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TRADITIONAL VIEWS OF THE DEITY.
It was by a slow process that the human mind elaborated the idea of one supreme Godhead.—MAX MÜLLER.
THE VEDIC PICTURE OF GOD.
“That which is One, the wise call it in divers manners."
In the earliest historic period, farther back than we can chronologically determine, when the “ vital spark of heavenly flame
seems first to have been kindled in our race, experience and observation had already taught man that he was a dependent creature, and the phase of his mind which we call the imagination had aided him, even as it assists us to-day, to form some idea of the Higher Being from whom he derived his support. Our chief and most trustworthy guide in tracing even the faintest outline of this early conception of the Divine Existence is the newborn science of language, which has been so successfully cultivated by the writer whose thoughts form the motto for this section of our work; and that science teaches us that the primitive religion of man was a simple admiration, perhaps adoration, of the visible universe. He observed the sun to rise and set, the moon following in its wake. He heard the thunder roll in the clouds, saw the lightning flash in the sky; and the expressions, “ Deity” and “ Divine," which have descended even to our time, testify that the bright phenomena of the heavens first awakened in his soul sentiments of awe, of wonder, and of adoration.*
* In the Vedas, the sacred writings of the Brahmans, "the gods are called Deva. This word in Sanskrit means bright; brightness or
Four thousand years ago, it may be, those thoughts concerning the nature of the Deity had already begun to assume a definite shape upon the, tablets of the human mind; and, rude though it be and inartistic, the picture is still calculated to excite our adátiration. The outline appears to us confused and indistinct," but that is not to be wondered at. A French writer once said, that, in order to be able to reason with accuracy upon the nature of instinct, a man ought to have dwelt some time in the brain of an insect, and yet not to be an insect; and so, in order to estimate the old Aryan conception of God, we ought to have lived amongst that people, and yet to have studied their thoughts and feelings with the minds of modern Europeans. But all we can do towards the attainment of that impossible end is mentally to compare their ideas, as expressed by the Vedic poets, with the religious songs of our own days; and here we encounter the difficulty that whilst the hymns of the Vedas were probably the very highest manifestations of religious thought in that early age, we have no means of judging to what extent they were understood and appreciated by the multitude; just as it will be impossible four thousand years hence for a theological student to deduce the religious views entertained by the masses in our own time from light being one of the most general attributes shared by the various manifestations of the Deity invoked in the Veda : as Sun, or Sky, or Fire, or Dawn, or Storm. We can see in fact how in the minds of the poets of the Veda, deva from meaning bright came gradually to mean divine.” This extract and the others in this chapter, referring to the Brahminical deity, are taken from Prof. Max Müller's Lecture on the Vedas, in the work by that author called 'Chips from a German Workshop,' vol. i. Longmans, 1867. See also his Lectures on the Science of Religion, ‘Frazer's Magazine,' April to July, 1870. Longmans.