Secret Societies of All Ages - Charles Heckethorn

III. Brahmins and Gymnosophists

34. Vulgar Creed of India.—The Indian religion, whether we look on it as an adulteration of Magism, or as the common trunk of all Asiatic theosophy, offers so boundless a wealth of deities, that no other in this respect can approach it. This wealth is an infallible sign of the mental poverty and grossness of the people, who, ignorant of the laws of Nature, and terrified at its phenomena, acknowledged as many supernatural beings as there were mysteries for them. The Brahmins reckon up 300,000 gods—a frightful host, that have kept Indian life servile and stagnant, perpetuated the divisions of caste, upheld ignorance, and weighed like an incubus on the breasts of their deluded dupes, and turned existence into a nightmare of grief and servitude.

35. Secret Doctrines.—But in the secret sanctuary these vain phantoms disappear, and the initiated are taught to look upon them as countless accidents and outward manifestations of the First Cause. The Brahmins did not consider the people fit to apprehend and preserve in its purity the religion of the spirit, hence they veiled it in these figures, and also invented a language incomprehensible to the vulgar, but which the investigations of Oriental scholars have enabled us to read, and to perceive that the creed of India is one of the purest ever known to man. Thus in the second chapter of the first part of the "Vishnu Purana," it is written: "God is without form, epithet, definition, or description; free from defect, incapable of annihilation, change, grief, or pain. We can only say that He, that is, the Eternal Being, is God. Vulgar men think that God is in the water; the more enlightened, in celestial bodies; the ignorant, in wood and stone; but the wise, in the universal mind."

The "Mahanirvana" says: "Numerous figures, corresponding with the nature of divers powers and quality, were invented for the benefit of those who are wanting in sufficient understanding." Again, "We have no notion of how the Eternal Being is to be described; he is above all the mind can apprehend, above Nature. . . That Only One that was never defined by any language, and gave to language all its meaning, he is the Supreme Being . . . and no partial thing that man worships. . . . This Being extends over all things. He is mere spirit without corporeal form; without extension of any size, unimpressionable, and without any organs; he is pure, perfect, omniscient, omnipresent, the ruler of the intellect . . . he is the soul of the whole universe."

36. Hindoo Cosmogony.—The Hindoo cosmogony certainly is the most ancient we possess; the laws of Menu, embodying it, were written before Moses was born, and may thus describe the Creation.

"This universe existed only in the first divine idea, yet unexpanded, as if involved in darkness. . . . Then the sole, self-existing power . . . appeared with undiminished glory, expanding his idea."

"He, having willed to produce various beings from his own divine substance, first created the waters."

"From that which Is, the first cause, . . . was produced the divine male."

"He framed the heaven above, and the earth beneath; in the midst he placed the subtile ether."

"He framed all creatures."

"He, too, first assigned to all creatures distinct names."

"He gave being to time, and the divisions of time to the stars also and the planets."

"Having divided his own substance, the mighty power became half male, half female."

"He, . . . having created this universe, was again absorbed in the spirit, changing the time of energy for the time of repose."

It will be seen that the author of Genesis has given us a faint echo of those grand utterances, as a child feebly attempting to repeat the teachings of a sage.

37. Buddhism.—A dangerous antagonist to the Brahman priesthood, and the literature and traditions, on which they rested their claims to power, sprang up in Buddhism. Buddha preached the equality of all men, and denied the value, much more the necessity, of the Vedic system. The new gospel of universal charity and brotherhood was eagerly received by men, who were groaning under the yoke of Brahmanical tyranny, and it found an ally in the half-expressed scepticism of some of the Vedic schools of philosophy. It was in the south of India especially that Buddha's doctrines found a ready welcome, while Ceylon became converted to Buddhism as early as 240 B.C. In India, Buddhism was exterminated by its sanguinary persecution by the Brahmins. Ceylon is now the only part of India in which the religion of Buddha still survives.

38. Buddhistic Teaching.—Buddha, or to give him his real name, Sakyamuni—for Buddha is a title, and means a "Sage"—is said to have been born in the sixth century B.C. But of his real existence there is no proof; the most recent researches show that the story of Buddha is a solar myth, first told of Krishna, and afterwards transferred to Buddha. The most sacred Buddhist symbols, and the most frequent Buddhist similes, have their Vedic analogies, with the distinction that Brahminism resolves the individual into a (personal) god, Buddhism into the (universal) Nothing, or Nirvana. For Buddhism teaches that the original matter, or prakriti, is the only existing divine per se. In this matter there are immanent two forces, which produce two different conditions—quiescence and activity. In one state it remains quiescent with consciousness in an absolute inactive vacuity, and this is the state of bliss of the original Nothing.

