Hegel on India and Hinduism

I was reading Hegel a while back and I thought my dear readers might want to see some of his content. At the end of this introductory bit I have just excerpted in total “Section II: India” and “Section II: (Continued) India Buddhism”  from “Part 1: The Oriental World” of G.W.F Hegel’s The Philosophy of History. So if you’d like to skip my blather, go down to the section “On India” right below the winged Zoroastrian symbol.

Introduction and preliminary analysis: 

Everyone seems to dislike that Hegel is overly obtuse and abstract, but when he discusses history he is actually taking in very concrete terms most of the time. This is not exactly a reliable source for specific information about Indian history or philosophy. In some ways it is a better study of how Europeans see India than it is a study of India. It suffers from a caricatured view of India as a land of contradiction, chaos, and conflict. For the most part his characterizations of India aren’t totally baseless though, as stereotypes often have a basis in reality. They are just stereotypical exaggerations or generalizations which lack any sort of nuance or qualification. He also seems to uncritically accept very early orientalist insights in Sanskritic culture as fact, and as reflective of the Indian society of the 1800s. To some degree this is excusable because Sanskrit translations and real detailed historical knowledge of India were still undergoing development in Europe. He had to have been over reliant on early translations of the Vedas, the Dharmashastras (particularly Manu), the Pali canon perhaps, and the writings of some few high-philosophers. Given his time period, his knowledge of Indian philosophy is actually impressive. He writes some rather detailed information here about the Samkhya, Nyaya, and Vaisheshika schools, so he at least knew that much. Yet perhaps I am being too generous to Hegel here. It is somewhat baffling to me how he derives an extreme idealist worldview from these three schools, Vaisheshika in particular. It was reading those philosophical schools which persuaded me that India has a sublimated tradition of naturalism. I feel that if he was also familiar with them it should have occurred to him that Hindu idealism is at least alloyed with a rationalistic form of naturalism.

In accordance with his historically constrained worldview he describes India as a region with unchanging institutions and ideas. It is a land of fantasy, beauty and the erotic. “It has always been the land of imaginative aspiration, and appears to us still as a Fairy region, an enchanted World.” It is a dreamy land where spirit rules over matter. He says “India as a Land of Desire forms an essential element in General History.” Yet it is also a land whose core religious concept is annihilation. India is full of cruel violence and a total lack of western style morality: “Deceit and cunning are the fundamental characteristics of the Hindoo. Cheating, stealing, robbing, murdering are with him habitual. Humbly crouching and abject before a victor and lord, he is recklessly barbarous to the vanquished and subject.” India is thus trapped in the chaotic tension between pleasure and renunciation, spirit and matter, life and annihilation. The result is insanity, political chaos, social stasis, and a lack of generalized human compassion. This is actually true to an extent. India does exhibit an unusual degree of extremes in terms of political forms and “uneven” technological development. Insanity is more tolerated or glorified there, particularly in Bengali culture. A generalized social morality didn’t develop in early India, which instead had caste-type morality. This might explain the callousness which many Indians show to people in their out-group. Indian philosophy frequently toys with binaries as well. But what Hegel doesn’t ever seem to address is how Indian philosophers actually try to resolve this tension. Nor does he ever convey the cosmic and social vision of order which the Hindus profess. Nor does he present a persuasive case for why caste-based morality is a coherent moral framework, or how a Hindu would respond to his claims about insanity or chaos. He essentially leaves the reader to assume Hindus to be essentially insane and evil, and goes further to assert the historical falsehood that India is historically more internally unstable than other regions of the world such as Europe. (If that was indeed the case, India would have stood a better shot at competing with Europe for world conquest, assuming this study’s findings are reliable)

He does rank India as “superior” in some sense more historically than China, despite its absence of ancient prose writing. The reason for this is that Hegel sees history as a purpose driven process. The goal of history is the achievement of human freedom or put more confusingly, the self-manifestation of spirit. The caste order of India is further along in this process than China is.

As a tangential side note, Hegel does does oddly adhere to an out of India theory of human migration rather than positing a European or Central Asian Indo-European Urheimat :

“India, moreover, was the centre of emigration for all the western world; but this external historical relation is to be regarded rather as a merely physical diffusion of peoples from this point.”

Despite its flaws, he does make a lot of interesting comparisons and inferences. The emphasis on idealism which he identifies is real, as is the apparent moral indifference which Europeans tend to observe in them, as is the Indian tendency to drift between binaries (or more generously, to try to resolve false binaries).

He makes insightful remarks on differences in moral theory:

“While we say, “Bravery is a virtue,” the Hindoos say, on the contrary, “Bravery is the virtue of the Cshatryas.” Humanity generally, human duty and human feeling do not manifest themselves; we find only duties assigned to the several castes.”

Or the unusual Indian tendency to see animal life as important, even more important than human life in some cases:

“Characteristic of the Hindoo’s humanity is the fact that he kills no brute animal, founds and supports rich hospitals for brutes, especially for old cows and monkeys – but that through the whole land, no single institution can be found for human beings who are diseased or infirm from age. The Hindoos will not tread upon ants, but they are perfectly indifferent when poor wanderers pine away with hunger.”

Even the European stereotype of India as the land of beauty, the erotic, and of desire can be informative to us. It is now uncontroversial to observe that Hindu and Indian aesthetic theory was more developed at an earlier stage than its European counterpart. Why might that be? If you read the piece watch for how the concepts of beauty, spirit, insanity, and chaos relate to one another.

Hindu culture's interest in pleasure, beauty, and the erotic (kama, rasa) has always attracted a disproportionate level of western interest, and Hegel was far from the last to observe how this sits juxtaposed to the austere renunciation also present in Hindu philosophy. (Image source)

Hindu culture’s interest in pleasure, beauty, and the erotic (kama, rasa) has always attracted a disproportionate level of western interest. Hegel was far from the last to observe how this sits juxtaposed to the austere renunciation also present in Hindu philosophy. It is worth considering why this (apparent, or substantive?) juxtaposition exists in India.  (Image source)

I’m experimenting with the idea of doing posts which take a lot less time to produce, so this will be where my input peters out. My added emphasis to Hegel’s passages is in bold.

On China and Persia :

Before the section on India Hegel starts out with the idea that history begins at a certain point (here the advent of “prose” within a given population) and then goes through stages:

” The diffusion of Language and the formation of races lie beyond the limits of History. History is prose, and myths fall short of History.”

“Of the several parts of Asia we have already eliminated as unhistorical, Upper Asia (so far and so long as its Nomad population do not appear on the scene of history), and Siberia. The rest of the Asiatic World is divided into four districts: first, the River-Plains, formed by the Yellow and Blue Stream, and the Upland of farther Asia – China and the Mongols. Secondly, the valley of the Ganges and that of the Indus. The third theatre of History comprises the river-plains of the Oxus and Jaxartes, the Upland of Persia, and the other valley-plains of the Euphrates and Tigris, to which Hither-Asia attaches itself. Fourthly, the River-plain of the Nile.”

So there five zones total, including the first one: Northern Asia (uncivilized), East Asia, India, Persia and Mesopotamia, and Egypt.

Aside from the northern zone of uncivilized wastes, Hegel seems to believe that as civilizations progress westward across the map from China to Europe, they progressively get more "advanced".

Aside from the northern zone of uncivilized wastes, Hegel seems to believe that as civilizations progress westward across the map from China to Europe, they progressively get more “advanced.” (Image source)

China is characterized as:

“With China and the Mongols – the realm of theocratic despotism – History begins. Both have the patriarchal constitution for their principle – so modified in China, as to admit the development of an organized system of secular polity; while among the Mongols it limits itself to the simple form of a spiritual, religious sovereignty.”

Now Hegel’s introduction of India:

“In the second phase – the Indian realm – we see the unity of political organization – a perfect civil machinery, such as exists in China – in the first instance, broken up. The several powers of society appear as dissevered and free in relation to each other. The different castes are indeed, fixed; but in view of the religious doctrine that established them, they wear the aspect of natural distinctions. Individuals are thereby still further stripped of proper personality – although it might appear as if they derived gain from the development of the distinctions in question. For though we find the organization of the State no longer, as in China, determined and arranged by the one all-absorbing personality (the head of the State) the distinctions that exist are attributed to Nature, and so become differences of Caste. The unity in which these divisions must finally meet, is a religious one; and thus arises Theocratic Aristocracy and its despotism. Here begins, therefore, the distinction between the spiritual consciousness and secular conditions; but as the separation implied in the above mentioned distinctions is the cardinal consideration, so also we find in the religion the principle of the isolation of the constituent elements of the Idea; – a principle which posits the harshest antithesis – the conception of the purely abstract unity of God, and of the purely sensual Powers of Nature. The connection of the two is only a constant change – a restless hurrying from one extreme to the other – a wild chaos of fruitless variation, which must appear as madness to a duly regulated, intelligent consciousness.”

The monolithic power of the Chinese state model has been segmented into castes. (it is unclear if Hegel thinks that India at one time had a Chinese style state, or if it India is merely the “second stage” of development in some conceptual sense) And here already we start to get the “chaos” and “madness” type words coming out. We are also getting the impression that unlike China, India is broken, fragmented. All this is to imply that it is rife with contradictions.

