whose word perfect confidence may be placed.| |The natives require to be taught rectitude of conduct much more than literature and science.|

The Professor is evidently inclined to take the favourable view. He thinks the ordinary view of their falsehood and dishonesty is applicable only to the rabble of the cities and the frequenters of our courts, but is most unjust to the unsophisticated people of the country, whose truthfulness he extols. After the laudation of these honest and truthful people, I must say I was amused with the naivete of the learned Professor, when he goes on to show that the excellence of his proteges is not sufficiently strong to be maintained in the face of temptation. He says, |A man out of his village community is out of his element and under temptation. What would be called theft or robbery at home, is called a raid or conquest if directed against distant villages; and what would be falsehood or trickery in private life, is honoured by the name of policy and diplomacy if successful against strangers.| The lauded truthfulness and honesty are so delicate that they cannot stand the breath of the nipping cold which has to be encountered when they leave their sheltered enclosure. The excellence is, according to the Professor, though he does not say so in words, merely conventional, as it rests on the principle of mutual insurance among those who form a closely-knitted community, bound together by common interests and associations. Even then excellence needs to be guarded by an oath, which is viewed with superstitious awe. I do not think the Professor's friends will thank him for this defence of the morality of their countrymen.

When I think of the wickedness rampant among large classes in a country like our own, notwithstanding our great privileges, I shrink from applying to the Hindus the strong terms of condemnation which I have often heard. There is among them, as I have already said, much family affection; they are, in ordinary circumstances, very courteous; they often manifest a kindly disposition; almsgiving is reckoned a high virtue; many lead quiet, orderly, industrious lives; and, as Max Muller tells us, from the earliest age satya, |truth,| in its widest sense, has been represented by them as the very pillar on which goodness rests, though it must be allowed it has been much more praised than practised.


Am I then to say, as many have done, that Hinduism has done its adherents no harm, and that Christianity has done its adherents no good -- that the Hindus as a people stand as high morally as we do? With every desire to speak of them as favourably as I can, with a pleasing recollection of many acts of kindness and courtesy, and with every desire to rid myself of prejudice, I must dissent strongly from this view. I cannot forget the lurid light cast on the native character during the Mutiny; the treachery, ingratitude, falsehood, and cruelty shown by many who gloried in their caste purity -- relieved, however, it is only right to acknowledge, by notable instances of faithfulness and kindness. I cannot but remember the impression often made on my mind of their low standard of character, the absence of high motive, even when full expression has been given to the distinction between right and wrong. Happily, in our land there are many, in every class of society, who, as the result of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, hate sin in every form, and strive after excellence, an excellence springing from supreme love to God, and prompting to sustained effort for the good of man, for which we look in vain among the best of Hindus, though among them we discern the workings of conscience and the desire to do what is right. The standard of character is undoubtedly far higher among us than it is among Hindus, and this standard, protesting as it does against wickedness, and calling us to aspire after goodness, is in itself an incalculable benefit to a community. For many a day it has been my settled conviction that Hindus are vastly better than, looking at their religion, we could expect to find them, and that we on the other hand fall far below the excellence to which our religion summons us. If Hinduism was allowed full sway over its adherents society would go to pieces, while we should rise to the excellence of angels if we were to come under the full sway of the Gospel.

All have heard of the caste system of India, but only those who have lived among the people can understand its innumerable ramifications and its remarkable effects. Every caste, down to the lowest, is endlessly sub-divided. There are Brahmans who would as soon eat, drink, and intermarry with people of low caste, as with many who like themselves boast of Brahmanical blood. In books the Sudras are described as the fourth, the low, servile caste; but in fact a vast number in Northern India, who are loosely reckoned Hindus, are far below the Sudras, and thus the Sudras acquire a relatively high place. These low-caste people, on whom the people above them look down with contempt, are in their own fashion as tenacious of caste as their superiors, and they, too, multiply their divisions, one class maintaining its superiority to others. We have a large community called Chumars, |leather-people| as the word means, though many of them have nothing to do with leather. One of them once told me there were twelve divisions in their caste. We had near us at Ranee Khet a little colony of Dhobees, washermen, whom I visited now and then. I observed some huts were built separate from the rest, and I asked the reason. The man to whom I was speaking, for his class an intelligent man, expressed his surprise I did not know the reason. He said, with an air of dignity, |These are of an inferior order, and it is requisite their huts should be built apart.|

