Narach Philosophy

HINDU THOUGHT AND THE HOLY BIBLE: THE OLD TESTAMENT


We have examined the great systems of Hindu Philosophy and Religion and shown how they correspond to the great creative energies of life in the universe, and embrace all imaginable forms of thought from pure monism to utter atheism. It is impossible to think of any other form of religious faith, and it is permissible to believe that a theory of life so comprehensive in its scheme could hardly have been confined to the land of its birth, and must have made many votaries all over the world.

It is well known that India had great cultural contacts with other countries in the past, and Buddhism went out to penetrate the wall of China and the coast of Japan. What wonder if it annexed the neighbouring countries of Asia and Africa as well? There are many traces of Buddhism in Christianity itself; and if Sanskrt is, as is generally agreed, the common mother of all languages of the Aryan stock, we should only expect to find common forms of religious worship among Greeks, Romans, and Hindus alike.

But it would be idle to speculate. We have attempted to render the story of Buddha's life into a picture of Nyaya and Vaisesika systems of thought, which form the bases of the two schools of Buddhism. We have observed that the ancients personified great systems of Philosophy in different ways and in our explanation of the Mahabharata we shall see how all of them have been woven into Story-form. We find that the main incidents of the Bible the Old Testament as well as the new relating to the fall and Redemption of Man follow the same lines of thought as we get in the sacred literature of the Hindus. We have explained the ascending and descending scales of thought; how we rise from pure Sankhya or atheism to higher forms of thought, and finally to Vedanta or belief in God as the sole creator of the universe through the idea of Sacrifice or selfless and creative action; and then we might drop down to Nyaya or agnosticism if we abandon this idea and accept knowledge or the renunciation of action for our goal and the same line of thought runs through the great theory of the Fall and Redemption of Man as expressed in the Bible. This should hardly be surprising, for thought is not limited to country or clime, and modern archaeological research has bridged many a gulf in our knowledge of the past, and shown how far back we can see traces of the ancient civilization of India. Biblical mythology and belief, like Hinduism, has its problems and mysteries, and the Old Testament reads almost like a Hindu Purana; and it would not be strange if there were a common explanation for both.

Many allegorical interpretations of the story of Adam and Eve and the life of Jesus Christ have been attempted from time to time; and, while European scholars have confined their research mainly to Greek, Hebrew, or Egyptian sources, there are some who have noted a number of parallels between Biblical and Puranic mythology, and a few have gone so far as to identify Krshna and Christ because of the common sound of the names. But there has been little reasoned explanation of the whole; and we shall attempt a brief explanation of the story of Adam and Eve and the birth and life of Christ in the light of Hindu symbolism and systems of thought, and the reader may judge for himself how far it is satisfactory.

God and Nature; the Story of Creation: We are told that "in the beginning God created heaven and earth and the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep and the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters".

We see that the idea is that first of all there is nothing but God, and it is he who creates the universe. This is the idea of pure monism or Vedanta. God creates Prakrti or Nature, that is, heaven and earth, "the manifest forms of all life. Then we have explained that Prakrti is symbolized as Darkness (Tamas) or Water in Hindu thought", and so we are told that "darkness was upon the face of the deep". Again, we have explained that Purusha or God, after creating Prakrti, lies on it or is united with it, and out of this evolves the universe. God may, therefore, be said to "lie" on Prakrti; and so it is said that "the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters", even as Vishnu is said to lie on them.

The Creation of Life; the Vegetable and Animal Kingdoms: Then God is said to create Light and divide it from darkness; then a firmament, separating waters above from waters below; and then the waters of the earth are gathered into one place and dry land appears. Then the Earth brings forth grass and herbs and fruits; then God makes the Win, the moon, and the stars, after which the waters bring forth the moving creatures and the earth the living creatures, cattle and beasts; and finally God makes Man in his own image out of the dust of the ground.

It is unnecessary to give parallels to this from Hindu mythology. One point of interest here is that the vegetable kingdom is created before the animal kingdom, and both of them are born of the earth. This has its origin in the Upanishads; and in the Mahabharata we are told that Kunti (Earth) gives birth first to Karna or the vegetable kingdom, and then to the Pandava, brothers or the animal kingdom. We shall examine this in detail in our explanation of the Epic.

