Friday, October 2, 2009

XXIV. Of the fabulous Stories which the Talapoins and their Brethren have framed on their Doctrine.

Fables common to all the Indians; Fables which the Siameses relate of their Sommona-Codom; That it is probable that Sommona-Codom never has been; A conjecture upon the Etymology of Sommona-Codom, and what Language the Baly may be; It seems to prove that the worship of the Chineses is more antient at Siam than the Opinion of the Metempsychosis; What is the Spirit of the Faith of the Indians, or the Submission which they have to their Traditions; That the worship of the Siameses proves not that they believe a Divinity.

The Talapoins are therefore obliged to supply the ancient Musick, and to explain their Balie Books unto the People with an audible Voice. These Books are filled with extravagant stories, grafted on the Doctrine which I have explained: and these Fables are almost the same throughout India, as the ground of the Doctrine is every where the same, or very near. They every where believe the Metempsychosis, and that it is only a way to punish the Souls for their faults, and to carry them gradually unto Perfection. They believe Spirits every where diffused, good and bad, capable of aiding and of hurting, but which are no other than the Souls of the dead; and they admit the Worship of these Spirits, though they raise no Altars to them; but only to the Manes of the men, whom they conceive to be arrived at the highest degree of Vertue, as far as they think Vertue possible. They all have some Quadruped, which they prefer before all others; some favourite Bird, and some Tree, which they principally adore. They all believe the same thing of the pretended Dragon which causes the Eclipses, and the pretended Mountain, round which the whole Heaven turns, to make the Days and Nights. They have almost the same five Precepts of Morality, they reckon near the same number of Hells and Paradise. They all expect other men, who ought to merit Altars, like those to whom they have already consecrated some; to the end that every one may have the Field free to pretend to the supream Vertue. They all suppose that the Planets, the Mountains, the Rivers, and particularly the Ganges, may think, speak, marry and have Children. They all relate the ridiculous Metempsychoses of the men whom they adore, in Pigs, Apes and other Beasts. Abraham Roger in his Book of Religion of the Brahmins relates, that the Pagans of Paliacata, on the Coast of Coromandel, do believe that their Brama whom they adore, was born almost, as some Balie Books do say Sommona-Codom was born, viz. of a Flower, which was sprung from the Navel of an Infant, which, they say, was a leaf a Tree in the form of an Infant biting its Toe, and swimming on the Water, which alone subsisted with God. They take no notice that the Leaf-Infant, subsisted too: and according to Abraham Roger, they in this Country believe in God, but in a God which is not adored: and without doubt he has with as little ground advanced, that others have writ that the Siameses believe a God.


A Siamese song in western musical notation; buddha images; and "a convent of the Talapoins," or Buddhist monks.

‘Tis no fault of mine that they gave me not the life of Sommona Codom translated from their Books, but not being able to obtain it, I will here relate what was told me thereof. How marvelous soever they pretend his Birth has been, they cease not to give him a Father and Mother. His Mother, whose Name is found in some of their Balie Books, was called, as they say, Maha Maria, which seems to signify great Mary, for Maha signifies great. But it is found written Mania, as often as Maria: which proves almost that these two words Many-ya, because that the Siameses do confound the n with the r only at the end of words, or at the end of Syllables, which are followed with a Consonant. However it be, this ceases not to give attention to the Missionaries, and has perhaps given occasion to the Siamese to believe, that Jesus being the Son of Mary, was Brother to Sommona Codom, and that having been crucified, he was that wicked Brother whom they give to Sommona-Codom, under the Name of Thevetat, and whom they report to be purified in Hell, with a Punishment which participates something of the Cross. The Father of Sommona-Codom was, according to this same Balie Book, a King of Teve Lanca, that is to say, a King of the famous Ceylon. But the Balie Books being without Date, and without the Author’s Name, have no more Authority than all the Traditions, whose Origin is unknown. This now is what they relate of Sommona-Codom.

‘Tis said, that he bestowed all his Estate in Alms, and that his Charity not being yet satisfied, he plucked out his Eyes, and flew his Wife and Children, to give them to the Talapoins of his Age to eat. A strange contrariety of Idea’s in this People, who prohibit nothing so much as to kill, and who relate the most execrable Parricides, as the most meritorious works of Commona-Codom. Perhaps they think that under the Title of Property a Man has as much Power over the Lives of his Wife and Children, as to them it seems he has over his own: For it matters not if otherwise the Royal Authority prohibits particular Siameses from making use of this pretended Right of Life and Death over their Wives, Children and Slaves; whereas it alone exerts it equally over all its Subjects, it may upon this Maxim of the despotic Government, that the Life of the Subjects properly belong to the King.