The contrast is even clearer when compared with Persia, which like China, is monolithic:

” In Persia namely, the Theocratic power appears as a Monarchy. Now Monarchy is that kind of constitution which does indeed unite the members of the body politic in the head of the government as in a point; but regards that head neither as the absolute director nor the arbitrary ruler, but as a power whose will is regulated by the same principle of law as the obedience of the subject.”

Persia has a “Universal Principle” while India does not. The Indian mind is uniquely incoherent and filled with contradiction. The Persian mind is:

“existing only for Thought, yet jealous and excluding from his being and abolishing all distinct specialty of manifestations [avatars], such as are freely allowed in other religions. This Persian Empire, then – since it can tolerate these several principles, exhibits the Antithesis in a lively active form, and is not shut up within itself, abstract and calm, as are China and India – makes a real transition in the History of the World.”

Leaving aside questions of monism, dualism, pluralism, or a "Universal Idea" it is interesting to observe that aesthetically Zoroastrianism is more single-pointed and Hinduism presents a plurality of forms. (Image source)

Leaving aside questions of monism, dualism, pluralism, or a “Universal Idea” it is interesting to observe that aesthetically Zoroastrianism is more single-pointed and Hinduism presents a plurality of forms. (Image source)

From here, I’ll just paste the entire sections of the book dealing with India (really 1.5 sections) without any further comment. Read it if you’d like here, or check out the full context at Marxists.org 

On India:

Section II: India

India, like China, is a phenomenon antique as well as modern; one which has remained stationary and fixed, and has received a most perfect home-sprung development. It has always been the land of imaginative aspiration, and appears to us still as a Fairy region, an enchanted World. In contrast with the Chinese State, which presents only the most prosaic Understanding, India is the region of phantasy and sensibility. The point of advance in principle which it exhibits to us may be generally stated as follows: – In China the patriarchal principle rules a people in a condition of nonage, the part of whose moral resolution is occupied by the regulating law, and the moral oversight of the Emperor. Now it is the interest of Spirit that external conditions should become internal ones; that the natural and the spiritual world should be recognized in the subjective aspect belonging to intelligence; by which process the unity of subjectivity and [positive] Being generally – or the Idealism of Existence – is established. This Idealism, then, is found in India, but only as an Idealism of imagination, without distinct conceptions; – one which does indeed free existence from Beginning and Matter [liberates it from temporal limitations and gross materiality], but changes everything into the merely Imaginative; for although the latter appears interwoven with definite conceptions and Thought presents itself as an occasional concomitant, this happens only through accidental combination. Since, however, it is the abstract and absolute Thought itself that enters into these dreams as their material, we may say that Absolute Being is presented here as in the ecstatic state of a dreaming condition. For we have not the dreaming of an actual Individual, possessing distinct personality, and simply unfettering the latter from limitation, but we have the dreaming of the unlimited absolute Spirit.

There is a beauty of a peculiar kind in women, in which their countenance presents a transparency of skin, a light and lovely roseate hue, which is unlike the complexion of mere health and vital vigor – a more refined bloom, breathed, as it were, by the soul within – and in which the features, the light of the eye, the position of the mouth, appear soft, yielding, and relaxed. This almost unearthly beauty is perceived in women in those days which immediately succeed child-birth; when freedom from the burden of pregnancy and the pains of travail is added to the joy of soul that welcomes the gift of a beloved infant. A similar tone of beauty is seen also in women during the magical somnambulic sleep, connecting them with a world of superterrestrial beauty. A great artist (Schoreel) has moreover given this tone to the dying Mary, whose spirit is already rising to the regions of the blessed, but once more, as it were, lights up her dying countenance for a farewell kiss. Such a beauty we find also in its loveliest form in the Indian World; a beauty of enervation in which all that is rough, rigid, and contradictory is dissolved, and we have only the soul in a state of emotion – a soul, however, in which the death of free self-reliant Spirit is perceptible. For should we approach the charm of this Flower-life – a charm rich in imagination and genius – in which its whole environment and all its relations are permeated by the rose-breath of the Soul, and the World is transformed into a Garden of Love – should we look at it more closely, and examine it in the light of Human Dignity and Freedom – the more attractive the first sight of it had been, so much the more unworthy shall we ultimately find it in every respect.

The character of Spirit in a state of Dream, as the generic principle of the Hindoo Nature, must be further defined. In a dream, the individual ceases to be conscious of self or such, in contradistinction from objective existences. When awake, I exist for myself, and the rest of creation is an external, fixed objectivity, as I myself am for it. As external, the rest of existence expands itself to a rationally connected whole; a system of relations, in which my individual being is itself a member – an individual being united with that totality. This is the sphere of Understanding. In the state of dreaming, on the contrary, this separation is suspended. Spirit has ceased to exist for itself in contrast with alien existence, and thus the separation of the external and individual dissolves before its universality – its essence. The dreaming Indian is therefore all that we call finite and individual; and, at the same time – as infinitely universal and unlimited – a something intrinsically divine. The Indian view of things is a Universal Pantheism, a Pantheism, however, of Imagination, not of Thought. One substance pervades the Whole of things, and all individualizations are directly vitalized and animated into particular Powers. The sensuous matter and content are in each case simply and in the rough taken up, and carried over into the sphere of the Universal and Immeasurable. It is not liberated by the free power of Spirit into a beautiful form, and idealized in the Spirit, so that the sensuous might be a merely subservient and compliant expression of the spiritual; but [the sensuous object itself] is expanded into the immeasurable and undefined, and the Divine is thereby made bizarre, confused, and ridiculous. These dreams are not mere fables – a play of the imagination, in which the soul only revelled in fantastic gambols: it is lost in them; hurried to and fro by these reveries, as by something that exists really and seriously for it. It is delivered over to these limited objects as to its Lords and Gods. Everything, therefore – Sun, Moon, Stars, the Ganges, the Indus, Beasts, Flowers – everything is a God to it. And while, in this deification, the finite loses its consistency and substantiality, intelligent conception of it is impossible. Conversely the Divine, regarded as essentially changeable and unfixed, is also by the base form which it assumes, defiled and made absurd. In this universal deification of all finite existence, and consequent degradation of the Divine, the idea of Theanthropy, the incarnation of God, is not a particularly important conception. The parrot, the cow, the ape, etc., are likewise incarnations of God, yet are not therefore elevated above their nature. The Divine is not individualized to a subject, to concrete Spirit, but degraded to vulgarity and senselessness. This gives us a general idea of the Indian view of the Universe. Things are as much stripped of rationality, of finite consistent stability of cause and effect, as man is of the steadfastness of free individuality, of personality, and freedom. Externally, India sustains manifold relations to the History of the World. In recent times the discovery has been made, that the Sanscrit lies at the foundation of all those further developments which form the languages of Europe; e.g., the Greek, Latin, German. India, moreover, was the centre of emigration for all the western world; but this external historical relation is to be regarded rather as a merely physical diffusion of peoples from this point. Although in India the elements of further developments might be discovered, and although we could find traces of their being transmitted to the West, this transmission has been nevertheless so abstract [so superficial], that that which among later peoples attracts our interest, is not anything derived from India, but rather something concrete, which they themselves have formed, and in regard to which they have done their best to forget Indian elements of culture. The spread of Indian culture is prehistorical, for History is limited to that which makes an essential epoch in the development of Spirit. On the whole, the diffusion of Indian culture is only a dumb, deedless expansion; that is, it presents no political action. The people of India have achieved no foreign conquests, but have been on every occasion vanquished themselves. And as in this silent way, Northern India has been a centre of emigration, productive of merely physical diffusion, India as a Land of Desire forms an essential element in General History. From the most ancient times downwards, all nations have directed their wishes and longings to gaining access to the treasures of this land of marvels, the most costly which the Earth presents; treasures of Nature – pearls, diamonds, perfumes, rose-essences, elephants, lions, etc. – as also treasures of wisdom. The way by which these treasures have passed to the West, has at all times been a matter of World- historical importance, bound up with the fate of nations. Those wishes have been realized; this Land of Desire has been attained ; there is scarcely any great nation of the East, nor of the Modern European West, that has not gained for itself a smaller or larger portion of it. In the old world, Alexander the Great was the first to penetrate by land to India, but even he only just touched it. The Europeans of the modern world have been able to enter into direct connection with this land of marvels only circuitously from the other side; and by way of the sea, which, as has been said, is the general uniter of countries. The English, or rather the East India Company, are the lords of the land; for it is the necessary fate of Asiatic Empires to be subjected to Europeans; and China will, some day or other, be obliged to submit to this fate. The number of inhabitants is near 200,000,000, of whom from 100,000,000 to 112,000,000 are directly subject to the English. The Princes who are not immediately subject to them have English Agents at their Courts, and English troops in their pay. Since the country of the Mahrattas was conquered by the English, no part of India has asserted its independence of their sway. They have already gained a footing in the Burman Empire, and passed the Brahmaputra, which bounds India on the east.

