The Creed Chasm
"I have had to deal in the same afternoon's work,
on the one hand with men of keen powers of
intellect, whose subtle reasoning made one look to
the foundations of one's own faith; and on the
other hand with ignorant crowds, whose conception
of sin was that of a cubit measure, and to whom
the terms 'faith' and 'love' were as absolutely
unknown as though they had been born and bred in
some undeveloped race of Anthropoids."
Rev. T. Walker, India.

IN writing about the Classes and the Masses of South India, one great difference which does not exist at home should be explained. In England a prince and a peasant may be divided by outward things -- social position, style of life, and the duty of life -- but in all inward things they may be one -- one in faith, one in purpose, one in hope. The difference which divides them is only accidental, external; and the peasant, perhaps being in advance of the prince in these verities of existence, may be regarded by the prince as nobler than himself: there is no spiritual chasm between them. It is the same in the realm of scholarship. All true Christians, however learned or however unlearned, hold one and the same faith. But in India it is not so. The scholar would smile at the faith of the simple villagers, he would even teach them to believe that which he did not believe himself, holding that it was more suitable for them, and he would marvel at your ignorance if you confounded his creed with theirs; and yet in name both he and they are Hindus.

Sir Monier Williams explains the existence of this difference by describing the receptivity and all-comprehensiveness of Hinduism. "It has something to offer which is suited to all minds, its very strength lies in its infinite adaptability to the infinite diversity of human characters and human tendencies. It has its highly spiritual and abstract side, suited to the metaphysical philosopher; its practical and concrete side, suited to the man of affairs and the man of the world; its aesthetic and ceremonial side, suited to the man of poetic feeling and imagination; its quiescent and contemplative side, suited to the man of peace and lover of seclusion. Nay, it holds out the right hand of brotherhood to nature worshippers, demon worshippers, animal worshippers, tree worshippers, fetich worshippers. It does not scruple to permit the most grotesque forms of idolatry and the most degrading varieties of superstition, and it is to this latter fact that yet another remarkable peculiarity of Hinduism is mainly due -- namely, that in no other System of the world is the chasm more vast which separates the religion of the higher, cultured, and thoughtful Classes, from that of the lower, uncultured, and unthinking Masses."

Naturally, therefore, work among them is different; one almost needs a different vocabulary for each, and certainly one needs a different set of ideas. I remember how, in one afternoon's work, we saw the two types most perfectly. In thinking of it, it is as if one saw again the quiet face of the old scholar against a background of confusion, the clear calm features carved as in ivory, and set with a light upon it; chaotic darkness behind. We were visiting his wife, when he came out from the inner room, and asked if he might talk with us. Usually to such a question I say no; we have come to the women, who are far the more needy, the men can easily hear if they will. But he was such an old man, I felt I could not refuse; so he began to tell me what he held as truth, which was, in brief, that there are two sets of attachment, one outer, one inner; that deliverance from these, and from Self, the Ego, which regards itself as the doer, constitutes Holiness; that is, that one must be completely disentangled and completely self-less. This attained, the next is Bliss, which is progressive. First comes existence in the same place as God. Second, nearness to God. Third, likeness to God. Fourth, identity with God. Then he quoted from a classic beloved by all the old Tamil school, stanza after stanza, to prove the truth of the above, ending with one which Dr. Pope has thus translated --

"Cling thou to that which He to Whom nought clings hath bid thee cling,
Cling to that bond, to get thee free from every clinging thing."

He knew Sanscrit, and read me strange-sounding passages from a huge ancient book, and then, in return for a booklet, he gave me one of Mrs. Besant's translations from the Bhagavad Gita.

The talk ended in my quoting what he could not deny was the true heart-cry of one of his greatest poets. "I know nothing! nothing! I am in darkness! Lord, is there no light for me?" And another, from the poem he had quoted, which asks the question, "What is the use of knowledge, mere knowledge, if one does not draw near to the All-knowing, All-pure One?" And this led into what he would not listen to at first, a little reading from the Book of books, before whose light even these wonderful books pale as tapers in clear sunshine. The marvel of our Bible never shows more marvellous than at such times, when you see it in deed and in truth the Sword of the Spirit, and it cuts.

The old man asked me to come again, and I did, as the Iyer was away. He often got out of my depth, and I longed to know more; but I always found the Bible had the very word he needed, if he would only take it. So far as I know, he did not, and I left him -- to quote his own words, though not spoken of himself, alas! -- "bewildered by numerous thoughts, meshed in the web of delusion."

As we left our old scholar, we came upon a thing wholly foolish and brainless, animalism in force. It was the difference between the Classes and the Masses once for all painted in glare. A huge procession was tearing along the streets and roads, with all the usual uproar. They stopped when they got to a big thorn bush, and then danced round it, carrying their idols raised on platforms, and borne by two or three dozen to each. We passed, singing as hard as ever we could "Victory to Jesus' Name! Victory!" and when we got rather out of the stream, stopped, and sang most vigorously, till quite a little crowd gathered, and we had a chance to witness.

It was dark, and the flaming torches lit up the wildest, most barbaric bit of heathenism I have seen for a long time. The great black moving mass seemed like some hellish sea which had burst its bounds, and the hundreds of red-fire torches moving up and down upon it like lights in infernal fishermen's boats, luring lost souls to their doom.

As we waited and spoke to those who would hear, a sudden rush from the centre of things warned us to go; but before we could get out of the way, a rough lad with a thorn-branch torch stuck it right into the bandy, and all but set fire to us. He ran on with a laugh, and another followed with an idol, a hideous creature, red and white, which he also pushed in upon us. Our bullocks trotted as fast as they could, and we soon got out of it all, and looking back saw the great square of the devil temple blazing with torches and firebrands, and heard the drummings and clangings and yells which announced the arrival of the procession.

All that night the riotous drumming continued, and, as one lay awake and listened, one pictured the old scholar sitting in the cool night air on his verandah, reading his ancient palm-leaf books by the light of the little lamp in the niche of his cottage wall.

chapter ix the classes and
Top of Page
Top of Page