|I have known cases of young ministers dissuaded
from facing the missionary call by those who posed
as friends of Foreign Missions, and yet presumed
to argue: 'Your spiritual power and intellectual
attainments are needed by the Church at home; they
would be wasted in the Foreign Field.' 'Spiritual
power wasted' in a land like India! Where is it so
sorely needed as in a continent where Satan has
constructed his strongest fortresses and displayed
the choicest masterpieces of his skill?
'Intellectual ability wasted' among a people whose
scholars smile inwardly at the ignorance of the
average Western! Brothers, if God is calling
you, be not deterred by flimsy subterfuges such
as these. You will need the power of God the Holy
Ghost to make you an efficient missionary. You
will find your reputation for scholarship put to
the severest test in India. Here is ample scope
alike for men of approved spiritual power and for
intellectual giants. And so I repeat, if God is
calling you, buckle on your sword, come to the
fight, and win your spurs among the cultured sons
of India.|Rev. T. Walker, India.
THE sensation you experience is curious when you rise from the study of Sir Monier William's Brahmanism and Hinduism and go out to your work, and meet in that work someone who seems to be quoting that same book, not in paragraphs only, but in pages. He is talking Tamil, and the book is written in English; that is all the difference. He was standing by the wayside when I saw him: we got into conversation.
At first he reminded me of a sea anemone, with all its tentacles drawn inside, but gradually one by one they came out, and I saw what he really was; and I think the great Christian scholar, who laboured so hard to understand and translate into words the intricacies and mysteries of Indian thought, would have felt a little repaid had he known how his work would help in the practical business of a missionary's life. Part of our business is to meet the mind with which we are dealing half-way with quick comprehension. It is in this Sir Monier Williams helps.
When once this man felt himself understood, his whole attitude changed. At first, expecting, I suppose, that he was being mistaken for |an ignorant heathen| and worshipper of stocks and stones, he hardly took the trouble to do more than answer, as he thought, a fool according to his folly. The tentacles were all in then.
But that passed soon, and he pointed to the shed behind him, where two or three life-size idol horses stood and said how childish he knew it was, foolish and vain. But then, what else could be done? Idols are not objects of worship, and never were intended so to be; their only use is to help the uninitiated to worship Something. If nothing were shown them, they would worship nothing; and a non-worshipping human being is an animal, not a man.
He went on to answer the objections to this means of quickening intelligent worship by explaining how, in higher and purer ways, the thinkers of Hinduism had tried to make the unthinking think. |Look at our temples,| he said. |There is a central shrine, with only one light in it. The darkness of the shrine symbolises the darkness of the world, of life and death and being. For life is a darkness, a whirlpool of dark waters. We stand on its edge, but we do not understand it. It is dark, but light there must be; one great light. So we show this certainty by the symbol of the one light in the shrine, in the very heart of our temples.|
This led on to quotations from his own books, questioning the validity of such lights, which he finished the moment one began them, and this again led to our Lord's words, -- how strong they sounded, and how direct -- |I am the Light of the World.| But he could not accept them in their simplicity, and here it was that the book I had been reading came in so helpfully. He spoke rapidly and eagerly, and such a mixture of Sanscrit and Tamil that if I had not had the clue I am not sure I could have followed him, and to have misunderstood him then might have driven all the tentacles in, and made it harder for the next one whom the Spirit may send to win his confidence.
He told me that, after much study of many religions, he held the eternal existence of one, Brahma. The human spirit, he said, is not really distinct from the Divine Spirit, but identical with it; the apparent distinction arises from our illusory view of things: there is absolutely no distinction in spirit. Mind is distinct, he admitted, and body is distinct, but spirit is identical; so that, |in a definitely defined sense, I am God, God is I. The so-called two are one, in all essentials of being.| And he touched himself and said, |I am Brahma. I myself, my real I, am God.|
It sounds terribly irreverent, but he did not for a moment mean it so. Go back to Gen. ii.7, and try to define the meaning of the words, |the breath of life,| and you will, if you think enough, find yourself in a position to understand how the Hindu, without revelation, ends as he does in delusion.