India Proper is the country which the English divide into two large sections: the Deccan – the great peninsula which has the Bay of Bengal on the east, and the Indian Sea on the west – and Hindostan, formed by the valley of the Ganges, and extending in the direction of Persia. To the northeast, Hindostan is bordered by the Himalaya, which has been ascertained by Europeans to be the highest mountain range in the world, for its summits are about 26,000 feet above the level of the sea. On the other side of the mountains the level again declines; the dominion of the Chinese extends to that point, and when the English wished to go to Lassa to the Dalai-Lama, they were prevented by the Chinese. Towards the west of India flows the Indus, in which the five rivers are united, which are called the Pentjâb (Punjab), into which Alexander the Great penetrated. The dominion of the English does not extend to the Indus; the sect of the Sikhs inhabits that district, whose constitution is thoroughly democratic, and who have broken off from the Indian as well as from the Mohammedan religion, and occupy an intermediate ground – acknowledging only one Supreme Being. They are a powerful nation, and have reduced to subjection Cabul and Cashmere. Besides these there dwell along the Indus genuine Indian tribes of the Warrior-Caste. Between the Indus and its twin-brother, the Ganges, are great plains. The Ganges, on the other hand, forms large Kingdoms around it, in which the sciences have been so highly developed, that the countries around the Ganges enjoy a still greater reputation than those around the Indus. The Kingdom of Bengal is especially flourishing. The Nerbuddah forms the boundary between the Deccan and Hindostan. The peninsula of the Deccan presents a far greater variety than Hindostan, and its rivers possess almost as great a sanctity as the Indus and the Ganges – which latter has become a general name for all the rivers in India, as the River kat exochn. We call the inhabitants of the great country which we have now to consider Indians, from the river Indus (the English call them Hindoos). They themselves have never given a name to the whole, for it has never become one Empire, and yet we consider it as such.

With regard to the political life of the Indians, we must first consider the advance it presents in contrast with China. In China there prevailed an equality among all the individuals composing the empire; consequently all government was absorbed in its centre, the Emperor, so that individual members could not attain to independence and subjective freedom. The next degree in advance of this Unity is Difference, maintaining its independence against the all-subduing power of Unity. An organic life requires in the first place One Soul, and in the second place, a divergence into differences, which become organic members, and in their several offices develop themselves to a complete system; in such a way, however, that their activity reconstitutes that one soul. This freedom of separation is wanting in China. The deficiency is that diversities cannot attain to independent existence. In this respect, the essential advance is made in India, viz.: that independent members ramify from the unity of despotic power. Yet the distinctions which these imply are referred to Nature. Instead of stimulating the activity of a soul as their centre of union, and spontaneously realizing that soul – as is the case in organic life – they petrify and become rigid, and by their stereotyped character condemn the Indian people to the most degrading spiritual serfdom. The distinctions in question are the Castes. In every rational State there are distinctions which must manifest themselves. Individuals must arrive at subjective freedom, and in doing so, give an objective form to these diversities. But Indian culture has not attained to a recognition of freedom and inward morality; the distinctions which prevail are only those of occupations, and civil conditions. In a free state also, such diversities give rise to particular classes, so combined, however, that their members can maintain their individuality. In India we have only a division in masses – a division, however, that influences the whole political life and the religious consciousness. The distinctions of class, like that [rigid] Unity in China, remain consequently on the same original grade of substantiality, i.e., they are not the result of the free subjectivity of individuals. Examining the idea of a State and its various functions, we recognize the first essential function as that whose scope is the absolutely Universal; of which man becomes conscious first in Religion, then in Science. God, the Divine [tw qeion] is the absolutely Universal. The highest class therefore will be the one by which the Divine is presented and brought to bear on the community – the class of Brahmins. The second element or class, will represent subjective power and valor. Such power must assert itself, in order that the whole may stand its ground, and retain its integrity against other such totalities or states. This class is that of the Warriors and Governors – the Cshatriyas; although Brahmins often become governors. The third order of occupation recognized is that which is concerned with the specialities of life – the satisfying of its necessities – and comprehends agriculture, crafts and trade; the class of the Vaisyas. Lastly, the fourth element is the class of service, the mere instrument for the comfort of others, whose business it is to work for others for wages affording a scanty subsistence – the caste of Sudras. This servile class – properly speaking – constitutes no special organic class in the state, because its members only serve individuals: their occupations are therefore dispersed among them and are consequently attached to that of the previously mentioned castes. – Against the existence of “classes” generally, an objection has been brought – especially in modern times – drawn from the consideration of the State in its “aspect” of abstract equity. But equality in civil life is something absolutely impossible; for individual distinctions of sex and age will always assert themselves; and even if an equal share in the government is accorded to all citizens, women and children are immediately passed by, and remain excluded. The distinction between poverty and riches, the influence of skill and talent, can be as little ignored – utterly refuting those abstract assertions. But while this principle leads us to put up with variety of occupations, and distinction of the classes to which they are intrusted, we are met here in India by the peculiar circumstance that the individual belongs to such a class essentially by birth, and is bound to it for life. All the concrete vitality that makes its appearance sinks back into death. A chain binds down the life that was just upon the point of breaking forth. The promise of freedom which these distinctions hold out is therewith completely nullified. What birth has separated mere arbitrary choice has no right to join together again: therefore, the castes preserving distinctness from their very origin, are presumed not to be mixed or united by marriage. Yet even Arrian (Ind. 11) reckoned seven castes, and in later times more than thirty have been made out; which, notwithstanding all obstacles, have arisen from the union of the various classes. Polygamy necessarily tends to this. A Brahmin, e.g., is allowed three wives from the three other castes, provided he has first taken one from his own. The offspring of such mixtures originally belonged to no caste, but one of the kings invented a method of classifying these casteless persons, which involved also the commencement of arts and manufactures. The children in question were assigned to particular employments; one section became weavers, another wrought in iron, and thus different classes arose from these different occupations. The highest of these mixed castes consists of those who are born from the marriage of a Brahmin with a wife of the Warrior caste; the lowest is that of the Chandâlas, who have to remove corpses, to execute criminals, and to perform impure offices generally. The members of this caste are excommunicated and detested; and are obliged to live separate and far from association with others. The Chandâlas are obliged to move out of the way for their superiors, and a Brahmin may knock down any that neglect to do so. If a Chandâla drinks out of a pond it is defiled, and requires to be consecrated afresh. We must next consider the relative position of these castes. Their origin is referred to a myth, which tells us that the Brahmin caste proceeded from Brahma’s mouth; the Warrior caste from his arms; the industrial classes from his loins; the servile caste from his foot. Many historians have set up the hypothesis that the Brahmins originally formed a separate sacerdotal nation, and this fable is especially countenanced by the Brahmins themselves. A people consisting of priests alone is, assuredly, the greatest absurdity, for we know a priori, that a distinction of classes can exist only within a people; in every nation the various occupations of life must present themselves, for they belong to the objectivity of Spirit. One class necessarily supposes another, and the rise of castes generally, is only a result of the united life of a nation. A nation of priests cannot exist without agriculturists and soldiers. Classes cannot be brought together from without; they are developed only from within. They come forth from the interior of national life, and not conversely. But that these distinctions are here attributed to Nature, is a necessary result of the Idea which the East embodies. For while the individual ought properly to be empowered to choose his occupation, in the East, on the contrary, internal subjectivity is not yet recognized as independent; and if distinction obtrude themselves, their recognition is accompanied by the belief that the individual does not choose his particular position for himself, but receives it from Nature. In China the people are dependent – without distinction of classes – on the laws and moral decision of the Emperor; consequently on a human will. Plato, in his Republic, assigns the arrangement in different classes with a view to various occupations, to the choice of the governing body. Here, therefore, a moral, a spiritual power is the arbiter. In India, Nature is this governing power. But this natural destiny need not have led to that degree of degradation which we observe here, if the distinctions had been limited to occupation with what is earthly – to forms of objective Spirit. In the feudalism of mediaeval times, individuals were also confined to a certain station in life; but for all there was a Higher Being, superior to the most exalted earthly dignity, and admission to holy orders was open to all. This is the grand distinction, that here Religion holds the same position towards all; that, although the son of a mechanic becomes a mechanic, the son of a peasant a peasant, and free choice is often limited by many restrictive circumstances, thereligious element stands in the same relation to all, and all are invested with an absolute value by religion. In India the direct contrary is the case. Another distinction between the classes of society as they exist in the Christian world and those in Hindostan is the moral dignity which exists among us in every class, constituting that which man must possess in and through himself. In this respect the higher classes are equal to the lower; and while religion is the higher sphere in which all sun themselves, equality before the law – rights of person and of property – are gained for every class. But by the fact that in India, as already observed, differences extend not only to the objectivity of Spirit, but also to its absolute subjectivity, and thus exhaust all its relations – neither morality, nor justice, nor religiosity is to be found.

Every caste has its especial duties and rights. Duties and rights, therefore, are not recognized as pertaining to mankind generally, but as those of a particular caste. While we say, “Bravery is a virtue,” the Hindoos say, on the contrary, “Bravery is the virtue of the Cshatryas.” Humanity generally, human duty and human feeling do not manifest themselves; we find only duties assigned to the several castes. Everything is petrified into these distinctions, and over this petrifaction a capricious destiny holds sway. Morality and human dignity are unknown; evil passions have their full swing; the Spirit wanders into the Dream-World, and the highest state is Annihilation.

