Max Müller

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Whenever we can trace back a religion to its first beginnings, we find it free from many blemishes that affected it in its later states.

Friedrich Max Müller (6 December 182328 October 1900), more commonly known as Max Müller (or Mueller), was a German philologist and Orientalist, who was a major pioneer of the discipline of comparative religion.

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History seems to teach that the whole human race required a gradual education before, in the fullness of time, it could be admitted to the truths of Christianity.
  • History seems to teach that the whole human race required a gradual education before, in the fullness of time, it could be admitted to the truths of Christianity. All the fallacies of human reason had to be exhausted, before the light of a high truth could meet with ready acceptance. The ancient religions of the world were but the milk of nature, which was in due time to be succeeded by the bread of life.... The religion of Buddha has spread far beyond the limits of the Aryan world, and to our limited vision, it may seem to have retarded the advent of Christianity among a large portion of the human race. But in the sight of Him with whom a thousand years are but as one day, that religion, like the ancient religions of the world, may have but served to prepare the way of Christ, by helping through its very errors to strengthen and to deepen the ineradicable yearning of the human heart after the truth of God.
    • History of Ancient Sanksrit Literature (1860)
When a religion has ceased to produce defenders of the faith, prophets, champions, martyrs, it has ceased to live, in the true sense of the word...
  • The worship of Shiva, Vishnu, and other popular deities was of the same and in many cases of a more degraded and savage character than the worship of Jupiter, Apollo or Minerva. ... A religion may linger on for a long time, it may be accepted by large masses of the people, because it is there, and there is nothing better. But when a religion has ceased to produce defenders of the faith, prophets, champions, martyrs, it has ceased to live, in the true sense of the word; and in that sense the old orthodox Brahmanism has ceased to live for more than a thousand years.
    • Lecture at Westminster Abbey (1873); as quoted in Hinduism : A Religion to Live By (1997) by Nirad C. Chaudhari ISBN 0195640136
If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered over the greatest problems of life... I should point to India.
  • If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered over the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant, I should point to India. And if I were to ask myself from what literature we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of Greeks and Romans, and of the Semitic race, the Jewish, may draw the corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human a life... again I should point to India.
    • India, What Can It Teach Us (1882) Lecture IV
  • They contain, by the side of simple, natural, childish thoughts, many ideas which to us sound decidedly modern, or secondary and tertiary.
    • On the Vedas, in India, What can it teach us (1882) Lecture IV
  • I have declared again and again that if I say Aryans, I mean neither blood nor bones, nor hair nor skull; I mean simply those who speak an Aryan language… in that sense, and in that sense only, do I say that even the blackest Hindus represent an earlier stage of Aryan speech and thought than the fairest Scandinavians... To me an ethnologist who speaks of Aryan race, Aryan blood, Aryan eyes and hair, is as great a sinner as a linguist who speaks of a dolichocephalic dictionary or a brachycephalic grammar.
    • Biographies of Words and the Home of the Aryas (1888)
  • The translation of the Veda will hereafter tell to a great extent on the fate of India and on the growth of millions of souls in that country. It is the root of their religion, and to show them what the root is, I feel sure, is the only way of uprooting all that has sprung from it during the last 3000 years.
    • Letter to his wife Georgina, published in The Life and Letters of Right Honorable Friedrich Max Müller (1902) edited by Georgina Müller
