Essay, Research Paper: Hinduism


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While examining different religious paths within Hinduism from the perspective
of four patterns of transcendence (ancestral, cultural, mythical and
experiential) it is interesting to see how each pattern found its dominance over
four segments of Hinduism: Vedic sacrifice, the way of action, the way of
devotion and the way of knowledge. When Hinduism originated as a religion it was
mainly concerned with sacrifices for ancestors. The sacred texts - called the
Vedas - on which Hinduism was based were the main root of the many different
branches of Hindu philosophy. The Vedas originated around 1400-1200 BC. They
consisted of several different documents, the oldest of them called the Rigveda.
The Rigveda is considered to be the foundation of Brahmanic Hinduism. The main
body of Rigveda’s text contains mostly hymns dedicated to the ancient Hindu
gods. The second text of Vedas is called the Yajurveda. It was written in 1200
BC. The main themes of Yajurveda are the sacred formulas recited by Brahmin
priests during the performance of sacrifices. The third book of Vedas, Samveda
(1100 BC), was also known as the Veda of chants. In its essence Samveda was an
anthology of Rigveda writings. The last Veda is the Arthaveda (1200 BC).It
consisted of hymns, incantations and magic charms. 2 The original Vedic texts
were mostly comprised of hymns to gods and rules of sacrificial rituals; the
purpose of which was to provide ancestors with food and means of sustenance in
the kingdom of Yama (the afterworld). As a result of their devotion people
expected certain favorable influences in their lives, such as good fortune and
yet better life in the kingdom of Yama after their death. Sacrifices were
supposed to be a means of survival in the kingdom of Yama. As the Indian
philosophies evolved, Hindus developed the concept of reincarnation. The essence
of that concept lied in the belief that no one is able to remain in the
afterworld forever and eventually should return to the cycle of life, death and
rebirth. As transcendent as the concept of reincarnation was, it did not provide
Hindus with an ultimate salvation from suffering. Thus every living thing must
eventually suffer and die. Such views resulted in further development of Hindu
religion, Hindu philosophers such as Manu questioned the concepts of Vedas and
laid the foundation for a philosophy that transformed Hinduism from a simple
ancestral religion to a set of very complex religious and philosophical beliefs.
Eventually the attempts of the Vedic texts to satisfy people’s need to have
contact with the sacred reality have become insufficient. Even though the
sacrifice was a way to 3 control the cosmos and insure well-being in the world
of ancestors, it did not provide the means of liberation from the realm of maya:
reality which Hindus lived in but thought of it as an illusion. Following the
age of Vedas people of Hinduism looked for happiness through the way of action.
The way of action could be very well considered an example of cultural
transcendence. The main doctrine of such philosophy told that one must do all
the tasks presented to him/her by the place in society and social status; and
the result of such rightful life would be the rebirth into a better social
position. With time "the way of action" philosophy became less
satisfactory for its followers, since it seemed to lack the total liberation
from the infinite cycle of death and rebirth. As Hindu religion became more
complicated and people began to look for total liberation from the circle of
death and rebirth the segment of Hinduism known as the way of devotion came into
existence. Followers of the way of devotion based their beliefs on the myths
about gods such as Shiva, Vishnu and Krishna. These gods were believed to be a
manifestation of ultimate reality. Believers in the way of devotion were
supposed to worship their god through sacrifices and rituals devoting their
lives to the belief 4 and were expected to be saved from the realm of maya by
the manifestation of ultimate reality to which they entrusted their lives. The
essence of the way of devotion was a mythical transcendence, because it was
heavily based on the myth about the encounters between mortal humans and divine
beings (for example the legend of Krishna and Arguna) that described the main
doctrines of this part of Hinduism to its pursuers. Following the age of Vedas,
texts known as Upanishads came into existence (1000-500 BC). Unlike the Vedas,
Upanishads did not talk about the rules of sacrifices and did not contain hymns
to gods. Instead, those texts concentrated on the essence of reality and on the
supreme being ruling the cosmos-the Brahman. The Upanishads contained one
hundred and eight writings. The main theme of these writings was reality. But it
was not the reality which we perceive (because everything we see and know is an
illusion), but the reality that is real, that does not change; the reality that
has answers to every question, including the one about suffering. In addition,
Upanishads spoke of relationship between the world in which Hindus live, the
Brahman, and the ultimate reality. In Upanishads Brahman was identified as the
only true and absolute reality. The Brahman was manifested in everything: one
could 5 identify Brahman in very act of consciousness. By denying Brahman, one
would be denying his/hers own existence. Hindu philosopher Sankara commented:
"The existence of Brahman is known from the fact that it is the Self of