To gain a more accurate idea of what the Brahmins are, and in what the Brahminical dignity consists, we must investigate the Hindoo religion and the conceptions it involves, to which we shall have to return further on; for the respective rights of castes have their basis in a religious relation. Brahma (neuter) is the Supreme in Religion, but there are besides chief divinities Brahmâ (masc.) Vishnu or Krishna – incarnate in infinitely diverse forms – and Siva. These form a connected Trinity. Brahma is the highest; but Vishnu or Krishna, Siva, the Sun moreover, the Air, etc., are also Brahm, i.e., Substantial Unity. To Brahm itself no sacrifices are offered; it is not honored; but prayers are presented to all other idols. Brahm itself is the Substantial Unity of All. The highest religious position of man, therefore is, being exalted to Brahm. If a Brahmin is asked what Brahm is, he answers: When I fall back within myself, and close all external senses, and say dm to myself, that is Brahm. Abstract unity with God is realized in this abstraction from humanity. An abstraction of this kind may in some cases leave everything else unchanged, as does devotional feeling, momentarily excited. But among the Hindoos it holds a negative position towards all that is concrete; and the highest state is supposed to be this exaltation, by which the Hindoo raises himself to deity. The Brahmins, in virtue of their birth, are already in possession of the Divine. The distinction of castes involves, therefore, a distinction between present deities and mere limited mortals. The other castes may likewise become partakers in a Regeneration; but they must subject themselves to immense self-denial, torture and penance. Contempt of life, and of living humanity, is the chief feature in this ascesis. A large number of the non-Brahminical population strive to attain Regeneration. They are called Yogis. An Englishman who, on a journey to Thibet to visit the Dalai-Lama, met such a Yogi, gives the following account: The Yogi was already on the second grade in his ascent to Brahminical dignity. He had passed the first grade by remaining for twelve years on his legs, without ever sitting or lying down. At first he had bound himself fast to a tree with a rope, until he had accustomed himself to sleep standing. The second grade required him to keep his hands clasped together over his head for twelve years in succession. Already his nails had almost grown into his hands. The third grade is not always passed through in the same way; generally the Yogi has to spend a day between five fires, that is, between four fires occupying the four quarters of heaven, and the Sun. He must then swing backwards and forwards over the fire, a ceremony occupying three hours and three-quarters.

Englishmen present at an act of this kind, say that in half an hour the blood streamed forth from every part of the devotee’s body; he was taken down and presently died. If this trial is also surmounted, the aspirant is finally buried alive, that is put into the ground in an upright position and quite covered over with soil; after three hours and three-quarters he is drawn out, and if he lives, he is supposed to have at last attained the spiritual power of a Brahmin. Thus only by such negation of his existence does anyone attain Brahminical power. In its highest degree this negation consists in a sort of hazy consciousness of having attained perfect mental immobility – the annihilation of all emotion and all volition; – a condition which is regarded as the highest among the Buddhists also. However pusillanimous and effeminate the Hindoos may be in other respects, it is evident how little they hesitate to sacrifice themselves to the Highest – to Annihilation. Another instance of the same is the fact of wives burning themselves after the death of their husbands. Should a woman contravene this traditional usage, she would be severed from society, and perish in solitude. An Englishman states that he also saw a woman burn herself because she had lost her child. He did all that he could to divert her away from her purpose; at last he applied to her husband who was standing by, but he showed himself perfectly indifferent, as he had more wives at home. Sometimes twenty women are seen throwing themselves at once into the Ganges, and on the Himalaya range an English traveller found three women seeking the source of the Ganges, in order to put an end to their life in this holy river. At a religious festival in the celebrated temple of Juggernaut in Orissa, on the Bay of Bengal, where millions of Hindoos assemble, the image of the god Vishnu is drawn in procession on a car: about five hundred men set it in motion, and many fling themselves down before its wheels to be crushed to pieces. The whole seashore is already strewed with the bodies of persons who have thus immolated themselves. Infanticide is also very common in India. Mothers throw their children into the Ganges, or let them pine away under the rays of the sun. The morality which is involved in respect for human life is not found among the Hindoos. There are besides those already mentioned, infinite modifications of the same principle of conduct, all pointing to annihilation. This, e.g., is the leading principle of the Gymnosophists, as the Greeks called them. Naked Fakirs wander about without any occupation, like the mendicant friars of the Catholic church; live on the alms of others, and make it their aim to reach the highest degree of abstraction – the perfect deadening of consciousness; a point from which the transition to physical death is no great step. This elevation which others can only attain by toilsome labor is, as already stated, the birthright of the Brahmins. The Hindoo of another caste, must, therefore, reverence the Brahmin as a divinity; fall down before him, and say to him: “Thou art God.” And this elevation cannot have anything to do with moral conduct, but – inasmuch as all internal morality is absent – is rather dependent on a farrago of observances relating to the merest externalities and trivialities of existence. Human life, it is said, ought to be a perpetual Worship of God. It is evident how hollow such general aphorisms are, when we consider the concrete forms which they may assume. They require another, a further qualification, if they are to have a meaning. The Brahmins are a present deity, but their spirituality has not yet been reflected inwards in contrast with Nature; and thus that which is purely indifferent is treated as of absolute importance. The employment of the Brahmins consists principally in the reading of the Vêdas: they only have a right to read them. Were a Sudra to read the Vêdas, or to hear them read, he would be severely punished, and burning oil must be poured into his ears. The external observances binding on the Brahmins are prodigiously numerous, and the Laws of Manu treat of them as the most essential part of duty. The Brahmin must rest on one particular foot in rising, then wash in a river; his hair and nails must be cut in neat curves, his whole body purified, his garments white; in his hand must be a staff of a specified kind; in his ears a golden earring. If the Brahmin meets a man of an inferior caste, he must turn back and purify himself. He has also to read in the Vêdas, in various ways: each word separately, or doubling them alternately, or backwards. He may not look to the sun when rising or setting, or when overcast by clouds or reflected in the water. He is forbidden to step over a rope to which a calf is fastened, or to go out when it rains. He may not look at his wife when she eats, sneezes, gapes, or is quietly seated. At the midday meal he may only have one garment on, in bathing never be quite naked. How minute these directions are may be especially judged of from the observances binding on the Brahmins in regard to satisfying the calls of nature. This is forbidden to them in a great thoroughfare, on ashes, on ploughed land, on a hill, a nest of white ants, on wood destined for fuel, in a ditch, walking or standing, on the bank of a river, etc. At such a time they may not look at the sun, at water, or at animals. By day they should keep their face generally directed to the north, but by night to the south; only in the shade are they allowed to turn to which quarter they like. It is forbidden to everyone who desires a long life to step on potsherds, cotton seeds, ashes, or sheaves of corn, or his urine. In the episode Nala, in the poem of Mahabharata, we have a story of a virgin who in her 21st year – the age in which the maidens themselves have a right to choose a husband – makes a selection from among her wooers. There are five of them; but the maiden remarks that four of them do not stand firmly on their feet, and thence infers correctly that they are Gods. She therefore chooses the fifth, who is a veritable man. But besides the four despised divinities there are two malevolent ones, whom her choice had not favored, and who on that account wish for revenge. They therefore keep a strict watch on the husband of their beloved in every step and act of life, with the design of inflicting injury upon him if he commits a misdemeanor. The persecuted husband does nothing that can be brought against him, until at last he is so incautious as to step on his urine. The Genius has now an advantage over him; he afflicts him with a passion for gambling, and so plunges him into the abyss.

While, on the one hand, the Brahmins are subject to these strict limitations and rules, on the other hand their life is sacred; it cannot answer for crimes of any kind; and their property is equally secure from being attacked. The severest penalty which the ruler can inflict upon them amounts to nothing more than banishment. The English wished to introduce trial by jury into India – the jury to consist half of Europeans, half of Hindoos – and submitted to the natives, whose wishes on the subject were consulted, the powers with which the panel would be intrusted. The Hindoos were for making a number of exceptions and limitations. They said, among other things, that they could not consent that a Brahmin should be condemned to death; not to mention other objections, e.g., that looking at and examining a corpse was out of the question. Although in the case of a Warrior the rate of interest may be as high as three per cent, in that of a Vaisya four per cent, a Brahmin is never required to pay more than two per cent. The Brahmin possesses such a power, that Heaven’s lightning would strike the King who ventured to lay hands on him or his property. For the meanest Brahmin is so far exalted above the King, that he would be polluted by conversing with him, and would be dishonored by his daughters choosing a prince in marriage. In Manu’s Code it is said: “If anyone presumes to teach a Brahmin his duty, the King must order that hot oil be poured into the ears and mouth of such an instructor. If one who is only once-born, loads one who is twice-born with reproaches, a red hot iron bar ten inches long shall be thrust into his mouth.” On the other hand a Sudra is condemned to have a red hot iron thrust into him from behind if he rest himself in the chair of a Brahmin, and to have his foot or his hand hewed off if he pushes against a Brahmin with hands or feet. It is even permitted to give false testimony, and to lie before a Court of Justice, if a Brahmin can be thereby freed from condemnation. As the Brahmins enjoy advantages over the other Castes, the latter in their turn have privileges according to precedence, over their inferiors. If a Sudra is defiled by contact with a Pariah, he has the right to knock him down on the spot. Humanity on the part of a higher Caste towards an inferior one is entirely forbidden, and a Brahmin would never think of assisting a member of another Caste, even when in danger. The other Castes deem it a great honor when a Brahmin takes their daughters as his wives – a thing however, which is permitted him, as already stated, only when he has already taken one from his own Caste. Thence arises the freedom the Brahmins enjoy in getting wives. At the great religious festivals they go among the people and choose those that please them best; but they also repudiate them at pleasure.

