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Some Remarks on Sanskrit Literature

Much as I admire and respect the religious and philosophical
works of Sanskrit literature, only rarely have I been able to find
any pleasure in the poetical works. Indeed, at times it seemed
to me that these were as inelegant and monstrous as is the
sculpture of the same peoples. Even their dramatic works I
appreciate mainly on account of the most instructive elucida-
tions and verifications of the religious belief and morals which
they contain. All this may be due to the fact that, by its very
nature, poetry is untranslatable. For in it thoughts and words
have grown together as firmly and intimately as pars uterina et
pars foetalis placentae, I so that we cannot substitute foreign
equivalents for the words without affecting the ideas. Yet all
metre and rhyme are in reality a compromise between language
and thought; but by its nature such a compromise can be
carried out only on the native soil of the thought, not on the
foreign ground to which it might be transplanted, and certainly
not on one as barren as are usually the minds of translators.
After all, what greater contrast can there be than that between
the free effusion of a poet's inspiration which already appears
clothed automatically and instinctively in metre and rhyme and
the translator's painful, cold, and calculating distress as he
Counts the syllables and looks for the rhymes? Moreover, as
there is now in Europe no lack of poetical works that directly
appeal to us, but a very great dearth of correct metaphysical
Views, I am of the opinion that translators [rom Sanskrit should
devote their efforts much less to poetry and much more to the
Vedas, Upanishads, and philosophical works.

When I consider how difficult it is, with the aid of the best
and most carefully trained scholars and of the excellent philo-
I [' The part of the uterus and the part of the foetus in the placenta'.J
logical resources achieved in the course of centuries, to arrive at
a really precise, accurate, and vivid appreciation of Greek and
Roman authors whose languages are those of our predecessors
in Europe and are the mothers of tongues still living; when, on
the other hand, I think of Sanskrit as a language spoken in
remote India thousands of years ago and that the means for
learning it are still relatively very imperfect; finally, when I
consider the impression made on me by the translations from
Sanskrit of European scholars, apart from very few exceptions,
then I am inclined to suspect that perhaps our Sanskrit scholars
do not understand their texts any better than do the fifth-form
boys of our own schools their Greek texts. Since, however, these
scholars are not boys but men of knowledge and understanding,
it is possible that on the whole they make out fairly well the
sense of what they really understand, whereby much may, of
course, creep in ex ingenio. 2 It is even much worse with regard
to the Chinese of European sinologists who often grope about
in total darkness. Of this we are convinced when we see how
even the most painstaking correct one another and demonstrate
one another's colossal mistakes. Instances of this kind are
frequently found in the Foe Kue Ki of Abel Rcmusat.
On the other hand, when I reflect that Sultan Mohammed
Dara Shikoh, brother of Aurangzeb, was born and brought up
in India, was a scholar and thinker, and craved for knowledge;
that he, therefore, probably understood Sanskrit as well as we
understand Latin; and that, in addition, a number of the most
learned pundits collaborated with him, this predisposes me to
a high opinion of his Persian translation of the Upanishads of the
Veda. Further, when I see with what profound veneration, in
keeping with the subject, Anquetil-Duperron handled this
Persian translation, rendering it word for word into Latin,
accurately keeping to the Persian syntax in spite of the Latin
grammar, and content merely to accept the Sanskrit words left
untranslated by the Sultan in order to explain these in a
glossary, I read this translation with the fullest confidence,
which is at once delightfully confirmed. For how thoroughly
redolent of the holy spirit of the Vedas is the Oupnekhat! How
deeply stirred is he who, by diligent and careful reading, is now

['From natural talent'.]