It has been often shown that this caste system is most baleful. It narrows the sympathies of the people, keeps them in the same groove, fetters their minds, represses individuality, and is a bar to progress. It would be unfair, however, to say that all its consequences are pernicious. It so far benefits those bound by it that it restrains them from some forms of evil, and secures mutual helpfulness, just as the close trade guilds of our own country did, of which we have happily got rid. When the clan system was in full force among the Scotch Highlanders, there were broken men, men who had left the clan or were expelled from it, and these were notorious for their crimes. In like manner there are persons who break away from caste, and are the worst members of the community.

The patriarchal system, the system so prevalent in India, by which the people, instead of forming separate families in their separate dwellings, all form one household, to a large extent with a common purse and under a common rule, is perhaps still more fitted to fetter the mind and to obstruct progress than even caste itself. Those who have embraced Christ as their Saviour have often suffered more from their own kindred, dwelling together, than from their caste brethren.


Many things tend to the disintegration of caste, such as education, the subjection of all to the same laws, the growing demands of commerce, and travelling together in railway-carriages. The attractions of the railway, notwithstanding its disregard of class distinctions, are irresistible. Thousands of pilgrims thus make their way to distant shrines, though by travelling in this easy fashion they lose the merit which suffering would bring. When railways were constructed, a proposal was made by leading Hindus to have separate carriages for separate castes, but compliance with the proposal was of course out of the question; and now high Brahmans and low Chumars -- who are never seen in the same temple even though they worship the same gods, as the presence of a Chumar there would be deemed a profanation -- may be seen packed in the same carriage in as close contact as two human beings can be. When they separate the Brahmans have recourse to lustrations, and satisfy themselves the impurity has been washed away.

In the great Presidency cities caste is no doubt greatly weakened. Many openly violate its rules, and are never called to account, but these very persons take care to maintain their caste position for certain domestic and social purposes. Leaving these cities and a small class scattered over the country, the mass of the people seem as much bound by caste as they ever were, so far as its outward requirements are concerned, though, as I have said, there are no doubt influences widely spread which tend to its relaxation. This is the case in Northern India, at any rate.

Much has been said about the Brahmist movement. The number of its professed adherents is very small, but many of the educated class are imbued with its spirit. Years ago branches of the Brahmist Sumaj were formed in the great cities of the North-West by young Bengalees employed in the public offices. For a time their services were kept up zealously, but soon they declined. The last time I heard about these communities most had ceased to exist, and only two or three had any sign of vitality. So far as I have learned, the Brahmists have had very few adherents from the Hindus of the North-West. At first sight Brahmism seems an advance towards the Gospel, and a preparation for its reception, but the best of our native Christians in Calcutta look on it as furnishing a welcome abode to those who cannot remain Hindus, and yet for various reasons refuse to embrace Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Its avowed hostility to definite doctrine, to what is denounced as dogma, the dreamy sentimentalism characteristic of the system, the ignoring to a great extent of the terrible facts of man's depravity and guilt, and the coquetting with Vedism, do little towards bringing its adherents to the feet of Jesus. The Brahmists used at one time to taunt us with our divisions, but for a long time they have had two separate Sumajes, composed respectively of Conservatives and Liberals. In consequence of Chunder Sen's Hindu proclivities in his later years, the Liberals became divided among themselves, the majority having seceded, while a few remained his devoted followers, who are likely to settle down into a Hindu sect, tinged with Christian thought and feeling.


From time to time reformers have appeared among the Hindus. Gautam, the Sakya Saint, was one of the earliest and greatest of the class. Successive reformers have had a great following, but the stream has not risen above its source. From Gautam downward some fundamental principles of Hinduism have been retained, and in the end these principles have asserted much of their former sway. This threatens to be the case with Brahmism. Notwithstanding its assertion of the Divine Unity, it has a strong pantheistic tinge, and already we see its effect. As it has arisen in a measure as the result of Christian teaching, and among a people to whom the Gospel is made known, it may be hoped that many, influenced by it, may travel upward to the light, instead of turning to the darkness from which they have emerged.