In another state the matter steps out of itself by its activity, and is shaped into limited forms. In doing so it loses its consciousness, which it re-acquires in becoming man, and there is in this manner an original and a born consciousness. The aim of man is to reproduce the original consciousness. On arriving at it he learns that there is nothing real beside the original matter; his spirit then becomes identical with the original conscious Nothing; that is to say, his individual soul, set free from the body, in which it was imprisoned, returns into the universal soul, just as the solar light, imprisoned in a piece of wood, when this is burnt, returns into the universal ocean of light. On this doctrine was afterwards engrafted the false belief in the metempsychosis or transmigration of souls, and the misanthropic system of self-renunciation, which in India led to the self-torturings of fakirs and other fanatics; and which finds its analogies in Christian communities in the asceticism of fasts, penances, macerations, solitude, flagellation, and all the mad practices of monks, anchorets, and other religious zealots.

39. Asceticism.—This asceticism, founded on the above notion, viz., that the Absolute or All is the real existence, and that individual phenomena, especially matter in all its forms, are really nothing, i.e., mere phantasms, and to be avoided, as increasing the distance from the Absolute, and that absorption into the Deity is to be obtained, even in this life, by the maceration of the body, was and even now is prevalent in India, where it was carried, in thousands of instances, further than mere self-torture, even to death. When, at the festival of the dread goddess Bhovani, the wife of Siva, her ponderous image was borne on a car, with cutting wheels, to the Ganges, a crowd of frantic beings, wreathed with flowers, joyous as if they went to the nuptial altar, would cast themselves under the wheels of the car, offering themselves, amidst the sounding of trumpets, as voluntary sacrifices, to be cut to pieces by the wheels. And in various sects asceticism has led to the adoption of many strange practices. In the "Contes de la Reine de Navarre" there is a passage which at some length refers to a special mode adopted by monks and other men for the mortification of the flesh.

40. Gymnosophists.—We have very few notices of the Gymnosophists, the Magi of Brahminism, the most severe custodians of the primitive law, and originally most free from imposture. They spread over Africa; and in Ethiopia they lived as solitaires, and revived on the banks of the Nile many phases of Asiatic theosophy, traces of which abound in the doctrines of the Dervishes. Priests-errant, they were reported to carry with them a secret doctrine, of which the simplicity of their lives and the purity of their morals might be considered as the outward manifestation; though in after times they became one of the most debauched and immoral sects in India.

They went almost naked (hence their name—naked,wise), and lived on herbs; but their own austerity did not render them harsh towards other men, nor unjust as regarded other common conditions of life. They believed in one only God, the immortality of the soul and its transmigration, and when old age or disease prostrated them, they ascended the funeral pile, deeming it ignominious to let years or evils afflict them. Alexander saw one of them close his life in this manner.

The priestly colleges of Ethiopia and Egypt maintained constant relations. Osiris is an Ethiopian divinity. Every year the two families of priests met on the boundaries of the two countries to offer common sacrifices to Ammon,—another name for Jupiter,—and celebrate the festival which the Greeks called heliotrapeza, or Table of the Sun. Amidst the predominant fetishism of Africa, produced partly by climate and partly by the same circumstances that gave rise to Indian fetishism, we cannot help admiring that colony of thinkers which long resisted the progress of despotism, and whose destruction was the revenge of intolerance and tyranny.

41. Places for celebrating Mysteries.—The mysteries, as in other countries, were celebrated in subterranean caverns, here excavated in the solid rock, and surpassing in grandeur of conception and finish of execution anything to be seen elsewhere. The temples of Elephanta, Ellora, and Salsette, consisting of large halls and palaces, chapels, pagodas, cells for thousands of priests and pilgrims, adorned with pillars and columns, obelisks, bas-reliefs, gigantic statues of deities, elephants, and other sacred animals, all carved out of the living rock, are especially noteworthy. In the sacellum, only accessible to the initiated, the supreme Deity was represented by the lingam, which was used more or less by all ancient nations to represent His creative power, though in India it was also typified by the petal and calyx of the lotus.

42. Initiation.—The periods of initiation were regulated by the increase and decrease of the moon, and the mysteries were divided into four degrees, and the candidate might be initiated into the first at the early age of eight years. He was then prepared by a Brahmin, who became his spiritual guide for the second degree, the probationary ceremonies of which consisted in incessant occupation in prayers, fastings, ablutions, and the study of astronomy. In the hot season he sat exposed to five fires, four blazing around him, with the sun above; in the rains he stood uncovered; in the cold season he wore wet clothing.

To participate in the high privileges which the mysteries were believed to confer, he was sanctified by the sign of the cross, and subjected to the probation of the pastes, the tomb of the sun, the coffin of Hiram, darkness,—hell, all symbolical of the first three properties (11). His purification being completed, he was led at night to the cavern of initiation. This was brilliantly illuminated, and there sat the three chief hierophants, in the east, west, and south, representing the gods Brahma, who was painted red to represent substance, Vishnu, painted blue to symbolise space, Siva, painted white, in contrast to the black night of eternity, surrounded by attendant mystagogues, dressed in appropriate vestments.