conversant with the Persian-Latin rendering of this incom-
parable book! How imbued is every line with firm, definite, and
harmonious significance! From every page we come across
profound, original, and sublime thoughts, whilst a lofty and
sacred earnestness pervades the whole. Here everything breathes
the air of India and radiates an existence that is original and
akin to nature. And oh, how the mind is here cleansed and
purified of all] ewish superstition that was early implanted in it,
and of all philosophy that slavishly serves this! With the
exception or the original text, it is the most profitable and
sublime reading that is possible in the world: it has been the
copsolation army Me and will be that of my death. With regard
to certain suspicions that have been raised about the genuine-
ness of the Oupnekhat, I refer to my Two Fundamental Problems oj
Ethics, 'Basis of Ethics', 22, second footnote.
Now if I compare this with the European translations of
sacred Indian texts or of Indian philosophers, then (with very
few exceptions, such as the Bhagavadgita by Schlegel and some
passages in Colebrooke's translations from the Vedas) these have
the opposite effect on me. They furnish us with periods whose
sense is universal, abstract, vague, and often indefinite, and
which are disjointed and incoherent. I get a mere outline of the
ideas of the original text with little pieces of padding, wherein
I notice something foreign. Contradictions appear from time to
time and everything is modern, empty, dull, flat, destitute of
meaning, and occidental. It is Europeanized, Anglicized,
Frenchified, or even (what is worst of all) enveloped in a fog
and mist of German. Thus instead of furnishing us with a clear
and definite meaning, they give us mere words that are diffuse
and high-sounding. For example, even the most recent by R6er
in the Bibliotheca Indica, No. 4I, Calcutta, 1853, is one where we
really recognize the German who, as such, is already accustomed
to writing one period after another and then leaves it to others
to think in them something clear and definite. Only too often is
there in them also a trace of the foetor Judaicus. All tIus lessens
my confidence in such translations especially when I remember
that the translators pursue their studies as a profession, whereas
the noble Anquetil-Duperron did not seck a living here, but was
urged to undertake this work merely through love of science
and knowledge. I also reflect that Sultan Dara Shikoh's reward
was to have his head cut off by his imperial brother Aurangzeb,
in majorem Dei gloriam. 3 I am firmly convinced that a real
knowledge of the Upanishads and thus of the true and esoteric
dogmas of the Vedas, can at present be obtained only from the
Oupnekhat; we may have read through the other translations and
yet have no idea of the subject. It also appears that Sultan Dara
Shikoh had at his disposal much better and more complete
Sanskrit manuscripts than had the English scholars.

18 5
The Sanhita of the Veda certainly cannot be by the same
authors or from the same period as that of the Upanishad. O f this
we are fully convinced when we read the first book of the Sanhita
of the Rig- Veda, translated by Rosen and that of the Sama-Veda
translated by Stevenson. Thus both consist of prayers and
rituals that breathe a somewhat crude Sabianism. Here Indra
is the supreme god who is invoked and with him the sun, moon,
winds, and fire. The most servile adulations, together with
requests for cows, food, drink, and victory, are repeated to these
in all the hymns, and for this purpose sacrifices are made to
them. These and donations to the priests are the only virtues
that are commended. As Ormuzd (from whom Jehovah
subsequently came) is really Indra (according to 1. J. Schmidt)
and moreover Mithra is the sun, so the fire worship of the
Guebres came to them with Indra. The Upanishad is, as I have
said, the product of the highest human wisdom and is intended
only (or learned Brahmans; and so Anquetil renders' Upanishad'
by the words secretum tegendum. 4 The Sanhita, on the other hand,
is exoteric; although indirectly it is for the people, since its
conlents are liturgy and thus public prayers and sacrificial
rituals. Accordingly, the Sanhita affords us exceedingly insipid
reading, to judge from the specimens already mentioned. For in
his essay On the Religious Ceremonies of the Hindus, Cole brooke has
certainly translated hymns from other books of the Sanhita,
which breathe a spirit akin to the Upanishad, in particular the
fine hymn in the second essay: 'The Embodied Spirit', and so
on, a translation of which I gave in I IS.
3 [' For the greater glory of God '.]
[' A secret to be concealed.' (The real meaning of 'Upanishad' is 'confidential
secret meeting ' .)]
At the time when the great rock-temples were being cut in
India, the art of writing had possibly not yet been invented and
the numerous bands of priests dwelling in them were the living
receptacles of the Vedas, of which each priest or each school
knew a portion by heart and handed it down, as was done by
the Druids. Later the Upanishads were composed in those very
temples and thus in the most dignified surroundings.

