PROPHETS AND THEIR MISSION.
"Let not Moses speak unto me, nor any of the prophets, but rather do Thou speak, O Lord God, the Inspirer and Enlightener of all the prophets."
THOMAS A KEMPIS.
It has been the fortunate feature of every religion that counted among its adherents a large number of men, that brought spiritual solace to the minds of sin-cankered individuals, to undergo what might be called periodic ecdysis. One set of doctrines and observances please and stimulate its votaries at one phase of its existence, to be only succeeded at the next generation by another body of creed and a different liturgy, which may in fundamentals resemble their predecessor, and whose disagreement, minute thought it be, would be patent to a conscientious student of any religion. Such are the steps by which religion progresses, and such is the almost imperceptible course of its motion, that to none but a trained student, its rapid changes and stable fundamentals would be apparent. Even in that immobile miscellanea which are sometimes conglomerated together as Fetishism it is possible for a comparative religionist, to find within its inmost depths, an evolving life pulsating, and an innate tendency that aims at a distant perfection. What Prof. Max Muller's admirable lectures on "The Anthropological Religion" have done in unraveling even to the minds of determined skeptics like Spencer, and rabid Christians like Sayee who could not imagine anything like organic unity or orderly growth in any religion but their own, leaves us not in any necessity to touch on that subject much. He has shown us by lucid argumentation and by a study of their languages, how useless it is for us to believe even in the traveller's accounts of native tribes of remote countries, which record only eye-witnessing's, unless coupled with a competency in him to move socially with the aborigines, to induce in them a confidence with regard to his well-minded curiosity, to study their sacred writings and understand their genuine spirit, and to be able to speak freely with, and convey his ideas to them. He shows by unmistakable examples, how also the versions of well-minded globe-trotters, liberal-viewed missionaries, are in most cases untrustworthy and contradicting each other, in the light of the further labors of recent men who have studied the tribes and their creed for the sole sake of learning their religion. Totemism, Fetishism and many other allied forms of worship prevalent among the so-called semi-civilized races of America, the Andaman's, Africa and the rest, are shown by him to have an organic growth and to hide within them all the salient points of a soul-satisfying religion. With the evolving tendency and progressive growth of Hinduism, Prof. Max Muller has excellently dealt in his Hibbert lectures. And Rhys Davis has done the same for the religion of the Buddhists. Zoroastrianism and Confucianism are religious for a continued history of which we might direct the attention of the enthusiast to the clear manuals of Haug and Legge. Alongside of the natural tendency of the Human Mind to hanker after innovation, and to be the subject of steady though sometimes convulsive progressive, it is scarcely possible to shut our eyes to the inscrutable trait of every religion, that it should be invariably influenced from time to time by the thorough-going speculations of some religious leaders who variously called themselves as saints, apostles, prophets, saviors and the like. Every step in the onward progress of religion, each excellent point that tended to clarify its doctrines, has always been associated with the reform of one man of strong intellect, with the well-directed labors of a pious enthusiast. In bigger religions, by virtue of their sacred scriptures being handed down as written documents, from generation to generation, the teachings of these venerable men have been embalmed and preserved in writings, and along with their canonical books and their persisting influence, the remembrance of the names of these individuals in the months of their votaries had become a desideratum. While in smaller religions, the zealots of which had mere truth and faith in them than vain rhetoric and word-spinning metaphysics, the names of the epoch-making leaders and reformers could not be remembered beyond a certain number of generations, since in the absence of writing as a vehicle of religious thought, there was no means to preserve their teachings and to remind their names to the fervent minds of their untutored adherents. This would explain why the names of a Pythagoras and a Sankaracharya should be remembered, why the moral confessions of a St. Augustine or a St. Bernard should be recorded, why Laotze and Buddha should be idolized. For a keen student of religion, the subtle intricacies which Sankara has introduced in the region of Hindu Philosophy must be evident, and Hinduism should lose much of its all-embracing