Increasing effort has been put forth in late years for the menial and spiritual improvement of the female portion of the population. From the commencement of missions, the wives of missionaries have bestowed much labour on the women and girls to whom they could find access. These have been well-nigh exclusively either Christians, or of the lower class of society. Very occasionally individuals of a higher class come under Christian teaching. A daughter of the late Rajah of Coorg, a state prisoner at Benares, was for a time under the tuition of Mrs. Kennedy. She was brought daily to our house, sat with us at table, and was taught with our children. The Rajah wished her to be brought up as a Christian and an English lady, in the hope that he might thus be helped in getting back his kingdom. Eventually she was brought to England, was baptized by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Queen standing sponsor, and was married to an English officer. She survived her marriage a very short time. This was altogether an exceptional case. It has been most difficult for the wives of missionaries to obtain even an occasional interview with native ladies, as I have already intimated, though their husbands have been our frequent and friendly visitors. From the Reports of Zenana Missions we learn that of late years access has been obtained to many native families which had till recently been excluded from all Christian, and, indeed, from all European influence. The lady physician is often welcome where the ordinary teacher can find no entrance. In a city like Benares -- and I suppose it is the same elsewhere -- except for the lady physician in her professional capacity, and only rarely even in that capacity, the door of the Zenanas in the houses of the great magnates continues shut against all who would seek to awake and guide the dormant minds there.


Nothing can be conceived more deplorable than the condition of the ladies of India, living, as the phrase is, behind the curtain. They are, as a rule, utterly uneducated, know nothing of books, are shut out from the world, and have no refuge from ennui in such employments as needlework, knitting, and embroidery, for which the nimble fingers of the sisterhood are so well adapted. They have no society beyond the women of the household, their husbands and their children. An occasional glimpse has been got by our ladies into their state, and, as might have been expected, their minds have been found utterly childish and dwarfed. Happily for themselves the vast majority of the women of the country are under no such bondage. Their husbands cannot afford to curtain them. They move about freely as they do in our country, only with the hood ready to come down over the face. They are seen in the streets of Benares as they are seen in the streets of our own towns.

All have heard of the low view of woman entertained in India, and of the humiliating customs to which she is subjected; but nature asserts itself there as elsewhere, and notwithstanding all the inferiority with which she is charged, she exercises a profound influence on the male portion of the community. This is recognized by the people always saying, Ma, Bap -- Mother, Father -- not Father and Mother, as we say. It is well known that in the large households of which I have spoken the dowager lady is the supreme ruler, often the tyrant -- not the less a tyrant because in her youth she had been treated as a slave. The state of widows, many of them mere children, is sad indeed.

Shut out though we be to a large extent from native families, we have many proofs presented to us of the power of female influence, a power often most perniciously exerted, as it is the power of ignorance and superstition, a power opposed to all intellectual and spiritual progress. The devout women of India are often our most formidable enemies, as they were of Paul in Antioch in Pisidia, and no doubt in other places. Some of our converts have known from painful experience what their opposition to the Gospel is, and it cannot be doubted that many have been prevented from joining us by the pressure brought to bear on them by their mothers, wives, and sisters. Well may every friend of India pray earnestly that Zenana Missions may be crowned with success.

A returned missionary is often asked what are the prospects of missions. From careful and trustworthy statistics we learn the number of Christians is increasing rapidly. It is right to observe that this increase has come mainly from the non-Aryan tribes, and people of low caste. We have valuable converts from the higher castes, but they are few. When we leave statistics we have recourse to impression, and that impression depends greatly on circumstances, and still more, perhaps, on the temperament of the observer. It is very difficult to gauge public opinion. When we think of all the influences at work, such as education, both primary and more advanced, Christian literature, missionary effort in many forms, railway travelling, commerce, and a Government bent on doing justice, we look forward with hope to an awaking of the Hindu mind, under which it will seek and embrace the highest good.


