Page:Sacred Books of the East - Volume 1.djvu/23

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SACRED BOOKS OF THE EAST.

ancient sacred books have been handed down by oral tradition for many generations before they were consigned to writing. In an age when there was nothing corresponding to what we call literature, every saying, every proverb, every story handed down from father to son, received very soon a kind of hallowed character. They became sacred heirlooms, sacred, because they came from an unknown source, from a distant age. There was a stage in the development of human thought, when the distance that separated the living generation from their grandfathers or great-grandfathers was as yet the nearest approach to a conception of eternity, and when the name of grandfather and great-grandfather seemed the nearest expression of God[1]. Hence, what had been said by these half-human, half-divine ancestors, if it was preserved at all, was soon looked upon as a more than human utterance. It was received with reverence, it was never questioned and criticised.

 Some of these ancient sayings were preserved because they were so true and so striking that they could not be forgotten. They contained eternal truths, expressed for the first time in human language. Of such oracles of truth it was said in India that they had been heard, sruta, and from it arose the word sruti, the recognised term for divine revelation in Sanskrit.

 But besides those utterances which had a vitality of their own, strong enough to defy the power of


  1. Bishop Callaway, Unkulunkulu, or the Tradition of Creation, as existing among the Amazulu and other tribes of South Africa, p. 7.