The Siameses expect another Sommona-Codom, I mean another miraculous man like him, whom they already name Pra Narotte, and whom they suppose to have been foretold by Sommona-Codom. And they before-hand report of him, that he shall kill two Children which he shall have, that he will give them to the Talapoins to eat, and that it will be by this pious Charity that he will consummate his Vertue. This expectation of a new God, to make use of this Term, renders them careful and credulous, as often as any one is proposed to them, as an extraordinary Person; especially if he that is proposed to them, is entirely stupid, because that the entire Stupidity resembles what they represent by the Inactivity and Impassibility of the Nireupan. As for example, there appeared some years since at Siam, a young Boy born dumb, and so stupid, that he seemed to have nothing humane but the Shape: yet the Report spread it self through the whole Kingdom, that he was of the first men, which inhabited this Country, and that he would one day become a God, that is to say arrive at the Niruepan. The People flocked to him from all parts, to adore him and make him Presents, till that the King fearing the consequences of this Folly, caused it to cease by the Chastisement of some of those, that suffered themselves to be seduced. I have read some such thing in Tosi’s India Orientale, Tom. I. pag. 203. He reports that the Bonzees of Cochinchina, having taken away from them a stupid Infant, show’d him to the People as a God, and that after having inrich’d themselves with the Presents which the People made, they published that this pretended God would burn himself; and he adds they indeed burnt him publickly, after having stupefied his Senses by some Drink, and call the insensible state, wherein they had put him, Extasie. This last History is given as a crafty Trick of the Bonzees, but it demonstrates, as well as the first, the Belief which these People have, that there may daily spring up some new God, and the Inclination which they have to take extream Stupidity, for a beginning of the Nireupan.

Sommona-Codom being disingaged, by the Alms-deeds which I have mentioned, from all the Bands of Life, devoted himself to Fasting, to Prayer, and to the other Exercises of the perfect Life: But as these Practises are possible only to the Talapoins, he embraced the Profession of a Talapoin; and when he had heaped up his good works, he immediately acquired all the Priviledges thereof.

He found himself endowed with so great a Strength, that in a Duel he vanquished another man of a consummated Vertue, whom they call Pra Souane, and who doubting of the Perfection whereunto Sommona-Codom was arrived, challenged him to try his Strength, and was vanquisht. This Pra Souane is not the sole God, or rather the sole perfect Man, which they pretend to have been contemporary with Sommona-Codom. They name several others, as Pra Ariaseria, of whom they report that he was Forty Fathoms high, that his Eyes were three and a half broad, and two and a half round, that is to say, less in Circumference than Diameter, if there is no fault in the Writing from whence I have taken this Remark. The Siameses have a time of Wonders, as had the Ægyptians and the Greeks, and as the Chineses have. For Instance, their principal Book, which they believe to be the work of Sommona-Codom, relates, that a certain Elephant had Three and Thirty Heads, that each of its Heads had seven Teeth, every Tooth seven Pools, every Pool seven Flowers, every Flower seven Leafs, every Leaf seven Towers, and every Tower seven other things, which had each seven others, and these likewise others, and always by seven; for the numbers have always been a great Subject of Superstition. Thus in the Alcoran, if my Memory deceives me not, there is an Angel with a very great number of Heads, each of which hath as many Mouths, and every Mouth as many Tongues, which do praise God as many times every day.

Besides corporal strength, Sommona-Codom had the power of doing all sorts of Miracles. For example, he could make himself as big and as great as he pleas’d: and on the contrary, he could render himself so little, that he could steal out of light, and stand on the head of another man, without being felt either by his weight, or perceived by the Eyes of the other. Then he could annihilate himself, and place some other man in his stead: that is to say, that then he could enjoy the repose of the Nireupan. He suddenly and perfectly understood all the things of the Word: He equally penetrated things past and to come, and having given to his body an entire Agility, he easily transported himself from one place to another, to preach Vertue to all Nations.