  • As for more than twenty years my principal work has been devoted to the ancient literature of India, I cannot but feel a deep and real sympathy for all that concerns the higher interests of the people of that country. Though I have never been in India, I have many friends there, both among the civilians and among the natives, and I believe I am not mistaken in supposing that the publication in England of the ancient sacred writings of the Brahmans, which had never been published in India, and other contributions from different European scholars towards a better knowledge of the ancient literature and religion of India, have not been without some effect on the intellectual and religious movement that is going on among the more thoughtful members of Indian society. I have sometimes regretted that I am not an Englishman, and able to help more actively in the great work of educating and improving the natives. But I do rejoice that this great task of governing and benefiting India should have fallen to one who knows the greatness of that task and all its opportunities and responsibilities, who thinks not only of its political and financial bearings, but has a heart to feel for the moral welfare of those millions of human beings that are, more or less directly, committed to his charge. India has been conquered once, but India must be conquered again, and that second conquest should be a conquest by education. Much has been done for education of late, but if the funds were tripled and quadrupled, that would hardly be enough. The results of the educational work carried on during the last twenty years are palpable everywhere. They are good and bad, as was to be expected. It is easy to find fault with what is called Young Bengal, the product of English ideas grafted on the native mind. But Young Bengal, with all its faults, is full of promise. Its bad features are apparent everywhere, its good qualities are naturally hidden from the eyes of careless observers. . . . India can never be anglicized, but it can be reinvigorated. By encouraging a study of their own ancient literature, as part of their education, a national feeling of pride and self-respect will be reawakened among those who influence the large masses of the people. A new national literature may spring up, impregnated with Western ideas, yet retaining its native spirit and character. The two things hang together. In order to raise the character of the vernaculars, a study of the ancient classical language is absolutely necessary: for from it these modern dialects have branched off, and from it alone can they draw their vital strength and beauty. A new national literature will bring with it a new national life and new moral vigour. As to religion, that will take care of itself. The missionaries have done far more than they themselves seem to be aware of, nay, much of the work which is theirs they would probably disclaim. The Christianity of our nineteenth century will hardly be the Christianity of India. But the ancient religion of India is doomed — and if Christianity does not step in, whose fault will it be?
    • Letter to the Duke of Argyll, published in The Life and Letters of Right Honorable Friedrich Max Müller (1902) edited by Georgina Müller
  • Would you say that any one sacred book is superior to all others in the world? ... I say the New Testament, after that, I should place the Koran, which in its moral teachings, is hardly more than a later edition of the New Testament. Then would follow according to my opinion the Old Testament, the Southern Buddhist Tripitaka, the Tao-te-king of Laotze, the Kings of Confucius, the Veda and the Avesta.
    • Letter to his son, published in The Life and Letters of Right Honorable Friedrich Max Müller (1902) edited by Georgina Müller, Vol. II, Ch. XXXII
  • Tell me some of your chief difficulties that prevent you and your countrymen from openly following Christ, and when I write to you I shall do my best to explain how I and many who agree with me have met them and solved them... From my point of view, India, at least the best part of it, is already converted to Christianity. You want no persuasion to become a follower of Christ. Then make up your mind to act for yourselves. Unite your flock, and put up a few folds to hold them together. The bridge has been built by you for those who came before you. Step boldly forward, it will not break under you, and you will find many friends to welcome you on the other shore, and among them none more delighted that you old friend and fellow labourer.
    • Letter to Protap Chunder Mozoomdar, author of The Oriental Christ (1883); published in The Life and Letters of Right Honorable Friedrich Max Müller (1902) edited by Georgina Müller, Vol. II., Ch. XXXIV
He must be a man of little faith, who would fear to subject his own religion to the same critical tests to which the historian subjects all other religions. We need not surely crave a tender or merciful treatment for that faith which we hold to be the only true one.
  • There will be and can be no rest till we admit, what cannot be denied, that there is in man a third faculty, which I call simply the faculty of apprehending the Infinite, not only in religion, but in all things; a power independent of sense and reason, a power in a certain sense contradicted by sense and reason; but yet, I suppose, a very real power, if we see how it has held its own from the beginning of the world — how neither sense nor reason has been able to overcome it, while it alone is able to overcome both reason and sense.
    • Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 562.