The obstacles to success are most formidable, so formidable that, notwithstanding promising appearances, we should despair if we were not assured that the work is of God. The literature of our own country is strengthening the opposition to us. The unbelief of many educated natives, an unbelief springing both from repugnance to the Gospel and from dread of the sacrifices to which its acceptance would subject them, is fortified by the perusal of sceptical books and periodicals. Years ago I met a Bengalee far up in the mountains, who told me I need not speak to him about Christianity, for all reasonable people in England were abandoning it. In proof he put into my hands a letter from Professor Newman in answer to a letter he had sent to him. The Professor counselled his correspondent to worship God as his conscience and reason directed him, and to keep apart from the Christian Church.

Notwithstanding these obstacles to the reception of the Gospel, there are persons to whom it has come with a Divine sanction, but who are so bound by family and social ties that they do not avow their faith. Striking instances of this failure to act in accordance with conviction have come under my observation. I mention only one. I once had an interview with a dying young Hindu, who had been taught in a mission school and was well acquainted with the Gospel. With tears in his eyes he said all his trust for salvation was in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that he knew it was his duty to avow his faith, but he could not, for if he did his relatives would one and all abandon him. He seemed to dread any one but myself hearing the confession of his faith. I have known others who have had a strong drawing to the Saviour, but they have stifled their convictions, and have become, as I remember with sadness, bitter foes of the truth. Let only the tide set in in favour of Christianity, and many, I doubt not, will be ready to flow with it.

It ought ever to be remembered that in India we have a vast population. In the North-Western Provinces and Punjab alone there is a population twice as large as that of Great Britain and Ireland. Those of this population who may be said to be educated in a high degree are the merest handful. You travel hundreds of miles through regions full of towns, villages, and hamlets, where you find that the partially educated are very few compared with the wholly uneducated many. Even most of the shopkeepers who can keep accounts well are unable to read a book with ease, as the written and printed characters are very different. All know that their English rulers are called Christians; those who live near the great lines of road hear an occasional address from a passing missionary, many frequenters of melas have come under the sound of the Gospel, but the vast majority have not the slightest conception of its meaning. When Christianity had spread to a considerable extent in the Roman Empire, country districts were so little affected by it that pagani (villagers) became soon synonymous with |heathen,| the only meaning which attaches to the word as it is now used by us. A vast work has to be done before the villagers of Northern India cease to be pagans in our sense of the word. The work of evangelization is only in its initial stage. It is yet with us the day of small things -- but it is the day, not the night. The morning has dawned; over a great part of Northern India we can only see the faint streaks of the coming day, but the light will spread, the darkness will vanish, and the millions of that great country will yet be gladdened by the beams of the Sun of Righteousness.

I mention, and merely mention, help which India gives for the solution of some great questions: --

(1) The immobility of the Eastern mind. In manner of life, in salutations, in offerings of inferiors to superiors, in many customs, the far East, like the nearer East, continually reminds us of the East as presented in the records of antiquity -- above all as presented to us in the Bible. He must be a very careless observer who has not been struck with the resemblance. The restless changing West furnishes in this respect a striking contrast to the staid, unchanging East. There has been no such immobility as to religious opinion and practice. There, as elsewhere, it holds true that man's mind never remains in one stay. The Hindus of the present day speak of their Vedic ancestors with profound reverence, but if they were to rise from their graves and act as they did when denizens of earth -- kill cows, disregard caste, drink largely of the intoxicating juice of the som plant, and worship in an entirely different manner -- their reverence would turn into horror and detestation. We cannot say that the modern Puranas do not rest in any degree on the Vedas; some Vedic principles are manifest in them: but in the gods they set forth for worship and in the practices they enjoin, there is between them and the Vedas a marked diversity. The numerous sects which have arisen from time to time among the Hindus show that they too have had that measure of mental activity which has led to new forms of thought and practice.


