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CHAPTER IV



The Egyptian and the Hindoo looked at each other; the former waved
his hand; the latter bowed, and began:

"Our brother has spoken well. May my words be as wise."

He broke off, reflected a moment, then resumed:

"You may know me, brethren, by the name of Melchior. I speak to
you in a language which, if not the oldest in the world, was at
least the soonest to be reduced to letters--I mean the Sanscrit
of India. I am a Hindoo by birth. My people were the first to
walk in the fields of knowledge, first to divide them, first to
make them beautiful. Whatever may hereafter befall, the four
Vedas must live, for they are the primal fountains of religion and
useful intelligence. From them were derived the Upa-Vedas, which,
delivered by Brahma, treat of medicine, archery, architecture,
music, and the four-and-sixty mechanical arts; the Ved-Angas,
revealed by inspired saints, and devoted to astronomy, grammar,
prosody, pronunciation, charms and incantations, religious rites
and ceremonies; the Up-Angas, written by the sage Vyasa, and given
to cosmogony, chronology, and geography; therein also are the
Ramayana and the Mahabharata, heroic poems, designed for the
perpetuation of our gods and demi-gods. Such, O brethren, are the
Great Shastras, or books of sacred ordinances. They are dead to me
now; yet through all time they will serve to illustrate the budding
genius of my race. They were promises of quick perfection. Ask you
why the promises failed? Alas! the books themselves closed all
the gates of progress. Under pretext of care for the creature,
their authors imposed the fatal principle that a man must not
address himself to discovery or invention, as Heaven had provided
him all things needful. When that condition became a sacred law,
the lamp of Hindoo genius was let down a well, where ever since
it has lighted narrow walls and bitter waters.

"These allusions, brethren, are not from pride, as you will
understand when I tell you that the Shastras teach a Supreme
God called Brahm; also, that the Puranas, or sacred poems of
the Up-Angas, tell us of Virtue and Good Works, and of the Soul.
So, if my brother will permit the saying"--the speaker bowed
deferentially to the Greek--"ages before his people were known,
the two great ideas, God and the Soul, had absorbed all the forces
of the Hindoo mind. In further explanation let me say that Brahm
is taught, by the same sacred books, as a Triad--Brahma, Vishnu,
and Shiva. Of these, Brahma is said to have been the author of our
race; which, in course of creation, he divided into four castes.
First, he peopled the worlds below and the heavens above; next,
he made the earth ready for terrestrial spirits; then from his
mouth proceeded the Brahman caste, nearest in likeness to himself,
highest and noblest, sole teachers of the Vedas, which at the same time
flowed from his lips in finished state, perfect in all useful knowledge.
From his arms next issued the Kshatriya, or warriors; from his breast,
the seat of life, came the Vaisya, or producers--shepherds, farmers,
merchants; from his foot, in sign of degradation, sprang the Sudra,
or serviles, doomed to menial duties for the other classes--serfs,
domestics, laborers, artisans. Take notice, further, that the law,
so born with them, forbade a man of one caste becoming a member of
another; the Brahman could not enter a lower order; if he violated
the laws of his own grade, he became an outcast, lost to all but
outcasts like himself."

At this point, the imagination of the Greek, flashing forward
upon all the consequences of such a degradation, overcame his
eager attention, and he exclaimed, "In such a state, O brethren,
what mighty need of a loving God!"

"Yes," added the Egyptian, "of a loving God like ours."

The brows of the Hindoo knit painfully; when the emotion was spent,
he proceeded, in a softened voice.

"I was born a Brahman. My life, consequently, was ordered down to
its least act, its last hour. My first draught of nourishment;
the giving me my compound name; taking me out the first time to
see the sun; investing me with the triple thread by which I became
one of the twice-born; my induction into the first order--were all
celebrated with sacred texts and rigid ceremonies. I might not walk,
eat, drink, or sleep without danger of violating a rule. And the
penalty, O brethren, the penalty was to my soul! According to the
degrees of omission, my soul went to one of the heavens--Indra's the
lowest, Brahma's the highest; or it was driven back to become the
life of a worm, a fly, a fish, or a brute. The reward for perfect
observance was Beatitude, or absorption into the being of Brahm,
which was not existence as much as absolute rest."