But, intertwined with this central fibre of his faith, there were strands of a strange philosophy; he held strongly the doctrine of Illusion, by which the one impersonal Spirit, |in the illusion which overspreads it, is to the external world what yarn is to cloth, what milk is to curds, what clay is to a jar, but only in that illusion,| that is, |he is not the actual material cause of the world, as clay of a jar, but the illusory material cause, as a rope might be of a snake|; and the spirit of man |is that Spirit, personalised and limited by the power of illusion; and the life of every living spirit is nothing but an infinitesimal arc of the one endless circle of infinite existence.|
Of course there are answers to this sort of reasoning which are perfectly convincing to the Western, but they fail to appeal to the Eastern mind. You suggest a practical test as to the reality or otherwise of this |Illusion| -- touch something, run a pin into yourself, do anything to prove to yourself your own actuality, and he has his answer ready. Though theoretically he holds that there is one, and only one, Spirit, he |virtually believes in three conditions of being -- the real, the practical, and the illusory; for while he affirms that the one Spirit, Brahma, alone has a real existence, he allows a practical separate existence to human spirits, to the world, and to the personal God or gods, as well as an illusory existence. Hence every object is to be dealt with practically, as if it were really what it appears to be.|
This is only the end of a long and very confusing argument, which I expect I did not half understand, and he concluded it by quoting a stanza, thus translated by Dr. Pope, from an ancient Tamil classic --
|O Being hard to reach,
O Splendour infinite, unknown, in sooth
I know not what to do!|
|He is far away from me,| he said, |a distant God to reach,| and when I quoted from St. Augustine, |To Him who is everywhere, men come not by travelling, but by loving,| and showed him the words, which in Tamil are splendidly negative, |He is NOT far from every one of us,| he eluded the comfort and went back to the old question, |What is Truth? How can one prove what is Truth?|
There is an Indian story of a queen who |proved the truth by tasting the food.| The story tells how her husband, who dearly loved her, and whom she dearly loved, lost his kingdom, wandered away with his queen into the forest, left her there as she slept, hoping she would fare better without him, and followed her long afterwards to her father's court, deformed, disguised, a servant among servants, a cook. Then her maidens came to her, told her of the wonderful cooking, magical in manner, marvellous in flavour and in fragrance. They are sure it is the long-lost king come back to her, and they bid her believe and rejoice. But the queen fears it may not be true. She must prove it, she must taste the food. They bring her some. She tastes, and knows. And the story ends in joy. |Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.| |If any man will do His Will, he shall know.|
We got closer in thought after this. For the Oriental, a story is an illuminating thing. |I have sought for the way of truth,| he said, |and sought for the way of light and life. Behind me, as I look, there is darkness. Before me there is only the Unknown.| And then, with an earnestness I cannot describe, he said, |I worship Him I know not, the Unknown God.| |Whom, therefore, ye worship, though ye know Him not, Him declare I unto you.| One could only press home God's own answer to his words.
One other verse held him in its power before I went: |I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.| With those two verses I left him.
It was evening, and he stood in the shadow, looking into it. There was a tangle of undergrowth, and a heavy grove of palms. It was all dark as you looked in. Behind was the shrine of the demon steeds, the god and his wife who ride out at night to chase evil spirits away. Near by was an old tree, also in shade, with an idol under it. It was all in shadow, and full of shadowy nothings, all dark.
But just outside, when I went, there was light; the soft light of the after-glow, which comes soon after the sun has set, as a sign that there is a sun somewhere, and shining. And I thought of his very last words to me, but I cannot describe the earnestness of them, |I worship the Unknown God.|
Friends, who worship a God whom you know, whose joy in life is to know Him, will you remember and pray for that one, who to-day is seeking, I think in truth, to find the Unknown God?