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A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1

Say in the pouring of the melted butter on the fire


Sacrifice; the First Rudiments of the Law of Karma.

It will however be wrong to suppose that these monotheistic tendencies were gradually supplanting the polytheistic sacrifices. On the other hand, the complications of ritualism were gradually growing in their elaborate details. The direct result of this growth contributed however to relegate the gods to a relatively unimportant position, and to raise the dignity of the magical characteristics of the sacrifice as an institution which could give the desired fruits of themselves. The offerings at a sacrifice were not dictated by a devotion with which we are familiar under Christian or Vai@s@nava influence. The sacrifice taken as a whole is conceived as Haug notes "to be a kind of machinery in which every piece must tally with the other," the slightest discrepancy in the performance of even a minute ritualistic detail, say in the pouring of the melted butter on the fire, or the proper placing of utensils employed in the sacrifice, or even the misplacing of a mere straw contrary to the injunctions was sufficient to spoil the whole sacrifice with whatsoever earnestness it might be performed. Even if a word was mispronounced the most dreadful results might follow. Thus when Tva@s@t@r performed a sacrifice for the production of a demon who would be able to kill his enemy Indra, owing to the mistaken accent of a single word the object was reversed and the demon produced was killed by Indra. But if the

sacrifice could be duly performed down to the minutest detail, there was no power which could arrest or delay the fruition of the object. Thus the objects of a sacrifice were fulfilled not by the grace of the gods, but as a natural result of the sacrifice. The performance of the rituals invariably produced certain mystic or magical results by virtue of which the object desired

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[Footnote 1: See _S.B.E._ XLIII. pp.59,60,400 and XLIV. p.409.]

[Footnote 2: See _Ibid_., XLIV, p. 418.]

[Footnote 3: R.V.x.90, Puru@sa Sukta.]

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by the sacrificer was fulfilled in due course like the fulfilment of a natural law in the physical world. The sacrifice was believed to have existed from eternity like the Vedas. The creation of the world itself was even regarded as the fruit of a sacrifice performed by the supreme Being. It exists as Haug says "as an invisible thing at all times and is like the latent power of electricity in an electrifying machine, requiring only the operation of a suitable apparatus in order to be elicited." The sacrifice is not offered to a god with a view to propitiate him or to obtain from him welfare on earth or bliss in Heaven; these rewards are directly produced by the sacrifice itself through the correct performance of complicated and interconnected ceremonies which constitute the sacrifice. Though in each sacrifice certain gods were invoked and received the offerings, the gods themselves were but instruments in bringing about the sacrifice or in completing the course of mystical ceremonies composing it. Sacrifice is thus regarded as possessing a mystical potency superior even to the gods, who it is sometimes stated attained to their divine rank by means of sacrifice. Sacrifice was regarded as almost the only kind of duty, and it was also called _karma_ or _kriya_ (action) and the unalterable law was, that these mystical ceremonies for good or for bad, moral or immoral (for there were many kinds of sacrifices which were performed for injuring one's enemies or gaining worldly prosperity or supremacy at the cost of others) were destined to produce their effects. It is well to note here that the first recognition of a cosmic order or law prevailing in nature under the guardianship of the highest gods is to be found in the use of the word @Rta (literally the course of things). This word was also used, as Macdonell observes, to denote the "'order' in the moral world as truth and 'right' and in the religious world as sacrifice or 'rite'[Footnote ref 1]" and its unalterable law of producing effects. It is interesting to note in this connection that it is here that we find the first germs of the law of karma, which exercises such a dominating control over Indian thought up to the present day. Thus we find the simple faith and devotion of the Vedic hymns on one hand being supplanted by the growth of a complex system of sacrificial rites, and on the other bending their course towards a monotheistic or philosophic knowledge of the ultimate reality of the universe.


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