(2) The genesis and evolution of religion. In the dim remote past to which the Vedas introduce us, we find the Hindus a religious, a very religious, people. There is no indication of any period when they could be called secularists. Their religious views and practices have changed, there has been an evolving process; the connection may be traced, and we see the result in the Puranic system of our day. Has this movement been forward, or backward? Has the fittest survived and the weak and useless perished? The Vedic system little deserves the praise often lavished on it, but surely it is preferable to that which has taken its place. There has been deterioration, not improvement. Has not this ever been the case in reference to religion, so far as the working of the human mind is concerned? Is not modern Buddhism a falling off from ancient Buddhism? Does not Rabbinical Judaism belittle and dwarf Old Testament Judaism? Does not Roman Catholic Christianity materialize New Testament Christianity? The facts of man's religious history prove incontestably that his constant tendency is towards retrogression, not towards advancement.


(3) Comparative religion. On this subject elaborate treatises have been written with the object of proving that all religions have had their origin in the human mind, and have been evolved under purely human conditions. Some of the writers, prompted, we may hope, by a devout feeling, allow in vague terms an influence exerted on the evolution by Providential arrangements. Still, in the result we are not to see in any case the effect of a supernatural revelation, but in all cases an approximation in different degrees to truth, secured by the unaided working of the human mind. Does a comparison between the sacred books of the Hindus and the Bible support this view? Listen to a Sanscrit specialist like Professor Max Mueller, who has spent years in the study of the Veda, and who has every conceivable motive to say everything he can on its behalf: |That the Veda is full of childish, silly, even to our mind monstrous conceptions, who would deny? But even these monstrosities are interesting and instructive. I could not even answer the question, if you were to ask it, whether the religion of the Veda was polytheistic or monotheistic. Monotheistic in the usual sense of the word it is decidedly not.| The dreamy, vague teaching of the Veda has hardened into the unmistakable polytheism and pantheism of modern Hinduism. In no country in the world has mind been more active than in India; in no country have the learned had such abundant leisure, such full opportunity for quiet, sustained thought -- and you see the result. We follow with deep interest and sympathy the straining of these minds to understand themselves and the world around; as they grope after God we find they occasionally obtain a glimpse of the highest truth, but the darkness, though for the moment relieved, is not dispelled. The truth has continued to elude them. They have not arrived at the knowledge of even the first principles of a theology worthy of God, and fitted to direct, purify, and guide man. Excellent, high-toned sentiments are no doubt found in Hindu writings, but these do not alter their general character. The Bible, by its teaching regarding God and man, above all by its record of the peerless excellence of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the provision made through Him for the supply of man's deepest wants, presents a marvellous contrast to the Veda, to the great epic poems of the Hindus, to their philosophical treatises and their Puranas. I know a good deal of what has been said to show that the characteristics of the Bible may be accounted for on merely human principles, but the certain facts of the case refute, to my mind, the arguments adduced. Max Mueller says in one of his writings -- I cannot quote his exact words -- that we are not to look in the songs of the Veda for anything so advanced as we find in the Psalter. Why not? Had not the Pundits of India far more cultured minds than David and the hymnists of Israel? Their works are different, for their teaching came from different sources. One benefit I have got from my residence in India, a conviction deepened by every successive glimpse into Hindu teaching and practice: that in the Bible we have a supernatural revelation of God's will, and that in building on it we are building on a rock which cannot be shaken.

(4) The migration of nations. Few things in the history of the world are more surprising to us than whole nations making their way to new and remote countries. I have thought I have got a little help towards understanding these movements when I have observed large bands of people -- men, women, and children -- pursuing their journey, carrying with them all they deemed necessary, and lying out at night on the bare ground, with a blanket, which they had carried over their shoulder, as their only covering. They took food with them when they knew that at their halting-place it could not be procured. Very differently do our native regiments travel. They are attended by a host of camp-followers, and have a formidable amount of baggage. I once saw a party of woodmen in the hills sleeping under a tree when there was frost on the ground; and on the remark being made it was a wonder they could live, a hillman remarked, |Has not each got his blanket? What hardship is there?| When nations migrated they no doubt sent out scouring parties, who seized all the food on which they could lay their hands. When travelling alone in the hills I had commonly with me a tent so small that a man carried it on his head, but I must acknowledge I could not approach the simplicity of the native traveller's arrangements.


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