18 7
The Samkhya philosophy which is regarded as the forerunner of
Buddhism, and which in Wilson's translation we have before us
in extenso in the Karika of Ishvara Krishna (although always
through a cloud on account of the imperfection of even this
translation), is interesting and instructive. For the principal
dogmas of all Indian philosophy, such as the necessity for
salvation from a tragic existence, transmigration according to
deeds, knowledge as the fundamental condition of salvation,
and so on, are presented to us in all their fullness and complete-
ness and with that lofty earnestness with which they have been
considered in India for thousands of years.
Nevertheless, we see the whole of this philosophy impaired by
a false fundamental idea, namely the absolute dualism between
Prakriti and Purusha. But this is also the very point wherein the
Samkhya differs from the Vedas. Prakriti is evidently the natura
naturans S and at the same time matter in itself, in other words,
without any form, such as is merely conceived and not intuitively
perceived. So understood, it can be regarded as actually
identical with the natura naturans in so far as it gives birth to
everything. Purzts/za, however, is the subject of knowing; for it is
the mere spectator who is inactive and perceives. Yet the two
are now taken to be absolutely different from, and independent
of, each other, whereby the explanation why Prakriti toils and
struggles for the salvation of Purusha proves to be inadequate
(1. 60). Further, in the whole work, it is taught that the salvation
of Purusha is the final goal; on the other hand, it is suddenly
Prakriti that is to be saved (ll. 62, 63). All these contradictions
would disappear if we had a common root for Prakriti and
5 ['Creating nature'. (Term used by Spinoza and other philosophers.)]
Purusha to which everything pointed, even in spite of Kapila;
or ifPurusha were a modification ofPrakriti, thus if somehow or
other the dualism were abolished. To give any sense and
meaning to the thing, I can see nothing but the will in Prakriti
and the subject of knowing in Purusha.
A peculiar feature of pedantry and narrowness in the Samkhya
is the system of numbers, the summation and enumeration of
qualities and attributes. This, however, appears to be customary
in India, for the very same thing is done in the Buddhist

The moral meaning of metemps)ichosis in all Indian religions is

not merely that in a subsequent rebirth we have to atone for
every wrong we commit, but also that we must regard every
wrong befalling us as thoroughly deserved through our misdeeds
in a former existence.

That the three upper castes are called twice born may yet be
explained, as is usually suggested, u'om the fact that the investi-
ture with the sacred thread which is conferred on the youths of
those castes when they come of age is, so to speak, a second
birth. But the real reason is that only in consequence of great
merits in a previous life does a man come to be born in those
castes; and that he must, therefore, have existed in such a life as
a human being. On the other hand, whoever is born in a lower
caste, or even in the lowest, may have previously been even an
You laugh at the aeons and kalpas of Buddhism! Christianity,
of course, has taken up a standpoint, whence it surveys a brief
span oftime. Buddhism's standpoint is one that presents it with
the infinity of time and space, which then becomes its theme.
Just as the Lalitavistara, to begin with, was fairly simple and
natural, but became more complicated and supernatural with
every new edition it underwent in each of the subsequent
councils, so did the same thing happen to the dogma itself whose
few simple and sublime precepts gradually became jumbled,
confused, and complicated through detailed discussions, spatial

and temporal representations, personifications, empirical local-

izations, and so on. For the minds of the masses like it so, in that
they want to indulge in fanciful pursuits and are not satisfied
with what is simple and abstract.
The Brahmanistic dogmas and distinctions of Brahm and
Brahma, of Paramatma and Jivatma, Hiranya-Garbha, Praja-
pati, Purusha, Prakriti, and the like (these are admirably and
bricfly expounded in Obry's excellent book Du Nirvana indien
r856), are at bottom merely mythological fictions, made for the
purpose of presenting objectively that which has essentially and
absoll!tely only a ful;jertjve existence. For this reason, the Buddha
dropped them and knows of nothing except Samsara and
Nirvana. For the more jumbled, confused, and complex the
dogmas became, the more mythological they were. The Yogi or
Sam1)iasi best understands who methodically assumes the right
posture, withdraws into himself all his senses, and forgets the
entire world, himself included. What is then still left in his
consciousness is primordial being. But this is more easily said
than done.
The depressed state of the Hindus, who were once so highly
cultured, is the result of the terrible oppression which they
suffered for seven hundred years at the hands of the Moham-
medans who tried forcibly to convert them to Islam. Now only
one-eighth of the population of India is Mohammedan. (Edin-
burgh Review, Janu ary 1858.)