Man and Pure Monism: The idea of the individual Soul corresponds, as we have explained, to that of God or the supreme Soul in each system of thought; and, as the idea of God here is that of Vedanta, where he is conceived of as the sole creator of the universe, the idea of the individual Soul should be the same; and so we are told that "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul". This is Adam, the first Man, and the first Son of God.

The Trees of Knowledge and Action: We have explained that all systems of Philosophy and Religion can be rendered in terms of Knowledge or Action as the final end of life; and the special characteristic of Vedanta or pure monism is that it regards action as the supreme goal; whereas the remaining systems give a minor place to action and hold that knowledge is the ultimate end, till in the pure Sankhya we are asked to renounce all kinds of action, and to believe that knowledge is the only end.

Corresponding to this we are told that God created a Garden and planted in its midst the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, and he put Man in that Garden. The Tree of Life refers obviously to Action, for Life is often compared to a Tree in the Sacred Books of the Hindus, and the whole world is said to be a Field of Action, and we commonly speak of the fruit of action, in the same manner Knowledge might be compared to a Tree and so God is said to have planted these two Trees in the Garden where Man lived.

The Goal of Monism; the Fruit of Knowledge: We have observed that the more we believe in action as the goal of life, the nearer we are to monism or pure belief in God in the light of Vedanta; and the more we hold that knowledge is the final end, the more near are we to the Sankhya, which has no place for God in the world and holds that it is Nature, alone that creates.

Thus, so long as Man believes in God as the sole creator of the universe, he must act in the world; or, as hands are the instruments of action, he must work with his hands and so God places Adam in the garden "to till the ground", "to dress it and to keep it".

But if Man believes that knowledge is the only end, he goes down to the Sankhya or negation of God, and allies himself to Prakrti, and holds that it is Nature alone that creates. That is the "death" of Man, not only in a moral or metaphorical sense for he denies God but in a literal one; for we have shown that "death or slaughter" in the Sacred Books of the Hindus means literally "assigning to Prakrti, or showing that a person believes in Prakrti as the creator of life". Hence God commands Adam, saying �of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shalt not eat of it: for in the day that you eatest thereof, you shalt surely die". It would at first sight appear strange that God should forbid Man to acquire knowledge of both good and evil, and under such a terrible penalty; but knowledge is contrasted with action and, as we have explained, implies the negation of God and acceptance of Nature in his place; and the more perfect our knowledge, the more completely do we believe that it is Nature alone that creates. Hence it is the knowledge of both good and evil that causes "death".

Woman or Prakrti in Vedanta; the Birth of Eve: We have explained that, according to Vedanta, God creates Prakrti or the formless forces of Nature at first, and then, in union with it, creates the whole universe with its manifold variety of forms. This is the explanation of the "incest" of Prajapati, Manu, and Krshna with their "daughters", an account of which occurs in different Sacred Books of the Hindus. Again, as Prakrti is personified as a Woman, and God as Purusha or a Man, we may say that, corresponding to this idea, Woman is created out of Man, and then she becomes his wife.

Now we have observed that Adam, the first Man, believes in God as the sole creator of the universe, and his own idea too is understood in this light. It follows, therefore, that Woman should be created out of him, and she should be his wife. Hence we are told that God took out one of the ribs of Adam, and out of it he made a woman, and she became his wife. This is Eve.

Nature or Prakrti; the Serpent: We have explained how Nature or Prakrti is personified in different ways as Woman, Water, Darkness, or a Serpent in the Sacred Books of the Hindus; and shown how Vrtra of the Vedas and Kundalini of the Tantra convey the same idea. In the Bible too the Serpent refers to Nature or Prakrti; and, as the latter is characterised by knowledge as the final goal, we are told that "the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made".

Prakrti and Knowledge the Serpent Tempts Eve: We have explained that belief in Nature or Prakrti leads to the idea of knowledge as the final goal. In other words, when Prakrti becomes conscious of its character, it must hold to knowledge as the ultimate end of life. Eve, therefore, must partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, for she is Prakrti; and so we are told that the Serpent (another form of Prakti) tempted her (made her conscious of her true character), and she took of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and ate it.