The Hindoo gave himself a moment's thought; proceeding, he said:
"The part of a Brahman's life called the first order is his student
life. When I was ready to enter the second order--that is to say,
when I was ready to marry and become a householder--I questioned
everything, even Brahm; I was a heretic. From the depths of the well
I had discovered a light above, and yearned to go up and see what
all it shone upon. At last--ah, with what years of toil!--I stood
in the perfect day, and beheld the principle of life, the element
of religion, the link between the soul and God--Love!"

The shrunken face of the good man kindled visibly, and he clasped
his hands with force. A silence ensued, during which the others
looked at him, the Greek through tears. At length he resumed:

"The happiness of love is in action; its test is what one is
willing to do for others. I could not rest. Brahm had filled
the world with so much wretchedness. The Sudra appealed to me,
so did the countless devotees and victims. The island of Ganga
Lagor lies where the sacred waters of the Ganges disappear in
the Indian Ocean. Thither I betook myself. In the shade of the
temple built there to the sage Kapila, in a union of prayers
with the disciples whom the sanctified memory of the holy man
keeps around his house, I thought to find rest. But twice every
year came pilgrimages of Hindoos seeking the purification of the
waters. Their misery strengthened my love. Against its impulse to
speak I clenched my jaws; for one word against Brahm or the Triad
or the Shastras would doom me; one act of kindness to the outcast
Brahmans who now and then dragged themselves to die on the burning
sands--a blessing said, a cup of water given--and I became one of them,
lost to family, country, privileges, caste. The love conquered! I
spoke to the disciples in the temple; they drove me out. I spoke
to the pilgrims; they stoned me from the island. On the highways
I attempted to preach; my hearers fled from me, or sought my life.
In all India, finally, there was not a place in which I could find
peace or safety--not even among the outcasts, for, though fallen,
they were still believers in Brahm. In my extremity, I looked for
a solitude in which to hide from all but God. I followed the Ganges
to its source, far up in the Himalayas. When I entered the pass at
Hurdwar, where the river, in unstained purity, leaps to its course
through the muddy lowlands, I prayed for my race, and thought myself
lost to them forever. Through gorges, over cliffs, across glaciers,
by peaks that seemed star-high, I made my way to the Lang Tso, a
lake of marvellous beauty, asleep at the feet of the Tise Gangri,
the Gurla, and the Kailas Parbot, giants which flaunt their crowns
of snow everlastingly in the face of the sun. There, in the centre
of the earth, where the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmapootra rise to run
their different courses; where mankind took up their first abode,
and separated to replete the world, leaving Balk, the mother of
cities, to attest the great fact; where Nature, gone back to its
primeval condition, and secure in its immensities, invites the sage
and the exile, with promise of safety to the one and solitude to
the other--there I went to abide alone with God, praying, fasting,
waiting for death."

Again the voice fell, and the bony hands met in a fervent clasp.

"One night I walked by the shores of the lake, and spoke to the
listening silence, 'When will God come and claim his own? Is there
to be no redemption?' Suddenly a light began to glow tremulously
out on the water; soon a star arose, and moved towards me,
and stood overhead. The brightness stunned me. While I lay upon
the ground, I heard a voice of infinite sweetness say, 'Thy love
hath conquered. Blessed art thou, O son of India! The redemption
is at hand. With two others, from far quarters of the earth,
thou shalt see the Redeemer, and be a witness that he hath come.
In the morning arise, and go meet them; and put all thy trust in
the Spirit which shall guide thee.'

"And from that time the light has stayed with me; so I knew it
was the visible presence of the Spirit. In the morning I started
to the world by the way I had come. In a cleft of the mountain I
found a stone of vast worth, which I sold in Hurdwar. By Lahore,
and Cabool, and Yezd, I came to Ispahan. There I bought the
camel, and thence was led to Bagdad, not waiting for caravans.
Alone I traveled, fearless, for the Spirit was with me, and is
with me yet. What glory is ours, O brethren! We are to see the
Redeemer--to speak to him--to worship him! I am done."





Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace
Category:
General Fiction
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