Life of Mrs. Ann H. Judson, Late Missionary to Burmah;
With an Account of the American Baptist Mission to that Empire.
Some account of Burmah—Establishment of the Mission at
THE Burman empire is situated in that part of the continent of Asia, lying between Hindostan and China. Previously to the recent war between the British and the Burmans, the empire included the kingdom of Ava, and the conquered provinces of Cassay and Arracan, on the west; Lowashan and Yunshan, on the east; and Pegu, Martaban, Tanasserim, Mergui, Tavoy, and Junkseylon, on the south. It covered a space between the ninth and twenty-sixth degrees of north latitude, and between the ninety-second and one hundred and second of east longitude, being one thousand and fifty geographical miles in length, and six hundred in breadth. It probably contained one hundred and ninety-four thousand square miles. By the late treaty, the British retain the province of Arracan, on the west; and on the south, Yeh, Tavoy, and Mergui, and Tanasserium, with the islands and dependencies.
The population of Burmah, including the provinces ceded to the English, has been variously estimated, by various writers, some supposing it to amount to seventeen millions, and others fixing it at less than eight millions.
The climate is temperate and healthy. The seasons are regular. Extreme cold is unknown, and the intense heat which precedes the rainy season is of short duration.—The soil is fertile, and produces excellent rice, sugar-canes, tobacco, indigo, cotton, and the tropical fruits.
Tigers and elephants are found in some parts of the empire.
The inhabitants are represented as being indolent, inhospitable, deceitful, and crafty. But it is probable that their vices arise, in a great measure, from the nature of their religion and government.—If the Christian religion were introduced among them, it would elevate their character, and improve their condition. They possess acute minds, and lively imaginations.
They are not fierce nor revengeful.—There is no caste1 among them.—The females, as in all other heathen countries, are treated as an inferior race. Polygamy is prohibited in form, but it is practised in effect.—The Burmans kill no domestic animals, but make abundant use of game. The lower orders eat lizards and snakes.
The government is strictly monarchical. The Emperor is an absolute sovereign, and is regarded as the sole lord and proprietor of life and property in his dominions. His word is irresistible law. When any thing belonging to the emperor is mentioned, the epithet "golden" is attached to it. When he is said to have heard any thing, "it has reached the golden ears;" a person admitted to his presence "has been at the golden feet;" the perfume of roses is described as grateful to "the golden nose." The sovereign is sole proprietor of all the elephants in his dominions; and the privilege to keep or ride on one is only granted to men of the first rank. No honours are hereditary. All offices and dignities depend immediately on the crown. The tsaloe , or chain, is the badge of nobility, and superiority of rank is signified by the number of cords or of divisions.
A singularly absurd custom takes place in this country in certain forms of political homage shown to a white elephant, an animal kept for the purpose, superbly lodged near the royal palace, sumptuously dressed and fed, provided with functionaries like a second sovereign, held next in rank to the king, and superior to the queen, and made to receive presents and other tokens of respect from foreign ambassadors.
The Burmans are idolaters. They worship Boodh, or Gaudama.—He is represented in many of their temples, as seated upon a throne placed on elephants, or encircled by a hydra, or in the habit of a king, accompanied by his attendants. In most of the modern images, however, he is represented as in the annexed picture, in a sitting posture, with his legs folded, his right hand resting upon his right thigh, and his left upon his lap: a yellow cloth is cast over his left shoulder, which envelopes his right arm. His hair is generally in a curling state, like that of an African; his ears are long, as though distended by heavy earrings. The image is generally placed in the centre of the temple, under a small arch prepared for the purpose, or under a small porch of wood, neatly gilded. Images of celestial attendants, male and female, are frequently placed in front of the image.
The Burmans do not consider Boodh as the Creator or the Governor of the world. They believe that matter is eternal; that every portion of animated existence has in itself its own rise, tendency, and destiny; that the condition of creatures on earth, is regulated by works of merit and demerit; that works of merit not only raise individuals to happiness, but, as they prevail, raise the world itself to prosperity; while on the other hand, when vice is predominant, the world degenerates, till the universe itself is dissolved. They suppose, however, that there is always some superior deity, who has attained to this elevation by religious merit; but they do not regard him as the governor of the world. To the present grand period, comprehending all the time included in a kulpu,2 they assign five deities, four of whom have already appeared, including Gaudama or Boodh, whose exaltation continues five thousand years, two thousand three hundred and fifty-six of which had expired A. D. 1814. After the expiration of the five thousand years, another saint will obtain the ascendancy, and be deified. Six hundred millions of saints are said to be canonized with each deity; though it is admitted that Boodh took only twenty-four thousand devotees to heaven with him.
The lowest state of existence is in hell; the next is that in the form of brutes; both these are states of punishment. The next ascent is to that of man, which is probationary. The next includes many degrees of honour and happiness, up to demi-gods, &c. which are states of reward for works of merit. The ascent to superior deity is from the state of man.