He had two principal Disciples, the one on the right Hand, and the other on the left: they were both plac’d behind him, and by each other’s side on the Altars, but their Statues are less than his. He that is placed on his right Hand is called Pra Mogla, and he that is on his left Hand is called Pra Scaribout. Behind these three Statues, and on the same Altar, they only represent the Officers within the Palace of Sommona-Codom. I know not whether they have Names. Along the Galleries or Cloysters, which are sometimes round the Temples, are the Statues of the Officers without the Palace of Sommona-Codom. Of Pra Mogla they report, that at the request of the damned he overturned the Earth, and took the whole Fire of Hell into the hollow of his Hand: but that designing to extinguish it, he could not effect it, because that this Fire dried up the Rivers, instead of extinguishing, and that it confirmed all that whereon Pra Mogla placed it: Pra Mogla therefore went to beseech Pra Pouti Tchaou, Sommona-Codom, to extinguish Hell Fire: but though Pra Pouti Tchaou could do it, he thought it not convenient, because, he said, that men would grow too wicked, if he should destroy the Fear of this Punishment.

But after that Pra Pouti Tchaou was arrived at this high Vertue, he ceased not to kill a Mar, or a Man (for they write Mar and Man, though they pronounce always Man) and as a Punishment for this great fault, his Life exceeded not Eighty years, after which he died, by disappearing on a sudden, like a Spark which is loft in the Air.

The Man were a people Enemies to Sommona-Codom, whom they called Paya Man; and because they suppose that this People was an Enemy to so holy a Man, they do represent them as a monstrous People, with a very large Visage, with Teeth horrible for their Size, and with Serpents on their Head instead of Hair.

One day then as Pra Pouti Tchaou eat Pig’s flesh, he had a Collick fit which killed him: An admirable end for a man so abstemious: but it was necessary that he died by a Pig, because they suppose that the Soul of the Man whom he slew, was not then in the Body of a Man, but in the Body of a Pig: as if a Soul could be esteemed, even according to their Opinion, the Soul of a Man, when it is in the Body of a Pig. But all these inventers of Stories are not so attentive to the Principles of their Doctrine.

Sommona-Codom before his Death, ordered that some Statues and Temples should be Consecrated to him, and since his Death he is in that State of repose, which they express by the word Nireupan. This is not a place but a kind of Being: for to speak truly, they say Sommona-Codom is no where, and he enjoys not any Felicity: he is without power, and out of a condition to do either Good or Evil unto Men: expressions which the Portuguese have rendered by the word Annihilation. Nevertheless on the other hand the Siameses do esteem Sommona-Codom happy, they offer up Prayers unto him, and demand of him whatever they want: whether that their Doctrine agrees not with it self; or that they extend their worship beyond their Doctrine: but in what Sense soever they attribute Power to Sommona-Codom, they agree that he has it only over the Siameses, and that he concerns not himself with other People, who adore other Men besides him.

As therefore they report nothing but Fables of their Sommona-Codom, that they respect him not as the Author of their Laws and their Doctrine, but at most as him who has re-established them amongst Men, and that in fine they have no reasonable Memory of him, it may be doubted, in my Opinion, that there ever was such a man. He seems to have been invented to be the Idea of a Man, whom Vertue, as they apprehend it, has rendered happy, in the times of their Fables, that is to say beyond what their Histories contain certain. And because that they have thought necessary to give at the same time an opposite Idea of a Man, whom his wickedness has subjected to great Torments, they have certainly invented that Thevetat, whom they suppose to have been Brother to Sommona-Codom, and his Enemy. They make them both to be Talapoins, and when they alledge that Sommona-Codom has been King, they report it, as they declare he has been an Ape and a Pig. They suppose that in the several Transmigrations of his Soul he has been all things, and allways excellent in every kind, that is to say he has been the most commendable of all Pigs, as the most commendable of all Kings. I know not from whence Mr. Gervaise judges that the Chineses pretend that Sommona-Codom was of their Country: I have seen nothing thereof in the Relations of China, but only what I have spoken concerning Chekia or Chaka.

The Life of Thevetat was given me translated from the Baly, but not to interrupt my discourse, I will put it at the end of this Relation. ‘Tis also a Texture of Fables, and curious specimen of the thoughts of these men, touching the Vertues and Vices, the Punishments and Reward, the Nature and the Transmigration of Souls.

