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20. A religion like this, however pure at its commencement, was likely soon to become corrupted. It speedily merged into idolatry and polytheism, as far at least as the main body of the worshippers were concerned, while at the same time the rule of the Brahmans or officiating priests became strengthened into an insupportable social tyranny. Thus a double reformation was to be apprehended, corresponding on the one hand to the religious, and on the other to the ceremonial and social, development of the system.
21. The first reformation was that attributed to Zoroaster and his disciples, whose belief is contained in the Zend-Avesta. In his confession of faith, the disciple of the Eranian or Zoroastrian religion declares, 'I cease to be a worshipper of the daêvas.'
It must however be remembered that in this religion daeva means devil, or evil spirit. Thus the earliest forms of the Zoroastrian religion need not have excluded, and apparently did not exclude, the worship of good spirits.
Whilst the Zoroastrian disciples believed in a supreme God who rules the world, they yet gave a prominent place to a spirit of evil, which afterwards received the name of Ahriman, and was supposed to exercise very considerable influence over the order of nature and the minds of men. Indeed, Ahriman is apparently an independent power so strong that but for the fact that he acts before he thinks, while Ormuzd (the good spirit) thinks before he acts, the victory of good would be doubtful. . The whole system hinges on this and on the fact that everything noxious and evil in creation is the work of Ahriman
Max Müller is of opinion that the Zoroastrian religion was founded on a solemn protest against the whole worship of the powers of nature involved in the Vedas;' and again the same writer says, “The characteristic change that has taken place between the Veda and Avesta is, that the battle is no longer a conflict of gods and demons for cows (alluding to a Vaidik myth), nor of light and darkness for rain. It is the battle of a pious man against the power of evil.'
22. The disciples of the Zoroastrian religion believed in a future state ; the ill-speaker (the devil), we are told in the Zend-Avesta, shall not destroy the second life.
The following extracts given by Max Müller from a catechism of the modern Parsis or disciples of Zoroaster give us a very good idea of their present creed :
'Q. Whom do we of the Zarthosti community believe in?
'A. We believe in only one God, and we do not believe in any besides Him.
'Q. Do we not believe in any other God?
* A. Whoever believes in any other God but this is an infidel, and shall suffer the punishment of hell.'
In another extract the disciples are told that in the world to come they shall receive the return according to their actions.
23. The next reform of the Brahminical system had reference to its social characteristics, and was occasioned by the insupportable tyranny of the priesthood. The reformer, a young prince, was born about 500 years B.C., and from his life and doctrines received the name of Buddha, or the Enlightened,
After having learned from various famous Brahmans, he came to the conclusion that their austerities and doctrines could neither free men from the miseries of this life nor from the fear of death. From this stage Buddha passed into the belief that all we see is vanity—a delusion, a dream—and that the highest wisdom consists in perceiving this, and in desiring to enter into Nirvana, or, in other words, to be blown out like a flame.
It would seem from these words that Buddha himself regarded annihilation rather than immortality as the summum bonum ; but no account of Buddhism would be satisfactory which did not pay special regard to the notion so widely diffused in heathenism, that matter is the source of all evil. To be liberated from matter is to be liberated from evil ; and this would seem to be the fundamental thought in the Nirvana in all its different senses. But however this may be, we know that, allied to these extreme metaphysical opinions, Buddha inculcated a moral code which is one of the purest the world has ever known. M. Laboulaye says, 'It is difficult to comprehend how men not assisted by revelation could have soared so high;' and M. Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire does not hesitate to assert that with the sole exception of Christ, there is not amongst the founders of religion a more pure or touching figure than that of Buddha.'
24. In process of time, among the followers of the Buddhist religion, the word Nirvâna came to have a very different meaning from that which it had at first. Buddha was himself worshipped as a divinity, and his Nirvâna came to denote a state in which
there was a total absence of pain, or in other words an Elysium.
In illustration of this we may quote the account given by Max Müller of the dying words of Hiouenthsang, a famous pilgrim from China to the shrine of Buddha, who died in the year of our era 664:
'I desire,' he said, that whatever merits I may have gained by good works may fall upon other people. May I be born again with them in the heaven of the blessed, be admitted to the family of Mi-le, and serve the Buddha of the future who is full of kindness and affection. When I descend again upon earth, to pass through other forms of existence, I desire at every new birth to fulfil my duties towards Buddha, and arrive at the last at the highest and most perfect intelligence.'
25. Having thus surveyed, however imperfectly, the belief regarding a future state held by the greater nations both of the East and West before the advent of Christianity, let us now make a few observations.
In the first place, there are manifestly two ways in which such a belief may be held. In one of these it becomes the natural result of an implicit faith in God and his goodness, which will not suffer him to disappoint the natural and innate longings of his intelligent creatures. And such a belief is most likely to arise amongst a nation which has already vividly realised the living presence and goodness of God. Now the ancient Jews were such a nation, and the belief that even death cannot break the fellowship of the believer with God comes out clearly enough in several of the Psalms. Moreover, the notion of some sort of future life lies clearly in what is said of Enoch. All this goes beyond the mere notion of Sheol, which is not thought of as a happy place. But in the time of the Maccabees this had grown into a definite belief in the resurrection, and without insisting on the truthfulness of the Second Book of Maccabees as an historical document, we may yet be sure that it embodies the feelings of the Jewish nation at the time when it was written. It is of little consequence whether a mother and seven brethren were actually put to death because they would not transgress what they believed to be the laws of God, or whether in dying they expressed their belief that they would be continued in a bodily existence by the Creator. For it is manifest from what we know of the Jews, that not merely one family but many would under similar circumstances have acted in the manner described by the historian, dying with the same fortitude and encouraged by the same hope. We have here a region in which there is no thought of the How-this troublesome question has not yet arisen, nor is it likely to arise. No doubt has yet been entertained regarding the power of God, nor would such a doubt be likely to receive much encouragement here.
26. But the human mind will not refrain from speculation, and this brings us to the second method in which a belief regarding a future state may be held. It may be held after a mode determined by speculations regarding the possible conditions of a future state. Such speculations may of course take every variety of form, but yet there are three well defined classes into which they naturally group themselves :-.