If a Brahmin or a member of any other Caste transgresses the above cited laws and precepts, he is himself excluded from his caste, and in order to be received back again, he must have a hook bored through the hips, and be swung repeatedly backwards and forwards in the air. There are also other forms of restoration. A Rajah who thought himself injured by an English Governor sent two Brahmins to England to detail his grievances. But the Hindoos are forbidden to cross the sea, and these envoys on their return were declared excommunicated from their caste, and in order to be restored to it, they had to be born again from a golden cow. The imposition was so far lightened, that only those parts of the cow out of which they had to creep were obliged to be golden; the rest might consist of wood. These various usages and religious observances to which every Caste is subject have occasioned great perplexity to the English, especially in enlisting soldiers. At first these were taken from the Sudra-Caste, which is not bound to observe so many ceremonies; but nothing could be done with them, they therefore betook themselves to the Cshatriya class. These however have an immense number of regulations to observe – they may not eat meat, touch a dead body, drink out of a pool in which cattle or Europeans have drunk, not eat what others have cooked, etc. Each Hindoo assumes one definite occupation, and that only, so that one must have an infinity of servants; – a Lieutenant has thirty, a Major sixty. Thus every Caste has its own duties; the lower the Caste, the less it has to observe; and as each individual has his position assigned by birth, beyond this fixed arrangement everything is governed by caprice and force. In the Code of Manu punishments increase in proportion to the inferiority of Castes, and there is a distinction in other respects. If a man of a higher Caste brings an accusation against an inferior without proof, the former is not punished; if the converse occurs, the punishment is very severe. Cases of theft are exceptional; in this case the higher the Caste the heavier is the penalty.

In respect to property the Brahmins have a great advantage, for they pay no taxes. The prince receives half the income from the lands of others; the remainder has to suffice for the cost of cultivation and the support of the laborers. It is an extremely important question, whether the cultivated land in India is recognized as belonging to the cultivator, or belongs to a so-called manorial proprietor. The English themselves have had great difficulty in establishing a clear understanding about it. For when they conquered Bengal, it was of great importance to them, to determine the mode in which taxes were to be raised on property, and they had to ascertain whether these should be imposed on the tenant cultivators or the lord of the soil. They imposed the tribute on the latter; but the result was that the proprietors acted in the most arbitrary manner: drove away the tenant cultivators, and declaring that such or such an amount of land was not under cultivation, gained an abatement of tribute. They then took back the expelled cultivators as day-laborers, at a low rate of wages, and had the land cultivated on their own behalf. The whole income belonging to every village is, as already stated, divided into two parts, of which one belongs to the Rajah, the other to the cultivators; but proportionate shares are also received by the Provost of the place, the Judge, the Water-Surveyor, the Brahmin who superintends religious worship, the Astrologer (who is also a Brahmin, and announces the days of good and ill omen), the Smith, the Carpenter, the Potter, the Washerman, the Barber, the Physician, the Dancing Girls, the Musician, the Poet. This arrangement is fixed and immutable, and subject to no one’s will. All political revolutions, therefore, are matters of indifference to the common Hindoo, for his lot is unchanged.

The view given of the relation of castes leads directly to the subject of Religion. For the claims of caste are, as already remarked, not merely secular, but essentially religious, and the Brahmins in their exalted dignity are the very gods bodily present. In the laws of Manu it is said: “Let the King, even in extreme necessity, beware of exciting the Brahmins against him; for they can destroy him with their power – they who create Fire, Sun, Moon, etc.” They are servants neither of God nor of his People, but are God himself to the other Castes – a position of things which constitutes the perverted character of the Hindoo mind. The dreaming Unity of Spirit and nature, which involves a monstrous bewilderment in regard to all phenomena and relations, we have already recognized as the principle of the Hindoo Spirit. The Hindoo Mythology is therefore only a wild extravagance of Fancy, in which nothing has a settled form; which takes us abruptly from the Meanest to the Highest, from the most sublime to the most disgusting and trivial. Thus it is also difficult to discover what the Hindoos understand by Brahm. We are apt to take our conception of Supreme Divinity – the One – the Creator of Heaven and Earth – and apply it to the Indian Brahm. Brahma is distinct from Brahm – the former constituting one personality in contrasted relation to Vishnu and Siva. Many therefore call the Supreme Existence who is over the first mentioned deity, Para-brahma. The English have taken a good deal of trouble to find out what Brahm properly is. Wilford has asserted that Hindoo conceptions recognize two Heavens: the first, the earthly paradise, the second, Heaven in a spiritual sense. To attain them, two different modes of worship are supposed to be required. The one involves external ceremonies, Idol- Worship; the other requires that the Supreme Being should be honored in spirit. Sacrifices, purifications, pilgrimages are not needed in the latter. This authority states moreover that there are few Hindoos ready to pursue the second way, because they cannot understand in what the pleasure of the second heaven consists, and that if one asks a Hindoo whether he worships Idols, every one says “Yes!” but to the question, “Do you worship the Supreme Being? “ every one answers “No.” If the further question is put, “ What is the meaning of that practice of yours, that silent meditation which some of your learned men speak of?” they respond, “When I pray to the honor of one of the Gods, I sit down – the foot of either leg on the thigh of the other – look towards Heaven, and calmly elevate my thoughts with my hands folded in silence; then I say, I am Brahm the Supreme Being. We are not conscious to ourselves of being Brahm, by reason of Maya (the delusion occasioned by the outward world). It is forbidden to pray to him, and to offer sacrifices to him in his own nature; for this would be to adore ourselves. In every case therefore, it is only emanations of Brahm that we address.” Translating these ideas then into our own process of thought, we should call Brahm the pure unity of thought in itself – God in the incomplexity of his existence. No temples are consecrated to him, and he receives no worship. Similarly, in the Catholic religion, the churches are not dedicated to God, but to the saints. Other Englishmen, who have devoted themselves to investigating the conception of Brahm, have thought Brahm to be an unmeaning epithet, applied to all gods: so that Vishnu says, “I am Brahm”; and the Sun, the Air, the Seas are called Brahm. Brahm would on this supposition be substance in its simplicity, which by its very nature expands itself into the limitless variety of phenomenal diversities. For this abstraction, this pure unity, is that which lies at the foundation of All – the root of all definite existence. In the intellection of this unity, all objectivity falls away; for the purely Abstract is intellection itself in its greatest vacuity. To attain this Death of Life during life itself – to constitute this abstraction – requires the disappearance of all moral activity and volition, and of all intellection too, as in the Religion of Fo; and this is the object of the penances already spoken of.

The complement to the abstraction Brahm must then be looked for in the concrete complex of things; for the principle of the Hindoo religion is the Manifestation of Diversity (in “Avatars”). These then, fall outside that abstract Unity of Thought, and as that which deviates from it, constitute the variety found in the world of sense, the variety of intellectual conceptions in an unreflected sensuous form. In this way the concrete complex of material things is isolated from Spirit, and presented in wild distraction, except as re-absorbed in the pure ideality of Brahm. The other deities are therefore things of sense: Mountains, Streams, Beasts, the Sun, the Moon, the Ganges. The next stage is the concentration of this wild variety into substantial distinctions, and the comprehension of them as a series of divine persons. Vishnu, Siva, Mahâdeva are thus distinguished from Brahma. In the embodiment Vishnu are presented those incarnations in which God has appeared as man, and which are always historical personages, who effected important changes and new epochs. The power of procreation is likewise a substantial embodiment; and in the excavations, grottos and pagodas of the Hindoos, the Lingam is always found as symbolizing the male, and the Lotus the female vis procreandi. With this Duality – abstract unity on the one side and the abstract isolation of the world of sense on the other side – exactly corresponds the double form of Worship, in the relation of the human subjectivity to God. The one side of this duality of worship consists in the abstraction of pure self-elevation – the abrogation of real self-consiousness; a negativity which is consequently manifested, on the one hand, in the attainment of torpid unconsciousness – on the other hand in suicide and the extinction of all that is worth calling life, by self-inflicted tortures. The other side of worship consists in a wild tumult of excess; when all sense of individuality has vanished from consciousness by immersion in the merely natural; with which individuality thus makes itself identical – destroying its consciousness of distinction from Nature. In all the pagodas, therefore, prostitutes and dancing girls are kept, whom the Brahmins instruct most carefully in dancing, in beautiful postures and attractive gestures, and who have to comply with the wishes of all comers at a fixed price. Theological doctrine – relation of religion to morality – is here altogether out of the question. On the one hand Love – Heaven – in short everything spiritual – is conceived by the fancy of the Hindoo; but on the other hand his conceptions have an actual sensuous embodiment, and he immerses himself by a voluptuous intoxication in the merely natural. Objects of religious worship are thus either disgusting forms produced by art, or those presented by Nature. Every bird, every monkey, is a present god, an absolutely universal existence. The Hindoo is incapable of holding fast an object in his mind by means of rational predicates assigned to it, for this requires reflection. While a universal essence is wrongly transmuted into sensuous objectivity, the latter is also driven from its definite character into universality – a process whereby it loses its footing and is expanded to indefiniteness.

