New Ideas in India During the Nineteenth Century eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 205 pages of information about New Ideas in India During the Nineteenth Century.

[Sidenote:  The twofold priesthood—­religious teachers and celebrants.]

[Sidenote:  How doctrine moves independently of ritual.]

Another feature of the organisation of Hinduism, hitherto insufficiently noticed, has a still closer connection with this freedom of thought and fixity of practice.  The Indian mind is open to new religious ideas, while the religious customs of India remain almost unaffected, because the priesthood of Hinduism is two-fold.  One set of priests, called purohits, are merely the celebrants at worship and ceremonies; the second set, called gurus, theoretically more highly honoured, are or were the religious teachers of the people.  Among Mahomedans there is a somewhat similar two-fold priesthood, although among them doctrine is not divorced from religious worship and ritual.  But in Christianity we have not specialised so far.  A Christian clergyman, as we know, holds both offices; he is both the religious teacher and the celebrant at sacraments, etc.  In Hinduism, with these two sets of priests entirely separate, it is evident that a change may take place in the creed without the due performance of the Hindu ritual being affected.  A striking instance of the divergence of guru from purohit is given by Sir Monier Williams in another connection.  In India, he says, no temples are more common than those containing the symbol of the God Siva—­there are said to be thirty million symbols of Siva scattered over India—­yet among gurus there is scarcely one in a hundred whose vocation is to impart the mantra (the saving text) of Siva.[69] It has already been explained how the creed of Hinduism is dissolving while its practices remain; to restate the fact otherwise now—­The hereditary purohits continue to be employed many times a year in a Hindu household, as worship, births, deaths, marriages, and social ceremonies recur, but the hereditary gurus as religious teachers have become practically defunct.[70] Literally, the one duty of a guru has come to be to communicate once in a lifetime to each Hindu his saving mantra or Sanscrit text; periodically thereafter, the guru may visit his clients to collect what dues they may be pleased to give.  The place of religious teacher in Hinduism is vacant, and Christianity and modern thought are taking the vacant place.  The modern middle-class Hindu is in need of a guru.  For mere purohits, as such, he has a small and a declining reverence; but holy men, as such, his instinct is to honour—­one of the pleasing features of Hinduism.  We can understand it all when we remember how in the Christian Church, in a crisis like that from which the Church is now emerging, many come to be married by the clergyman who have practically lapsed from the faith.



    “The idea of God is the productive and conservative principle
    of civilisation; as is the religion of a community, so will be
    in the main its morals, its laws, its general history.”

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New Ideas in India During the Nineteenth Century from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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