The Boodhists are taught, that there are four superior heavens, which are not destroyed at the end of a kulpu; that below these there are twelve other heavens, followed by six inferior heavens; after which follows the earth, then the world of snakes, and then thirty-two chief hells; to which are to be added one hundred and twenty hells of milder torments.
The highest state of glory is absorption. The person who is unchangeable in his resolution, who has obtained a knowledge of things past, present, and to come, through one kulpu, who can make himself invisible, and go where he pleases, and who has attained to complete abstraction, will enjoy absorption.3
Those who perform works of merit, are admitted to the heavens of the different gods, or are made kings, or great men on earth; and those who are wicked, are born in the forms of different animals, or sent to different hells. The happiness of these heavens is wholly sensual.
It appears evident from their writings, that the ancient religion of the Burmans consisted principally in religious austerities. When a person becomes initiated into the priesthood, he immediately gives up worldly business, lives on alms, and eats no food until after the sun has passed the meridian. The ancient writings of the Burmans mention an order of female priests; but it is likely that these were only female beggars.
Priests or Rhahans, as they are called, are forbidden to marry; they are to live by begging; are to possess only three garments; a begging dish, a girdle, a razor, a needle, and a cloth to strain the water which they drink, that they may not devour insects.
They go barefoot and have their heads closely shaven, like some of the Roman Catholic priests. Yellow is the only colour worn by them, and their only garment is a long loose cloak wrapped around their bodies. The annexed engraving will give a very correct idea of the appearance of one of these priests, as he is seen in the streets of Rangoon. At the dawn of the morning, they begin to walk through the town to collect supplies of food for the day; each convent sends forth a certain number of its members, who walk with a quick pace through the streets, holding with the left hand an umbrella, and on the right arm a blue lackered box, in which the food given them is put. This is ready cooked, and usually consists of boiled rice, mixed with oil, dried fish, sweetmeats, fruit, &c. all mingled together. During their walk they never cast their eyes to the right, nor to the left, but keep them fixed on the ground. They do not stop to ask, and seldom ever look at those who give to them, who appear more anxious to bestow than the priests to receive. As a much larger quantity of provision is usually given than they are able to consume, the overplus is bestowed on the poor and needy, whether strangers or their own disciples.
There are five commands delivered to the common Boodhists; the first forbids the destruction of animal life; the second forbids theft; the third adultery; the fourth falsehood; the fifth the use of spirituous liquors. There are other commands for the superior classes, or devotees, which forbid dancing, songs, music, festivals, perfumes, elegant dresses, elevated seats, &c. Among works of the highest merit, one is the feeding of a hungry infirm tiger with a person's own flesh.
The Burman feasts are held at the full and change of the moon. At these times all public business is suspended; the people pay their homage to Gaudama, at the temples, presenting to the image, rice, fruits, flowers, candles, &c.
Such is the miserable system of religion which prevails in Burmah. It is little better than atheism. It has no power to control the actions, nor to comfort the mind. O how ought every humane heart, and much more every Christian, to desire, that the pure and glorious Gospel may shed its light upon this gross darkness.
The Burman language which is used in conversation, and for other ordinary purposes, is a very difficult language. The characters in which it is written, resemble a series of circular marks; and it has been called, from the circumstance, the Round O language . It is written from left to right, like the English language. The common books are composed of the palmyra leaf, on which the letters are engraved with a piece of pointed iron. Most of the male natives can read and write, the boys being taught by the priests.
There is a language called the Pali , in which the sacred books are written, and which is understood by none but the priests and learned men.
Rangoon is the principal seaport of the Burman empire. It is situated thirty miles from the sea, on the Rangoon river, one of the outlets of the Irrawaddy. It lies in sixteen degrees forty-seven minutes north latitude, and ninety six degrees nine minutes east longitude, and is 670 miles south-east of Calcutta. The number of inhabitants, in 1813 was stated by Mr. Judson, to be 40,000. Some of the inhabitants were of Portuguese extraction, and had two or three churches and priests. The Armenians also had one church.
Several attempts had been made by English missionaries to establish a mission at Rangoon; but they had failed, and there was no missionary there, when Mr. and Mrs. Judson arrived, except Mrs. Carey, the wife of Mr. Felix Carey, who had gone to Ava, by order of the King. Mr. Charter, one of the missionaries, had built a mission house, where Mrs. Carey resided, and which Mr. and Mrs. Judson occupied, on their arrival.—It was in a pleasant rural spot, half a mile from the walls of the town. The house was built of teak wood, and was large and convenient for that climate, though the inside was unfinished, and the beams and joints were naked. Connected with it were gardens enclosed, containing about two acres of ground, and full of fruit trees of various kinds.