If we proceed to ask how far their religion exhibits the Morality of the Hindoos, the answer must be that the former is as distinct from the latter, as Brahm from the concrete existence of which he is the essence. To us, religion is the knowledge of that Being who is emphatically our Being, and therefore the substance of our knowledge and volition; the proper office of which latter is to be the mirror of this fundamental substance. But that requires this (Highest) Being to be in se a personality, pursuing divine aims, such as can become the purport of human action. Such an idea of a relation of the Being of God as constituting the universal basis or substance of human action – such a morality cannot be found among the Hindoos; for they have not the Spiritual as the import of their consciousness. On the one hand their virtue consists in the abstraction from all activity – the condition they call “Brahm.” On the other hand every action with them is a prescribed external usage; not free activity, the result of inward personality. Thus the moral condition of the Hindoos (as already observed) shows itself most abandoned. In this all Englishmen agree. Our judgment of the morality of the Hindoos is apt to be warped by representations of their mildness, tenderness, beautiful and sentimental fancy. But we must reflect that in nations utterly corrupt, there are sides of character which may be called tender and noble. We have Chinese poems in which the tenderest relations of love are depicted; in which delineations of deep emotion, humility, modesty, propriety are to be found; and which may be compared with the best that European literature contains. The same characteristics meet us in many Hindoo poems ; but rectitude, morality, freedom of soul, consciousness of individual right are quite another thing. The annihilating of spiritual and physical existence has nothing concrete in it; and absorption in the abstractly Universal has no connection with the real. Deceit and cunning are the fundamental characteristics of the Hindoo. Cheating, stealing, robbing, murdering are with him habitual. Humbly crouching and abject before a victor and lord, he is recklessly barbarous to the vanquished and subject.

Characteristic of the Hindoo’s humanity is the fact that he kills no brute animal, founds and supports rich hospitals for brutes, especially for old cows and monkeys – but that through the whole land, no single institution can be found for human beings who are diseased or infirm from age. The Hindoos will not tread upon ants, but they are perfectly indifferent when poor wanderers pine away with hunger. The Brahmins are especially immoral. According to English reports, they do nothing but eat and sleep. In what is not forbidden them by the rules of their order they follow natural impulses entirely. When they take any part in public life they show themselves avaricious, deceitful, voluptuous. With those whom they have reason to fear, they are humble enough; for which they avenge themselves on their dependents. “I do not know an honest man among them,” says an English authority. Children have no respect for their parents: sons maltreat their mothers.

It would lead us too far to give a detailed notice of Hindoo Art and Science. But we may make the general remark, that a more accurate acquaintance with its real value has not a little diminished the widely bruited fame of Indian Wisdom. According to the Hindoo principle of pure self-renouncing Ideality, and that (phenomenal) variety which goes to the opposite extreme of sensuousness, it is evident that nothing but abstract thought and imagination can be developed. Thus, e.g., their grammar has advanced to a high degree of consistent regularity ; but when substantial matter in sciences and works of art is in question, it is useless to look for it here. When the English had become masters of the country, the work of restoring to light the records of Indian culture was commenced, and William Jones first disinterred the poems of the Golden Age. The English exhibited plays at Calcutta: this led to a representation of dramas on the part of the Brahmins, e.g., the Sacontala of Calidasa, etc. In the enthusiasm of discovery the Hindoo culture was very highly rated; and as, when new beauties are discovered, the old ones are commonly looked down upon with contempt, Hindoo poetry and philosophy were extolled as far superior to the Greek. For our purpose the most important documents are the ancient and canonical books of the Hindoos, especially the Vedas. They comprise many divisions, of which the fourth is of more recent origin. They consist partly of religious prayers, partly of precepts to be observed. Some manuscripts of these Vedas have come to Europe, though in a complete form they are exceedingly rare. The writing is on palm leaves, scratched in with a needle. The Vedas are very difficult to understand, since they date from the most remote antiquity, and the language is a much older Sanscrit. Colebrooke has indeed translated a part, but this itself is perhaps taken from a commentary, of which there are very many.[10] Two great epic poems, Ramayana and Mahabharata, have also reached Europe. Three quarto volumes of the former have been printed, the second volume is extremely rare.[11] Besides these works, the Puranas must be particularly noticed. The Puranas contain the history of a god or of a temple. They are entirely fanciful. Another Hindoo classical book is the Code of Manu.This Hindoo lawgiver has been compared with the Cretan Minos – a name which also occurs among the Egyptians; and certainly this extensive occurrence of the same name is noteworthy and cannot be ascribed to chance. Manu’s code of morals, (published at Calcutta with an English translation by Sir W. Jones) forms the basis of Hindoo legislation. It begins with a Theogony, which is not only entirely different from the mythological conceptions of other peoples (as might be expected), but also deviates essentially from the Hindoo traditions themselves. For in these also there are only some leading features that pervade the whole. In other respects everything is abandoned to chance, caprice and fancy; the result of which is that the most multiform traditions, shapes and names, appear in never ending procession. The time when Manu’s code was composed, is also entirely unknown and undetermined. The traditions reach beyond twenty-three centuries before the birth of Christ: a dynasty of the Children of the Sun is mentioned, on which followed one of the Children of the Moon. Thus much, however, is certain, that the code in question is of high antiquity ; and an acquaintance with it is of the greatest importance to the English, as their knowledge of Hindoo Law is derived from it. After pointing out the Hindoo principle in the distinctions of caste, in religion and literature, we must also mention the mode and form of their political existence – the polity of the Hindoo State. – A State is a realization of Spirit, such that in it the self-conscious being of Spirit – the freedom of the Will – is realized as Law. Such an institution then, necessarily presupposes the consciousness of free will. In the Chinese State the moral will of the Emperor is the law: but so that subjective, inward freedom is thereby repressed, and the Law of Freedom governs individuals only as from without. In India the primary aspect of subjectivity – viz., that of the imagination – presents a union of the Natural and Spiritual, in which Nature on the one hand, does not present itself as a world embodying Reason, nor the Spiritual on the other hand, as consciousness in contrast with Nature. Here the antithesis in the (above-stated) principle is wanting. Freedom both as abstract will and as subjective freedom is absent. The proper basis of the State, the principle of freedom is altogether absent: there cannot therefore be any State in the true sense of the term. This is the first point to be observed: if China may be regarded as nothing else but a State, Hindoo political existence presents us with a people, but no State. Secondly, while we found a moral despotism in China, whatever may be called a relic of political life in India, is a despotism without a principle, without any rule of morality and religion: for morality and religion (as far as the latter has a reference to human action) have as their indispensable condition and basis the freedom of the Will. In India, therefore, the most arbitrary, wicked, degrading despotism has its full swing. China, Persia, Turkey – in fact Asia generally, is the scene of despotism, and, in a bad sense, of tyranny; but it is regarded as contrary to the due order of things, and is disapproved by religion and the moral consciousness of individuals. In those countries, tyranny rouses men to resentment; they detest it and groan under it as a burden. To them it is an accident and an irregularity, not a necessity: it ought not to exist. But in India it is normal: for here there is no sense of personal independence with which a state of despotism could be compared, and which would raise revolt in the soul; nothing approaching even a resentful protest against it, is left, except the corporeal smart, and the pain of being deprived of absolute necessaries and of pleasure.

In the case of such a people, therefore, that which we call in its double sense, History, is not to be looked for; and here the distinction between China and India is most clearly and strongly manifest. The Chinese possess a most minute history of their country, and it has been already remarked what arrangements are made in China for having everything accurately noted down in their annals. The contrary is the case in India. Though the recent discoveries of the treasures of Indian Literature have shown us what a reputation the Hindoos have acquired in Geometry, Astronomy, and Algebra – that they have made great advances in Philosophy, and that among them, Grammar has been so far cultivated that no language can be regarded as more fully developed than the Sanscrit – we find the department of History altogether neglected, or rather non-existent. For History requires Understanding – the power of looking at an object in an independent objective light, and comprehending it in its rational connection with other objects. Those peoples therefore are alone capable of History, and of prose generally, who have arrived at that period of development (and can make that their starting point) at which individuals comprehend their own existence as independent, i.e., possess self-consciousness.

The Chinese are to be rated at what they have made of themselves, looking at them in the entirety of their State. While they have thus attained an existence independent of Nature, they can also regard objects as distinct from themselves – as they are actually presented – in a definite form and in their real connection. The Hindoos on the contrary are by birth given over to an unyielding destiny, while at the same time their Spirit is exalted to Ideality; so that their minds exhibit the contradictory processes of a dissolution of fixed rational and definite conceptions in their Ideality, and on the other side, a degradation of this ideality to a multiformity of sensuous objects. This makes them incapable of writing History. All that happens is dissipated in their minds into confused dreams. What we call historical truth and veracity – intelligent, thoughtful comprehension of events, and fidelity in representing them – nothing of this sort can be looked for among the Hindoos. We may explain this deficiency partly from that excitement and debility of the nerves, which prevent them from retaining an object in their minds, and firmly comprehending it, for in their mode of apprehension, a sensitive and imaginative temperament changes it into a feverish dream; – partly from the fact, that veracity is the direct contrary to their nature. They even lie knowingly and designedly where misapprehension is out of the question. As the Hindoo Spirit is a state of dreaming and mental transiency – a self-oblivious dissolution – objects also dissolve for it into unreal images and indefinitude. This feature is absolutely characteristic; and this alone would furnish us with a clear idea of the Spirit of the Hindoos, from which all that has been said might be deduced. But History is always of great importance for a people; since by means of that it becomes conscious of the path of development taken by its own Spirit, which expresses itself in Laws, Manners, Customs, and Deeds. Laws, comprising morals and judicial institutions, are by nature the permanent element in a people’s existence. But History presents a people with their own image in a condition which thereby becomes objective to them. Without History their existence in time is blindly self-involved – the recurring play of arbitrary volition in manifold forms. History fixes and imparts consistency to this fortuitous current – gives it the form of Universality, and by so doing posits a directive and restrictive rule for it. It is an essential instrument in developing and determining the Constitution – that is, a rational political condition; for it is the empirical method of producing the Universal, inasmuch as it sets up a permanent object for the conceptive powers. – It is because the Hindoos have no History in the form of annals (historia) that they have no History in the form of transactions (res gestae); that is, no growth expanding into a veritable political condition. Periods of time are mentioned in the Hindoo Writings, and large numbers which have often an astronomical meaning, but which have still oftener a quite arbitrary origin. Thus it is related of certain Kings that they had reigned 70,000 years, or more. Brahma, the first figure in the Cosmogony, and self-produced, is said to have lived 20,000 years, etc. Innumerable names of Kings are cited – among them the incarnations of Vishnu. It would be ridiculous to regard passages of this kind as anything historical. In their poems Kings are often talked of: these may have been historical personages, but they completely vanish in fable; e.g., they retire from the world, and then appear again, after they have passed ten thousand years in solitude. The numbers in question, therefore, have not the value and rational meaning which we attach to them.

