Page:Sacred Books of the East - Volume 1.djvu/32

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xxii
PREFACE TO THE

read, but to be read again and again, translations of sacred books require to be studied with much greater care, before we can hope to gain a real understanding of the intentions of their authors or venture on general assertions.

Such general assertions, if once made, are difficult to extirpate. It has been stated, for instance, that the religious notion of sin is wanting altogether in the hymns of the Rig-veda, and some important conclusions have been based on this supposed fact. Yet the gradual growth of the concept of guilt is one of the most interesting lessons which certain passages of these ancient hymns can teach us[1]. It has been asserted that in the Rig-veda Agni, fire, was adored essentially as earthly sacrificial fire, and not as an elemental force. How greatly such an assertion has to be qualified, may be seen from a more careful examination of the translations of the Vedic hymns now accessible[2]. In many parts of the Avesta fire is no doubt spoken of with great reverence, but those who speak of the Zoroastrians as fire-worshippers, should know that the true followers of Zoroaster abhor that very name. Again, there are certainly many passages in the Vedic writings which prohibit the promiscuous communication of the Veda, but those who maintain that the Brahmans, like Roman Catholic priests, keep their sacred books from the people, must have for-


  1. M. M., History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature, second edition, 1859, p. 540 seq.
  2. Ludwig, Rig-veda, übersetzt, vol. iii, p. 331 seq. Muir, Sanskrit Texts, vol v, p. 199 seq. On the later growth of Agni, see a very useful essay by Holtzmann, 'Agni, nach den Vorstellungen des Mahâbhârata,' 1878.