Man Turns Away From God; the fall of Adam: But while knowledge is closely associated with Woman, Nature or Prakrti Man, Purusha, or God refers to action; and if a person accepts knowledge for his goal, he denies God, and holds that it is Nature alone that creates. Man (Adam) has so long believed in God and God alone; but now he accepts the fruit of knowledge from Prakrti or Eve, comes to believe in Prakrti rather than God, and by accepting knowledge for his goal, renounces God, and so incurs the penalty of "death" and so we are told that Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, "and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat".

The Penalty of God Denial: We have explained that, according to the Sankhya and other systems which hold that actions should be renounced and knowledge is the only end this world of life is said to be full of action and change, sorrow and misery, birth and death; and it is only by means of knowledge and the renunciation of action that we can escape these fetters that bind us. But so long as man lives, he must engage in some kind of action, for otherwise his very existence would become impossible. It follows, therefore, that if a person believes in knowledge as the final end, he must regard all action as full of sorrow and pain, and all birth as a source of misery and grief.

Now Adam and Eve or Man and Woman have accepted knowledge for their goal, and so their punishment must be that Man must curse the ground on which he walks, holding that all life is a womb of pain; he must believe that there is nothing but sorrow in the world; and all actions that he has to perform to carry on even the barest existence must appear to him irksome to a degree. In the same manner all birth must appear as bondage, giving cause for sorrow and not joy to the mother who bears the child and so we are told that God punished Adam and Eve for partaking of the fruit of knowledge, not with "death" as he had threatened, but something else. To Eve he said, "I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in sorrow you shalt bring forth children"; and to Adam he said, "Cursed is the ground for your sake; in sorrow shalt you eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and you shalt eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face shalt you eat bread, till you return unto the ground". The point of the "punishment" is now clear; but if we interpret the passage literally, it can satisfy neither our reason nor sense of justice, and it places God in a strange and false light.

The Relation of Purusha and Prakrti in the Sankhya: We have explained that, according to the Sankhya, the Philosophy of atheism, the presence of Purusha or the individual Soul excites Prakrti to activity. Prakrti is active, and ever revolves round Purusha. The Purusha, on the other hand, is said to be the knower of Prakrti. It is defined as a pure spirit, different from Prakrti, and it is the light by which we see that there is such a thing as Prakrti. Thus we might say that, according to the Sankhya, so long as Purusha and Prakti are together, Prakrti desires association with Purusha. Bondage belongs to Prakti and not to Purusha, it is said; and even the Sankhya admits the innate superiority of Purusha to Prakrti.

Hence in the �punishment� of Eve or Prakrti there are two more points of interest; and God says to her, "your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over thee". Taken in a literal sense, while one may perhaps demur to the rule of man over woman, it can hardly be a punishment for a wife to desire after her husband.

Knowledge and Action; Adam and Eve Are Driven Out of Paradise: We have pointed out that Man has now accepted knowledge for his goal, and so he must hold that all actions should be renounced. In other words, he must keep away from the Tree of Life or Action, which grows side by side with the Tree of Knowledge; and so we are told that God drove out Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden lest Man should put forth his hand and take of the Tree of Life. Without this explanation the text, as it stands, is meaningless; for God had permitted Man to partake of the Tree of Life, but not of Knowledge of good and evil; and even if it be Right to eschew knowledge, it can hardly be Right that, having acquired knowledge, we should have nothing to do with life.

It is unnecessary to follow the rest of the story of the Old Testament. We see that Man has fallen from pure faith in God to unbelief, and holds that all life is created by itself, through the inherent power of Nature, and there is no place for God in the scheme of the universe. How he is saved belongs to the story of the New Testament, and we shall presently see its significance. It may be of interest to mention here that this belief in the power of Nature or Prakrti is the basis of the principal Sankhya system of Hindu thought, to which Buddhism and Jainism correspond. It means, therefore, that different forms of these systems spread over the countries of Asia and Africa in the past, and were adapted to the circumstances and modes of thought of the people; and it was out of these that Man had to be saved.