The passages lib. III, c. 20 and lib. VI, c. 1 I in the Life of
Apollonius of Tyana are also indications that the Egyptians
(Ethiopians), or at any rate their priests, came from India.
It is probable that the m),thology of the Greeks and Romans is just
as remotely related to the Indian as are Greek and Latin to
Sanskrit, and as is the Egyptian mythology to both. (Is Coptic
from the Japhetic or Semitic group of languages?) Zeus,
Poseidon, and Hades are probably Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
The latter has a trident whose object is unexplained in the case
of Poseidon. The Nile key, crux ansata,6 the sign of Venus ~, is
just the ling am and )'oni of the followers ofShiva. Osiris or Isiris
6 ['Cross provided with a ring'; 'ansate cross'.]

is possibly Ishvara, Lord and God. Egyptians and Indians

worshipped the lotus.
Might not Janus (about whom Schelling* gave a university
lecture and whom he declared to be the primary and original
One) be Yama the god of death who has two and sometimes
four faces? In time of war the portals of death are opened.
Perhaps Prajapati is Japheth.
The goddess Anna Puma of the Hindus (LangU:s, Monuments
de l'Hindoustan, vol. ii, p. 107) is certainly the Anna Perenna of the
Romans. Baghis, a nickname of Shiva, reminds one of the seer
Bakis (ibid., vol. i, p. 178). In the Sakllntala (Act VI, end p. 131)
the name Diuespetir occurs as a nickname of Indra; this is
obviously Diespiter.7
There is much to be said in favour of the identity of the Buddha
with Woden; according to Langles (Monuments, vol. ii) Wednes-
day (Wodensday) is sacred to ~ Mercury and the Buddha.
Corban, in the Oupnekhat sacrijicillm, occurs in St. Mark 7: 11:
KOp{3&V (0 Ean OWpOV) , Latin: Corban, i.e. mllnllS Deo dicatum. 8
But the following is the most important. The planet ~ Mercury
is sacred to the Buddha, is to a certain extent identified with him,
and Wednesday is Buddha's day. Now Mercury is the son of
Ma)la, and Buddha was the son of Maya the Queen. This cannot
be pure chance! 'Here lies a minstrel' say the Swabians. See,
however, lvlanual oj Budhism, p. 354, note, and Asiatic Researches,
vol, i, p. 162.
Spence Hardy (Eastern Monachism, p. 122) reports that the
robes that are to be presented to the priests at a certain cere-
mony must be woven and made up in one day. Herodotus,
lib. n, c. 122, gives a similar account of a garment that is
presented to a priest on a ceremonial occasion.
The autochthon of the Germans is Manlllls; his son is Tuiskon.
In the Oupneklzat (vol. ii, p. 347, and vol. i, p. 96) the first human
being is called Man.
It is well known that Satyaurati is identical with Menu or

* Schelling's explanation of Janus (in the Berlin Academy) is that he signifies

'chaos as primary unity'. A much more thorough explanation is given by Walz,
De religione Romal/orum alltiquissima, (in the prospectus ofTuhingen University) 1845.
7 [Jupiter.]
8 ['Corban, that is to say, a gift' (An Aramaic word inserted by the Persian
translators and not occurring in the Sanskrit text).]
Manu, and, on the other hand, with Noah. Now the father of
Samson is Manoah (Judges 13); Manu, Manoah, Noah; the
Septuagint has Mavw and NWE. Might not N oe be exactly the
same as Manoe with the omission of the first syllable?
Among the Etruscans Jupiter was called Tina (Moreau de
Jones at the Academy of Moral and Political Science, December
1850). Perhaps this might be connected with the Chinese Tien.
T he Etruscans had the Anna Perenna of the Hindus.
All these analogies are thoroughly investigated by Wilford
and Burr in the Asiatic Researches.