I must not omit what I borrow from Mr. Harbelot. I have thought it necessary to consult him about what I know of the Siamese; to the end that he might observe what the words which I know thereof, have in common with the Arabian, Turkish and Persian: and he informed that Suman, which must be pronounced Souman, signifies Heaven in Persian, and that Codum, or Codom, signifies Ancient in the same Tongue; so that Sommona-Codom seems to signifie the eternal, or uncreated Heaven, because that in Persian and in Hebrew, the word which signifies Ancient implys likewise uncreated or eternal. And as touching the Baly Tongue, he informed me, that the ancient Persian is called Pahalevi, or Pahalī, and that between Pahali and Bahali the Persians make no Difference. Add that and the word Pout, which in Persian signifies Idol, or false God, and which doubtless signified Mercury, when the Persians were Idolaters, signifies Mercury amongst the Siameses, as I have already remark’d. Mercury, who was the God of the Sciences, seems to have been adored through the whole Earth; by reason doubtless that Knowledge is one of the most essential Attributes of the true God. Remarks which may hereafter excite the curiosity of the learned men, that shall be designed to travel into the Earth.

But I know not whether to this hour it is not lawful to believe that this is a proof of what I have said, that the Ancestors of the Siamese must have adored the Heaven, like the ancient Chineses, and as perhaps the ancient Persians did, and that having afterwards embraced the Doctrine of Metempsychosis, and forgot the true meaning of the name Sommona-Codom, they have made a man of the Spirit of Heaven, and have attributed unto him all the fables that I have related. ‘Tis a great Art to change the belief of the People, to leave unto them their ancient words, by cloathing them with new Idea’s. Thus, it may be, that the Ancestors of the Siameses have thought that the Spirit of Heaven ruled the whole Nature, though the modern Siameses do not believe it of Sommona-Codom: they believe on the contrary, as I have said, that such a care is opposite to the supream felicity. They believe also that Sommona-Codom has sinned, and that he has been punished, at the time that he was worthy of the Nireupan, because they believe the extream virtue impossible. They believe that the worship of Sommona-Codom is only for them, and that amongst the other Nations there are other men, who have render’d themselves worthy of Altars, and which those other Nations must adore.

All the Indians in general are therefore perswaded, that different people must have different Worships, but by approving that other People have each their worship, they comprehend not that some would exterminate theirs. They think not like us that Faith is Vertue: they believe because they know not how to doubt; but they perswaded not themselves that there is a Faith and Worship which ought to be the Faith and the Worship of all Nations. Their Priests preach not that a Soul shall be punished in the other world, for not having believed the Traditions of this Country in this, because they understand not that any of them denies the Fables of their Books. They are ready to believe whatever is told them of a foreign Religion, how incomprehensible so ever it be: but they cannot believe that their own is false: and much less can they resolve to change their Laws, their Manners, and their Worship, One had better to show them the contrarieties and gross Ignorance to their Books; they do sometimes agree herein, but for all this they reject not their Books; as for some falsity we reject not every Historian, nor every Physical Book. They believe not that their Doctrine has been dictated by an eternal and infallible Truth, of which they have not only the Idea; they believe their Doctrine born with the man, and written by some men, which to them appear to have an extraordinary knowledge, and to have led a very innocent life: but they believe not that these men have ever sinned: nor that they could be ever deceived. As they acknowledge no Author of the Universe, so they acknowledge no first Legislator. They erect Temples to the Memory of certain men, of whom they believe a thousand Fables, which the superstition of their Ancestors have invented in the course of several Ages: and this is what the Portuguese have called the Gods of the Indies. The Portuguese have thought that what was honoured with a Publick Worship, could be only a God: and when the Indians accepted this word God for those men to the Memory whom they consecrate their Temples, tis that they understand not the force thereof.

There is nothing that may be taken in more various Senses, nor which may receive more different Interpretations than exterior Worship. Statues have not always been the Marks of Divine Honor. The Greeks and the Romans have erected them, like us, to Persons yet living, without any design to make them Gods. The Chineses do proceed further, and they not only consecrate Statues to some Magistrates yet living, but they erect unto them some sorts of Temples, and sacred Edifices: They establish to them a Worship accompanied with Protestations, Perfumes and Lights; and they preserve certain things of their Apparel as Relicks: though it cannot be thought that they respect these Magistrates, yet living as Gods, but as very much inferior to the King of China their Master, of whom they make no Divinity. There are several Christian Princes which are served upon the Knee, and the Deputies of the third State speak to the King only in this Posture. We give incense to particular Persons in our Churches, and the Christians do honor their Princes with many and great marks of exterior Worship. Thus the exterior Worship of the Indians is not a proof that they acknowledge, at least at present, any Divinity; and hitherto we ought rather to call them Atheists than Idolaters. But when they offer Sacrifices to others than to God, and they joyn Vows to render themselves propitious, we cannot excuse them of Idolatry: for in having entirely forgotten the Divinity, they only are greater Idolaters, when they terminate their Worship to what is not God, and that they make it the sole Object of their Religion.

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