catholicity and depth of metaphysical reasoning for the absence of a such a glittering roll of names as those of Ramanuja and Madhava, Vidyaranya and Vijnanabhikshu and the like. In Christianity the rapid march of new ideas and the steady influence which the ever-progressing Science has exerted on the ethics and philosophy of that religion, have introduced more of orderly evolution and virile progress than in the annals of any other religion. Christianity has been, ever from its dawn, a literary religion, a religion that boasted of an ever-increasing number of adherents who had a cultured language of their own, and thus a history of its progress, minute to the very nature and temperament of its adherents, has been preserved to us in books. And here therefore our expectations receive more than a real gratification. These prophets have been looked upon in various lights by sundry men of each religion. Some have been thought to be superhuman in origin, to have been attended with extra-ordinary wonders in Nature at their birth, to have worked Miracles to attest to their Divine commission, and to have ended their lives in the most marvelous of ways. It is not our purpose to dwell on the peculiar tendencies of the Human Mind to look upon things of the past with a reverential awe, to enlarge on the irrepressible aim of Human Nature to invest everything antique in a superhuman halo and to lay it in a Divine setting. This fact receives its best example in the true and represented nature of Mohammad, and in the wonderment and notoriety that attend even the most modern of Indian religious reformers, such as Rajah Ram Mohan Roy and Keshab ChunderSen, Swami Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Kubir Doss. Such prophets have in every instance been intimately connected with the expurgation of some corruptions that cropped up in a religion at a particular age, and they have left the religion richer in religious lore than what they found it in. The same craze that led the votaries of a religion to look upon the religious leaders, with a superhuman awe and an almost Divine worship, the same fancy that leads an archeologist to regard old ruins in a blinding sense of soul lifting respect and unearthly regard the same reverence which a man of literature feels for an old copy of a forgotten poet, has led the people at large to set the prophets at a Diviner level and to transfer even to them, in a degree, the functions of that Limitless One, of which they were the earthly tongued exponents. We have therefore been taught to look upon a prophet as a savior of the world, another one blemishes, a third man as the Inexhaustible Deity itself in human form. In every scripture that has been written in the name of God, and in every votary that directs his eyes to Heaven with a yearning heart after the Infinite, the same infinite fountain of Grace is surging up, the same virile step towards the infinite Goal is made. Nobody need presume to take up into his hands the benevolence which is His alone, or the mercy of which He is an infinite ocean. His presence is shadowed forth in the towering hills, in the many –colored flower and in the awe-inspiring ocean. No man need be taught the truth of this so long as he has eyes to see and ears to hear. What the prophets themselves evidently meant to do was to shout about the Infinite when the people's ears were getting waxed, and to point to the Infinite Lustre and blaze their torches of preaching when the moral eyes of men were getting dim. To search for that Infinite, to be feeling after the Divine Vivifier we need go to no man for direction, for, in Him we live and move and have our being. When the perception of the Infinite becomes and accomplished fact for the mind, what could be done in the way of pure worship before that Limitless Splendor, so long as we are trammeled by the shackles of flesh and blood, so long as we could not but anthropomorphize the Infinite Attributes, becomes a realized vision. And herein lies the truth and essence of religious perfection of every Human Soul. It is the height of mental worship that leaves us on the lowest bolder of the Spiritual Mountain, and what one must be able to do, despite the orthodox fanaticism of rank religionists, and the pathological mental abnormalities which the modern yogins are able to induce in their own bodies, and which are usually mistaken for the signs and wonders of the Higher Path, is to approach as best as one might the Throne of Sanctity, to reach the highest pinnacle of godly meditation, and to surround one's notions with the best ethical exactitude which his heart dictates. And there the yearning Pilgrim should stand at the lowest step of the Golden Stairs and when the life-immuring bonds snap, the wheel of karma rotates, landing him for a time in a happier realm of blissful beatitude, than it was his lot to live, when striving on this world below.
V. V. RAMANAN.