The initiation was begun by an apostrophe to the sun, addressed by the name of Pooroosh, here meaning the vital soul, or portion of the universal spirit of Brahm; and the candidate, after some further preliminary ceremonies, was made to circumambulate the cavern three times, and afterwards conducted through seven dark caverns, during which period the wailings of Mahadeva for the loss of Siva were represented by dismal howlings. The usual paraphernalia of flashes of light, of dismal sounds and horrid phantoms, were produced to terrify and confuse the aspirant. Having arrived at the last cavern, the sacred conch was blown, the folding doors thrown open, and the candidate was admitted into an apartment filled with dazzling lights, ornamented with statues and emblematic figures richly decorated with gems, and scented with the most fragrant perfumes. This sacellum was intended to represent Paradise, and was actually so called in the temple of Ellora. With eyes riveted on the altar, the candidate was taught to expect the descent of the Deity in the bright pyramidal fire that blazed upon it; and in a moment of enthusiasm, thus artificially produced, the candidate might indeed persuade himself that he actually beheld Brahm seated on the lotus, with his four heads and arms, representing the four elements and the four quarters of the globe, and bearing in his hands the emblems of eternity and power, the circle and fire. The symbol of initiation was a cord of seven threads knotted thrice three.

The reader will have noticed in one case I say Brahm and in the other Brahma; the latter is the body of the former, which is the Eternal life. The terms correspond with those of Abyssal Deity and Virgin Sophia of Christian theosophy.

43. The ineffable name Aum.—The candidate was now supposed to be regenerated, and was invested with the white robe, tiara, and the sacred belt; a cross was marked on his forehead, and a tau (53) upon his breast; the salagram or marginal black stone (18), to insure to him the perfection of Vishnu, and the serpent stone, an antidote against the bite of serpents, were delivered to him; and lastly, he was entrusted with the sacred name, which signified the solar fire, and united in its comprehensive meaning the great Trimurti, or combined principle on which the existence of all things is founded. This word was OM, or in a triliteral form AUM, to represent the creative, preserving, and destroying power of the Deity, personified in Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, the symbol of which was an equilateral triangle. To this name, as the Royal Arch Masons to that of Jabulon, they attributed the most wonderful powers; and it could only be the subject of silent but pleasing contemplation, for its pronunciation was said to make earth and heaven tremble, and even the angels of heaven to quake with fear. The emblems around and the aporreta of the mysteries were then explained, and the candidate instructed that by means of the knowledge of OM he was to become one with the Deity. With the Persians the syllable HOM meant the tree of life, a tree and a man at the same time, the dwelling-place of the soul of Zoroaster; and with them also, as with the Indians, it was forbidden on pain of death to reveal it. In this secret name, involving the rejection of polytheism, and comprising the knowledge of Nature, we have the golden thread that unites ancient and modern secret societies.

44. The Lingam.—One of the emblems found in the sacellum, and which in fact is found everywhere on the walls of Indian temples, was the lingam, which represented the male principle, and which passed from India to Egypt, Greece, and Scandinavia. The worship of this symbol could not but lead to great abuses, especially as regarded the gymnosophists.

45. The Lotus.—The lotus, the lily of the Nile, held sacred also in Egypt, was the great vegetable amulet of eastern nations. The Indian gods were always represented as seated on it. It was an emblem of the soul's freedom when liberated from its earthly tabernacle, the body; for it takes root in the mud deposited at the bottom of a river, vegetates from the germ to a perfect plant, and afterwards rising proudly above the waves, it floats in air, as if independent of any extraneous aid. It is placed on a golden table, as the symbol of Siva, on the top of Mount Meru, the holy mountain of India, the centre of the earth, worshipped by Hindoos, Tartars, Montchurians, and Mongols. It is supposed to be in Northern India, to have three peaks, composed of gold, silver, and iron, on which reposes the trine deity Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. Geographically, this mountain is evidently the tableland of Tartary, whose southern boundary is formed by the Himalayas.

This custom of accounting a three-peaked mountain holy was not confined. to India alone, but prevailed also among the Jews. Thus Olivet, near Jerusalem, had three peaks, which were accounted the residence of the Deity—Chemosh, Milcom, Ashtoreth (2 Kings xxiii. 13). In Zechariah (xiv. 4) the feet of the Almighty are placed on the two outer peaks of this mountain during the threatened destruction of Jerusalem; while the mountain itself is made to split asunder at the centre peak from east to west, leaving a great valley between the divided parts.

46. The Jains.—They form a Buddhistic sect, but differ from the Baddhists by having retained the division of castes; they agree, however, with them in denying the divine authority of the Vedas. The Jains are divided into four castes, the first of which is that of the Brahmens, or priests, who pass through a ceremony of upanayana, or initiation, but of what it consists we have no reliable information. The term jain, or jina, means a conqueror, and is used by genuine Buddhists in that sense; but with the latter man becomes a Jina through meditation, whilst with the Jains he becomes a "conqueror" through austerity. They have a magnificent temple, the most superb of all temples in India, on Mount Abu, in the territory of Serohee, in Eajpootana. It is built of marble, in the form of a cross, and is said to have been fourteen years building, and to have cost £ 18,000,000. It is, a celebrated place of pilgrimage for the Jains, who also have a large rock-temple at Karlee, in the Presidency of Bombay.