In this quiet spot Mr. and Mrs. Judson found a home, and felt that at last they had reached a place where they could labour for the Saviour. But their situation, even here, was not without trials. Mrs. Judson, in a letter to her parents, dated July 30, 1813, says:—
"We felt very gloomy and dejected the first night we arrived, in view of our prospects; but we were enabled to lean on God, and to feel that he was able to support us under the most discouraging circumstances. The next morning after our arrival I prepared to go on shore, but hardly knew how I should get to Mr. Carey's house, as there was no method of conveyance, except a horse, while I was unable to ride. It was, however, concluded that I should be carried in an arm chair; consequently, when I landed, one was provided, through which were put two bamboos, and four of the natives took me on their shoulders. When they had carried me a little way into the town, they set me down under a shade, when great numbers of the natives gathered round, as they had seldom seen an English female. Being sick and weak, I held my head down, which induced many of the native females to come very near, and look under my bonnet. At this I looked up and smiled, at which they set up a loud laugh. They again took me up to carry, and the multitude of natives gave a shout, which much diverted us. They next carried me to a place they call the custom-house. It was a small open shed, in which were seated, on mats, several natives, who were the custom-house officers. After searching Mr. Judson very closely, they asked liberty for a native female to search me, to which I readily consented. I was then brought to the mission house, where I have entirely recovered my health."
Mrs. Judson felt very happy that she was, at last, in a situation, where she might do something for the benefit of the heathen.—She remembered her friends, and her father's house, with strong feelings, but she did not wish to leave her duties and return.—She says, in her journal, about two months after her arrival in Rangoon:—
" Sept . 5. I do feel thankful that God has brought me to this heathen land, and placed me in a situation peculiarly calculated to make me feel my dependence on him, and my constant need of the influences of the Holy Spirit. I enjoy more in reading the Scriptures, and in secret prayer, than for years before; and the prosperity of this mission, and the conversion of this people, lie with weight on my mind, and draw forth my heart in constant intercession. And I do confidently believe, that God will visit this land with gospel light; that these idol temples will be demolished, and temples for the worship of the living God erected in their stead."
" Sept . 25. I feel composed and tranquil this evening, and desire to be truly thankful that we have closed another week in circumstances so comfortable, and are brought once more to the confines of holy time. I desire also to be truly thankful for the sweetness I have enjoyed in divine things throughout the week. We have been reading at our daily worship, the several last chapters of John, and the beginning of Acts; and I think we never enjoyed so much in reading the Scriptures together, and in conversing on the sufferings and death of Christ—his instructions to the disciples as he led them through those amazing scenes, and the first formation of the Christian church. I never entered so much into the feelings of the disciples, when receiving his last instructions; when deserting him through fear; when following him to the cross; when consigning him to the tomb. And I could almost participate in their joy, when they saw him risen from the dead; when he appeared in the midst of them, telling them he had all power in heaven and earth. The disciples had seen one of the darkest times the church ever realized. They were ready to give up all for lost. But light arose out of the darkness of the tomb. They felt that Jesus was indeed the Christ—the Son of God. And no longer afraid of the face of man, they announced themselves the followers of Jesus, and declared to the whole world the wonders of his dying love. How full of instruction and consolation is thy word, O blessed Jesus! How able to make the simple wise. Let the whole world hear the story of thy dying love. Let heathen nations know that thou didst dwell in flesh, and die for sinners, and art able and mighty to save.
" Oct. 8. To-day, I have been into the town, and I was surprised at the multitude of people with which the streets and bazars are filled. Their countenances are intelligent; and they appear to be capable, under the influence of the Gospel, of becoming a valuable and respectable people. But at present their situation is truly deplorable, for they are given to every sin. Lying is so common and universal among them, that they say, 'We cannot live without telling lies.' They believe the most absurd notions imaginable. My teacher told me the other day, that when he died he would go to my country. I shook my head, and told him he would not; but he laughed, and said he would. I did not understand the language sufficiently to tell him where he would go, or how he could be saved.—O thou Light of the world, dissipate the thick darkness which covers Burmah, and let thy light arise and shine. O display thy grace and power among the Burmans—Subdue them to thyself, and make them thy chosen people."
1 In Hindostan, the natives are all divided into different
classes or castes , and each remains in that which he was born, unless he is
degraded from it by some act of his own. This circumstance is at present a very
great hinderance to the success of the missionaries in that country, as the
converts " lose their caste ," by becoming Christians, and this is accounted one
of the greatest calamities.
2 To convey some idea of the extent of this period, the illiterate Cingalese use this comparison; if a man were to ascend a mountain nine miles high, and to renew these journeys once in every hundred years, till the mountain were worn down by his feet to an atom, the time required to do this, would be nothing to the fourth part of a kulpu.
3 The Hindoo idea of absorption is, that the soul is received into the divine essence; but as the Boodhists reject the doctrine of a separate Supreme Spirit, it is difficult to say what are their ideas of absorption. Dr. Buchanan says, (A. Researches, vol. vi. p. 180,) Nigban "implies (that is, among the Burmans) exemption from all the miseries incident to humanity, but by no means annihilation."
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