Chips from a German Workshop (1866)[edit]

  • He must be a man of little faith, who would fear to subject his own religion to the same critical tests to which the historian subjects all other religions. We need not surely crave a tender or merciful treatment for that faith which we hold to be the only true one. We should rather challenge it for the severest tests and trials, as the sailor would for the good ship to which he trusts his own life, and the lives of those who are dear to him. In the Science of Religion, we can decline no comparisons, nor claim any immunities for Christianity, as little as the missionary can, when wrestling with the subtle Brahmin, or the fanatical Mussulman, or the plain speaking Zulu.
    • Preface (Scribner edition, 1872)
The Science of Language has taught us that there is order and wisdom in all languages, and even the most degraded jargons contain the ruins of former greatness and beauty.
  • Missionaries are apt to look upon all other religions as something totally distinct from their own, as formerly they used to describe the languages of barbarous nations as something more like the twittering of birds than the articulate speech of men. The Science of Language has taught us that there is order and wisdom in all languages, and even the most degraded jargons contain the ruins of former greatness and beauty. The Science of Religion, I hope, will produce a similar change in our views of barbarous forms of faith and worship; and missionaries, instead of looking only for points of difference, will look out more anxiously for any common ground, any spark of the true light that may still be revived, any altar that may be dedicated afresh to the true God.
    And even to us at home, a wider view of the religious life of the world may teach many a useful lesson.
    • Preface (Scribner edition, 1872)
The great problems touching the relation of the Finite to the Infinite, of the human mind as the recipient, and of the Divine Spirit as the source of truth, are old problems indeed...
  • The position which believers and unbelievers occupy with regard to their various forms of faith is very much the same all over the world. The difficulties which trouble us, have troubled the hearts and minds of men as far back as we can trace the beginnings of religious life. The great problems touching the relation of the Finite to the Infinite, of the human mind as the recipient, and of the Divine Spirit as the source of truth, are old problems indeed; and while watching their appearance in different countries, and their treatment under varying circumstances, we shall be able, I believe, to profit ourselves, both by the errors which others committed before us, and by the truth which they discovered. We shall know the rocks that threaten every religion in this changing and shifting world of ours, and having watched many a storm of religious controversy and many a shipwreck in distant seas, we shall face with greater calmness and prudence the troubled waters at home.
    • Preface (Scribner edition, 1872)
The founders of the ancient religions of the world, as far as we can judge, were minds of a high stamp, full of noble aspirations, yearning for truth, devoted to the welfare of their neighbors, examples of purity and unselfishness.
  • If there is one thing which a comparative study of religions places in the clearest light, it is the inevitable decay to which every religion is exposed. It may seem almost like a truism, that no religion can continue to be what it was during the lifetime of its founder and its first apostles. Yet it is but seldom borne in mind that without constant reformation, i.e. without a constant return to its fountan-head, every religion, even the most perfect, nay the most perfect on account of its very perfection, more even than others, suffers from its contact with the world, as the purest air suffers froln the mere fact of its being breathed.
    Whenever we can trace back a religion to its first beginnings, we find it free from many of the blemishes that offend us in its later phases. The founders of the ancient religions of the world, as far as we can judge, were minds of a high stamp, full of noble aspirations, yearning for truth, devoted to the welfare of their neighbors, examples of purity and unselfishness. What they desired to found upon earth was but seldom realized, and their sayings, if preserved in their original form, offer often a strange contrast to the practice of those who profess to be their disciples. As soon as a religion is established, and more particularly when it has become the religion of a powerful state, the foreign and worldly elements encroach more and more on the original foundation, and human interests mar the simplicity and purity of the plan which the founder had conceived in his own heart, and matured in his communings with his God. Even those who lived with Buddha misunderstood his words, and at the Great Council which had to settle the Buddhist canon, Asoka, the Indian Constantine had to remind the assembled priests that "what had been said by Buddha, that alone was well said;" and that certain works ascribed to Buddha, as, for instance, the instruction given to his son, Râhula, were apocryphal, if not heretical.
    • Preface (Scribner edition, 1872)