Consequently the oldest and most reliable sources of Indian History are the notices of Greek Authors, after Alexander the Great had opened the way to India. From them we learn that their institutions were the same at that early period as they are now: Santaracottus (Chandragupta) is marked out as a distinguished ruler in the northern part of India, to which the Bactrian kingdom extended. The Mahometan historians supply another source of information; for the Mahometans began their invasions as early as the tenth century. A Turkish slave was the ancestor of the Ghiznian race. His son Mahmoud made an inroad into Hindostan and conquered almost the whole country. He fixed his royal residence west of Cabul, and at his court lived the poet Ferdusi. The Ghiznian dynasty was soon entirely exterminated by the sweeping attacks of the Afghans and Moguls. In later times nearly the whole of India has been subjected to the Europeans. What therefore is known of Indian history, has for the most part been communicated through foreign channels: the native literature gives only indistinct data. Europeans assure us of the impossibility of wading through the morasses of Indian statements. More definite information may be obtained from inscriptions and documents, especially from the deeds of gifts of land to pagodas and divinities ; but this kind of evidence supplies names only. Another source of information is the astronomical literature, which is of high antiquity. Colebrooke thoroughly studied these writings ; though it is very difficult to procure manuscripts, since the Brahmins keep them very close; they are moreover disfigured by the grossest interpolations. It is found that the statements with regard to constellations are often contradictory, and that the Brahmins interpolate these ancient works with events belonging to their own time. The Hindoos do indeed possess lists and enumerations of their Kings, but these also are of the most capricious character; for we often find twenty Kings more in one list than in another; and should these lists even be correct, they could not constitute a history. The Brahmins have no conscience in respect to truth. Captain Wilford had procured manuscripts from all quarters with great trouble and expense; he assembled a considerable number of Brahmins, and commissioned them to make extracts from these works, and to institute inquiries respecting certain remarkable events – about Adam and Eve, the Deluge, etc. The Brahmins, to please their employer, produced statements of the kind required; but there was nothing of the sort in the manuscripts. Wilford wrote many treatises on the subject, till at last he detected the deception, and saw that he had labored in vain. The Hindoos have, it is true, a fixed Era: they reckon from Vicramâditya, at whose splendid court lived Calidasa, the author of the Sacontala. The most illustrious poets flourished about the same time. “There were nine pearls at the court of Vicramaditya,” say the Brahmins: but we cannot discover the date of this brilliant epoch. From various statements, the year 1491 B.C. has been contended for; others adopt the year 50 B.C., and this is the commonly received opinion. Bentley’s researches at length placed Vicramaditya in the twelfth century B.C. But still more recently it has been discovered that there were five, or even eight or nine kings of that name in India; so that on this point also we are thrown back into utter uncertainty.

When the Europeans became acquainted with India, they found a multitude of petty Kingdoms, at whose head were Mahometan and Indian princes. There was an order of things very nearly approaching feudal organization; and the Kingdoms in question were divided into districts, having as governors Mahometans, or people of the Warrior Caste of Hindoos. The business of these governors consisted in collecting taxes and carrying on wars; and they thus formed a kind of aristocracy, the Prince’s Council of State. But only as far as their princes are feared and excite fear, have they any power; and no obedience is rendered to them but by force. As long as the prince does not want money, he has troops; and neighboring princes, if they are inferior to him in force, are often obliged to pay taxes, but which are yielded only on compulsion. The whole state of things, therefore, is not that of repose, but of continual struggle; while moreover nothing is developed or furthered. It is the struggle of an energetic will on the part of this or that prince against a feebler one; the history of reigning dynasties, but not of peoples; a series of perpetually varying intrigues and revolts – not indeed of subjects against their rulers, but of a prince’s son, for instance, against his father; of brothers, uncles and nephews in contest with each other; and of functionaries against their master. It might be believed that, though the Europeans found such a state of things, this was the result of the dissolution of earlier superior organizations. It might, for instance, be supposed that the period of the Mogul supremacy was of one of prosperity and splendor, and of a political condition in which India was not distracted religiously and politically by foreign conquerors. But the historical traces and lineaments that accidentally present themselves in poetical descriptions and legends, bearing upon the period in question, always point to the same divided condition – the result of war and of the instability of political relations; while contrary representations may be easily recognized as a dream, a mere fancy. This state of things is the natural result of that conception of Hindoo life which has been exhibited, and the conditions which it necessitates. The wars of the sects of the Brahmins and Buddhists, of the devotees of Vishnu and of Siva, also contributed their quota to this confusion. – There is indeed, a common character pervading the whole of India; but its several states present at the same time the greatest variety; so that in one Indian State we meet with the greatest effeminacy – in another, on the contrary, we find prodigious vigor and savage barbarity. If then, in conclusion, we once more take a general view of the comparative condition of India and China, we shall see that China was characterized by a thoroughly unimaginative Understanding; a prosaic life amid firm and definite reality: while in the Indian world there is, so to speak, no object that can be regarded as real, and firmly defined – none that was not at its first apprehension perverted by the imagination to the very opposite of what it presents to an intelligent consciousness. In China it is the Moral which constitutes the substance of the laws, and which is embodied in external strictly determinate relations; while over all hovers the patriarchal providence of the Emperor, who like a Father, cares impartially for the interest of his subjects. Among the Hindoos, on the contrary – instead of this Unity – Diversity is the fundamental characteristic. Religion, War, Handicraft, Trade, yes, even the most trivial occupations are parcelled out with rigid separation – constituting as they do the import of the one will which they involve, and whose various requirements they exhaust. With this is bound up a monstrous, irrational imagination, which attaches the moral value and character of men to an infinity of outward actions as empty in point of intellect as of feeling; sets aside all respect for the welfare of man, and even makes a duty of the cruellest and severest contravention of it. Those distinctions being rigidly maintained, nothing remains for the one universal will of the State but pure caprice, against whose omnipotence only the fixed caste-distinctions avail for protection. The Chinese in their prosaic rationality, reverence as the Highest, only the abstract supreme lord; and they exhibit a contemptibly superstitious respect for the fixed and definite

Among the Hindoos there is no such superstition so far as it presents an antithesis to Understanding; rather their whole life and ideas are one unbroken superstition, because among them all is revery and consequent enslavement. Annihilation – the abandonment of all reason, morality and subjectivity – can only come to a positive feeling and consciousness of itself, by extravagating in a boundlessly wild imagination; in which, like a desolate spirit, it finds no rest, no settled composure, though it can content itself in no other way; as a man who is quite reduced in body and spirit finds his existence altogether stupid and intolerable, and is driven to the creation of a dream-world and a delirious bliss in Opium.

Section II. – (Continued). – India – Buddhism.

It is time to quit the Dream-State characterizing the Hindoo Spirit revelling in the most extravagant maze through all natural and spiritual forms; comprising at the same time the coarsest sensuality and anticipations of the profoundest thought, and on that very account – as far as free and rational reality is concerned – sunk in the most self-abandoned, helpless slavery; – a slavery, in which the abstract forms into which concrete human life is divided, have become stereotyped, and human rights and culture have been made absolutely dependent upon these distinctions. In contrast with this inebriate Dream-life, which in the sphere of reality is bound fast in chains, we have the unconstrained Dream-life; which on the one hand is ruder than the former – as not having advanced so far as to make this distinction of modes of life – but for the same reason, has not sunk into the slavery which this entails. It keeps itself more free, more independently firm in itself: its world of ideas is consequently compressed into simpler conceptions. The Spirit of the Phase just indicated, is involved in the same fundamental principle as that assigned to Hindoo conceptions: but it is more concentrated in itself; its religion is simpler, and the accompanying political condition more calm and settled. This phase comprehends peoples and countries of the most varied complexion. We regard it as embracing Ceylon, Farther India with the Burman Empire, Siam, Anam – north of that Thibet, and further on the Chinese Upland with its various populations of Mongols and Tartars. We shall not examine the special individualities of these peoples, but merely characterize their Religion, which constitutes the most interesting side of their existence. The Religion of these peoples isBuddhism, which is the most widely extended religion on our globe. In China Buddha is reverenced as Fo; in Ceylon as Gautama; in Thibet and among the Mongols this religion has assumed the phase of Lamaism. In China – where the religion of Fo early received a great extension, and introduced a monastic life – it occupies the position of an integrant element of the Chinese principle. As the Substantial form of Spirit which characterizes China, develops itself only to a unity of secular national life, which degrades individuals to a position of constant dependence, religion also remains in a state of dependence. The element of freedom is wanting to it; for its object is the principle of Nature in general – Heaven – Universal Matter. But the (compensating) truth of this alienated form of Spirit (Nature occupying the place of the Absolute Spirit) is ideal Unity; the elevation above the limitation of Nature and of existence at large; – the return of consciousness into the soul. This element, which is contained in Buddhism, has made its way in China, to that extent to which the Chinese have become aware of the unspirituality of their condition, and the limitation that hampers their consciousness. – In this religion – which may be generally described as the religion of self-involvement (undeveloped Unity)[13] – the elevation of that unspiritual condition to subjectivity, takes place in two ways; one of which is of a negative, the other of an affirmative kind.

