Ancient India

Hindooism, like other Pantheistic systems, teaches the doctrine of the transmigration of souls: all creation, animate and inanimate, being, according to the Hindoo system, nothing else but the deity Brahm himself parceled out, as it were, into innumerable portions and forms (when these are reunited, the world will be at an end), just as a quantity of quicksilver may be broken up into innumerable little balls or globules, which all have a tendency to go together again. At long intervals of time, each extending over some thousand millions of years, Brahm does bring the world to an end, by reabsorbing it into his spirit. When, therefore, a man dies, his soul, according to the Hindoos, must either be absorbed immediately into the soul of Brahm, or it must pass through a series of transmigrations, waiting for the final absorption, which happens at the end of every universe, or at least until such time as it shall be prepared for being reunited. with the Infinite Spirit. The former of the two is, according to the Hindoos, the highest possible reward: to be absorbed into Brahm immediately upon death, and without having to undergo any farther purification, is the lot only of the greatest devotees. To attain this end, or at least to avoid degradation after death, the Hindoos, and especially the Brahmins, who are naturally the most intent upon their spiritual interests, practice a ritual of the most intricate and ascetic description, carrying religious ceremonies and antipathies with them into all the duties of life. So overburdened is the daily life of the Hindoos with superstitious observances with regard to food, sleep, etc., that, but for the speculative doctrines which the more elevated minds among the Brahmins may see recognised in their religion, the whole system of Hindooism might seem a wretched and grotesque polytheism.

A hundred millions of people professing this system, divided into castes as now, and carrying the Brahminical ritual into all the occupations of lazy life under the hot sun, and amid the exuberant vegetation of Hindoostan such was the people into which Alexander the Great carried his conquering arms; such, doubtless, they had been for ages before that period; and such did they remain, shut out from the view of the rest of the civilized world, and only communicating with it by means of spices, ivory. etc., which found their way through Arabia or the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, till Vasco de Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and brought Europe and India into closer connection. Meanwhile a Mohammedan invasion had taken place (A.D. 1000); Mohammedans from Persia had mingled themselves with the Hindoos; and it was with this mixed population that British enterprise eventually came into collision.

Ere quitting the Indians, it is well to glance back at the Chinese, so as to see wherein these two primeval and contemporaneous consolidations of our species - the Mongolian consolidation of eastern Asia, and the Caucasian consolidation of the central peninsula of southern Asia - differ. 'Whoever would perceive the full physical and moral difference,' says Klaproth, between the Chinese and Indian nations, must contrast the peculiar culture of the Chinese with that of the Hindoo, fashioned almost like a European, even to his complexion. He will study the boundless religious system of the Brahmins, and oppose it to the bald belief of the original Chinese, which can hardly be named religion. He will remark the rigorous division of the Hindoos into castes, sects, and denominations, for which the inhabitants of the central kingdom have even no expression. He will compare the dry prosaic spirit of the Chinese with the high poetic souls of the dwellers on the Ganges and the Dsumnah. He will hear the rich and blooming Sanscrit, and contrast it with the unharmonious speech of the Chinese. He will mark, finally, the literature of the latter, full of matters of fact and things worth knowing, as contrasted with the limitless philosophic-ascetic writing of the Indians, who have made even the highest poetry wearisome by perpetual length.'