It is necessary that we too should see the beam in our own eyes, and learn to distinguish between the Christianity of the nineteenth century and the religion of Christ.
  • It is necessary that we too should see the beam in our own eyes, and learn to distinguish between the Christianity of the nineteenth century and the religion of Christ. If we find that the Christianity of the nineteenth century does not win as many hearts in India and China as it ought, let us remember that it was the Christianity of the first century in all its dogmatic simplicity, but with its overpowering love of God and man, that conquered the worId and superseded religions and philosophies, more difficult to conquer than the religious and philosophical systems of Hindus and Buddhists. If we can teach something to the Brahmans in reading with them their sacred hymns, they too can teach us something when reading with us the gospel of Christ. Never shall I forget the deep despondency of a Hindu convert, a real martyr to his faith, who had pictured to himself from the pages of the New Testament what a Christian country must be, and who when he came to Europe found everything so different from what he had imagined in his lonely meditations at Benares!
    • Preface (Scribner edition, 1872)
  • How can a missionary in such circumstances meet the surprise and questions of his pupils, unless he may point to that seed, and tell them what Christianity was meant to be; unless he may show that. like all other religions, Christianity, too, has had its history; that the Christianity of the nineteenth century is not the Christianity of the Middle Ages, that the Christianity of the MiddIe Ages was not that of the early Councils, that the Christianity of the early Councils was not that of the Apostles, and "that what has been said by Christ, that alone was weII said?"
    • Preface (Scribner edition, 1872)
Hidden in this rubbish there are precious stones.
  • I do not wish by what I have said to raise any exaggerated expectations as to the worth of these ancient hymns of the Veda, and the character of that religion which they indicate rather than fully describe. The historical importance of the Veda can hardly be exaggerated; but its intrinsic merit, and particularly the beauty or elevation of its sentiments, have by many been rated far too high. Large numbers of the Vedic hymns are childish in the extreme: tedious, low, commonplace. The gods are constantly inyoked to protect their worshippers, to grant them food, large flocks, large families, and a long life; for all which benefits they are to be rewarded by the praises and sacrifices offered day after day, or at certain seasons of the year. But hidden in this rubbish there are precious stones.
    • "Lecture on the Vedas" - first presented at the Philosophical Institution, Leeds (March 1865)
Then first came love upon it, the new spring
Of mind — yea, poets in their hearts discerned,
Pondering, this bond between created things
And uncreated...
Who knows from whence this great creation sprang?
He from whom all this great creation came,
Whether his will created or was mute,
The Most High Seer that is in highest heaven,
He knows it — or perchance even He knows not.
  • Still the child betrays the passions of the man, and there are hymns, though few in number, in the Veda, so full of thought and speculation that at this early period no poet in any other nation could have conceived them. I give but one specimen, the 129th hymn of the tenth book of the Rig-veda. It is a hymn which long ago attracted the attention of that eminent scholar H. T. Colebrooke, and of which, by the kind assistance of a friend, I am enabled to offer a metrical translation. In judging it we should hear in mind that it was not written by a gnostic or by a pantheistic philosopher, but by a poet who felt all these doubts and problems as his own, without any wish to convince or to startle, only uttering what had been weighing on his mind, just as later poets would sing the doubts and sorrows of their heart.
Nor Aught nor Naught existed; yon bright sky
Was not, nor heaven's broad woof outstretched above.
What covered all? what sheltered? what concealed?

Was it the water's fathomles abyss?
There was not death — yet was there naught immortal,
There was no confine betwixt day and night;
The only One breathed breathless by itself,
Other than It there nothing since has been.
Darkness there was, and all at first was veiled
In gloom profound — an ocean without light —
The germ that still lay covered in the husk
Burst forth, one nature, from the fervent heat.
Then first came love upon it, the new spring
Of mind — yea, poets in their hearts discerned,
Pondering, this bond between created things
And uncreated. Comes this spark from earth
Piercing and all-pervading, or from heaven?
Then seeds were sown, and mighty powers arose —
Nature below, and power and will above —
Who knows the secret? who proclaimed it here,
Whence, whence this manifold creation sprang?
The gods themselves came later into being —
Who knows from whence this great creation sprang?
He from whom all this great creation came,
Whether his will created or was mute,
The Most High Seer that is in highest heaven,
He knows it — or perchance even He knows not.
  • "The Vedas"

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