The negative form of this elevation is the concentration of Spirit to the Infinite, and must first present itself under theological conditions. It is contained in the fundamental dogma, that Nothingness is the principle of all things – that all proceeded from and returns to Nothingness. The various forms found in the World are only modifications of procession [thence]. If an analysis of these various forms were attempted, they would lose their quality; for in themselves all things are one and the same inseparable essence, and this essence is Nothingness. The connection of this with the Metempsychosis can be thus explained: All (that we see) is but a change of Form. The inherent infinity of Spirit – infinite concrete self-dependence – is entirely separate from this Universe of phenomena. Abstract Nothingness is properly that which lies beyond Finite Existence – what we may call the Supreme Being. This real principle of the Universe is, it is said, in eternal repose, and in itself unchangeable. Its essence consists in the absence of activity and volition. For Nothingness is abstract Unity with itself. To obtain happiness, therefore, man must seek to assimilate himself to this principle by continual victories over himself; and for the sake of this, do nothing, wish nothing, desire nothing. In this condition of happiness, therefore, Vice or Virtue is out of the question; for the true blessedness is Union with Nothingness. The more man frees himself from all speciality of existence, the nearer does he approach perfection; and in the annihilation of all activity – in pure passivity – he attains complete resemblance to Fo. The abstract Unity in question is not a mere Futurity – a Spiritual sphere existing beyond our own; it has to do with the present; it is truth for man [as he is], and ought to be realized in him. In Ceylon and the Burman Empire – where this Buddhistic Faith has its roots – there prevails an idea, that man can attain by meditation, to exemption from sickness, old age and death.

But while this is the negative form of the elevation of Spirit from immersion in the Objective to a subjective realization of itself, this Religion also advances to the consciousness of an affirmative form. Spirit is the Absolute. Yet in comprehending Spirit it is a point of essential importance in what determinate form Spirit is conceived. When we speak of Spirit as universal, we know that for us it exists only in an inward conception ; but to attain this point of view – to appreciate Spirit in the pure subjectivity of Thought and conception – is the result of a longer process of culture. At that point in history at which we have now arrived, the form of Spirit is not advanced beyond Immediateness (the idea of it is not yet refined by reflection and abstraction). God is conceived in an immediate, unreflected form; not in the form of Thought – objectively. But this immediate Form is that of humanity. The Sun, the Stars do not come up to the idea of Spirit; but Man seems to realize it; and he, as Buddha, Gautama, Fo – in the form of a departed teacher, and in the living form of the Grand Lama – receives divine worship. The Abstract Understanding generally objects to this idea of a Godman; alleging as a defect that the form here assigned to Spirit is an immediate [unreflected, unrefined] one – that in fact it is none other than Man in the concrete. Here the character of a whole people is bound up with the theological view just indicated. TheMongols – a race extending through the whole of central Asia as far as Siberia, where they are subject to the Russians – worship the Lama; and with this form of worship a simple political condition, a patriarchal life is closely united; for they are properly a Nomad people, and only occasionally are commotions excited among them, when they seem to be beside themselves, and eruptions and inundations of vast hordes are occasioned. Of the Lamas there are three: the best known is the Dalai-Lama, who has his seat at Lassa in the kingdom of Thibet. A second is the Teshoo-Lama, who under the title of Bantshen Rinbot-shee resides at Teshoo-Lomboo; there is also a third in Southern Siberia. The first two Lamas preside over two distinct sects, of which the priests of one wear yellow caps, those of the other, red. The wearers of the yellow caps – at whose head is the Dalai-Lama, and among whose adherents is the Emperor of China – have introduced celibacy among the priests, while the red sect allow their marriage. The English have become considerably acquainted with the Teshoo-Lama and have given us descriptions of him.

The general form which the spirit of the Lamaistic development of Buddhism assumes, is that of a living human being; while in the original Buddhism it is a deceased person. The two hold in common the relationship to a man. The idea of a man being worshipped as God – especially a living man – has in it something paradoxical and revolting; but the following considerations must be examined before we pronounce judgment respecting it. The conception of Spirit involves its being regarded as inherently, intrinsically, universal. This condition must be particularly observed, and it must be discovered how in the systems adopted by various peoples this universality is kept in view. It is not the individuality of the subject that is revered, but that which is universal in him; and which among the Thibetans, Hindoos, and Asiatics generally, is regarded as the essence pervading all things. This substantial Unity of Spirit is realized in the Lama, who is nothing but the form in which Spirit manifests itself; and who does not hold this Spiritual Essence as his peculiar property, but is regarded as partaking in it only in order to exhibit it to others, that they may attain a conception of Spirituality and be led to piety and blessedness. The Lama’s personality as such – his particular individuality – is therefore subordinate to that substantial essence which it embodies. The second point which constitutes an essential feature in the conception of the Lama is the disconnection from Nature. The Imperial dignity of China involved [as we saw] a supremacy over the powers of Nature; while here spiritual power is directly separated from the vis Natures. The idea never crosses the minds of the Lama-worshippers to desire of the Lama to show himself Lord of Nature – to exercise magical and miraculous power; for from the being they call God, they look only for spiritual activity and the bestowal of spiritual benefits. Buddha has moreover the express names “Saviour of Souls” – “Sea of Virtue” – “ the Great Teacher.” Those who have become acquainted with the Teshoo-Lama depict him as a most excellent person, of the calmest temper and most devoted to meditation. Thus also do the Lama-worshippers regard him. They see in him a man constantly occupied with religion, and who when he directs his attention to what is human, does so only to impart consolation and encouragement by his blessing, and by the exercise of mercy and the bestowal of forgiveness. These Lamas lead a thoroughly isolated life and have a feminine rather than masculine training. Early torn from the arms of his parents the Lama is generally a well- formed and beautiful child. He is brought up amid perfect quiet and solitude, in a kind of prison: he is well catered for, and remains without exercise or childish play, so that it is not surprising that a feminine susceptible tendency prevails in his character. The Grand Lamas have under them inferior Lamas as presidents of the great fraternities. In Thibet every father who has four sons is obliged to dedicate one to a conventual life. The Mongols, who are especially devoted to Lamaism – this modification of Buddhism – have great respect for all that possesses life. They live chiefly on vegetables, and revolt from killing any animal, even a louse. This worship of the Lamas has supplanted Shamanism, that is, the religion of Sorcery. The Shamans – priests of this religion – intoxicate themselves with strong drinks and dancing, and while in this state perform their incantations, fall exhausted on the ground, and utter words which pass for oracular. Since Buddhism and Lamaism have taken the place of the Shaman Religion, the life of the Mongols has been simple, prescriptive and patriarchal. Where they take any part in History, we find them occasioning impulses that have only been the groundwork of historical development. Thera is therefore little to be said about the political administration of the Lamas. A Vizier has charge of the secular dominion and reports everything to the Lama: the government is simple and lenient; and the veneration which the Mongols pay to the Lama, expresses itself chiefly in their asking counsel of him in political affairs.

Well congrats if you made it through all that. If you are interested, here is another article on Hegel’s philosophy of history from Stanford University.

2 comments on “Hegel on India and Hinduism

  1. Outlands Community says:

    Hello there Nick!

    It’s been a while and we’re glad you’re still around! Roy has retired from active participation in the Community and is finally enjoying life. I’ll forward this to him. If you’re still interested in doing that interview, I’ll be more than happy to work with you on it. Be well and at peace, dude! Oh yeah, we only check this email once every 2 – 3 weeks. Thanks again!

    Ceannt Gallagher


    Now that I’ve found happiness I’ve got a compulsion to spread it around ~ ƎǂᗄɅ⍑€Ϫ ƿɅᗗᚠ

  2. Tom says:

    Thanks for the post and extract! I’ve selected this quote which I think is most interesting… I’m not sure who the ‘to us’ is supposed to represent though. It seems to me that his point about that Being who is ’emphatically’ our being is very close to the concept of Brahm and not so much to the God of Abrahamic religions, but perhaps he’s speaking of Deism or Gnosticism idk.

    If we proceed to ask how far their religion exhibits the Morality of the Hindoos, the answer must be that the former is as distinct from the latter, as Brahm from the concrete existence of which he is the essence.
    To us, religion is the knowledge of that Being who is emphatically our Being, and therefore the substance of our knowledge and volition; the proper office of which latter is to be the mirror of this fundamental substance.

    He then goes on to say that this Being needs to be personal in order to inspire human actions… I strongly disagree. Say, for example, that this being impulses us to shine or/and expand… would that require it to be personal? Light, knowledge do the same thing without a need for being personal and with a long white beard… 😉

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