everyone. Everyone is aware of the existence of his own Self. No one thinks 'I
am not'"(Commentary on The Vedanta Sutras, I,1/1),(Berry 1967,p26)). The
Brahman is everywhere, it is everything, but at the same time no one is aware of
its being. The Upanishads used metaphors to draw the picture of Brahman
existence. An example of such metaphors is the tale of the Uddalaka and his son
Svetaketu. In this story Uddalaka proves to Svetaketu the existence of the
unseen Brahman. First Uddalaka asks Svetaketu to divide a fig; when to his
question of "what do you see inside?", Svetaketu replies:
"nothing, father"; Uddalaka asks: "How can a great tree grow out
of nothing?". Later, Uddalaka asks Svetaketu to dissolve salt in water and
then asks him to taste it. Even though the boy cannot see the salt in the water,
he can taste every part of it. Then Uddalaka compared two experiences to
Brahman, saying that like salt, Brahman is present but unseen. "This whole
world has that as its soul; that is reality; that is Atman; that art thou,
Svetaketu"(Chandogya Upanishad)(Zimmer 1951 p.360). 6 The Brahman is the
Self and Self is the Brahman, that relationship was described by many metaphors
in the Upanishads'. Here is one of them from Heinrich Zimmer’s 'Philosophies
of India": "" Space is enclosed by earthen jars. Just as space is
not carried along with the jar when this is removed [from one lace to another},
so Jiva [i.e., the Self when contained in the vessel of the subtle and gross
body], like the infinite space [remains unmoved and unaffected." It matters
not to Space whether it is to be inside or outside of a jar. The Self,
similarly, does not suffer when a body goes to pieces". "The various
forms, like earthen jars, going to pieces again and again, He (Brahman) does not
know them to be broken; and yet He knows eternally"(Zimmer 1951p.359). When
talking about the Self (Atman) the famous description is "Nati, nati"
(not so, not so), there are no words and symbols in human understanding to
describe it, thus everything we know, every description we make, every symbol we
construct is an illusion. Therefore, nothing known and used by people could be
applied to Brahman. The question which evolves out of such a view is: "How
would one get in touch with the Self, how is it possible not just to be aware of
it but to physically touch it?". Thus when one is aver of his/her true self
he/she can know the reality that is 7 deathless. Upanishads give an answer to
this question by describing three states of consciousness. First is "the
awakened state, where the sense faculties are turned outward, and the field of
cognition is that of the gross body; 2. the dreaming state, where the field is
that of subtle bodies, self-luminous and magically fluid; and the 3. the
blissful state of dreamless deep sleep" (Zimmer 1951 p.362.). The dreaming
state was described as a short glimpse into the other dimension: the realm of
gods and demons. This realm was considered to be similar to the realm of
awakened consciousness, because as well as the awakened consciousness dreaming
state had its illusions and was not free from suffering that was a result of
constant change. On the contrary, dreamless sleep was seen as something totally
different because it only had a pure being with no consciousness, and therefore
having no worries and no changes in itself. Upanishads see a dreamless state as
the manifestation and human experience of the existing real Self that knows no
change and is unaware of all the illusions. That was considered the state in
which Atman exists. Such philosophy enabled people to experience the state of
deathlessness for themselves and gave beginning to the segment of Hindu religion
that had experiential transcendence in its essence. 8 The view portrayed in the
Upanishads' was that in order to gain liberation from a cycle of death and
rebirth, one must discover the truth of Brahman which is all existent. In order
to find Brahman one must look inside and find the Atman (the dreamless
existence), which is the real Self and, consequently, the Brahman. When one
succeeds in doing so, the truth will be revealed and the liberation from the
realm of maya and therefore death will be attained once and for all. Philosophy
portrayed in Upanishads' implies that one can gain liberation by discovering the
true Self. To do so is to follow the way of knowledge. Ignorance of Brahman was
understood to be the cause for the endless cycle of birth, life and death. After
gaining the truth, the knowledge of Atman, one is freed from the life in
ignorance, and, therefore, freed from constant rebirth. The way to find Atman
was to engage in deep meditation. A follower of the way of knowledge was to look
inside and peel off layer by layer: any needs, senses, feelings, emotions,
thoughts, and the awareness of the world, because all of that is an illusion
which prevents one from seeing the true Self- the Atman. When the yogi (one who
is engaged in meditation techniques) will be able to put away the consciousness
itself (by this consciously putting 9 him/her self into the state of dreamless
sleep), he/she will attain the knowledge of the Atman through which becoming a
part of Brahman unaffected by ignorance. Shankara describes the difference
between the one who is searching for knowledge and the one who attained it as
"The man of knowledge sees this first in meditation, with his senses
withdrawn; but the man of Brahman even at the time of dealing with the world
sees the Self who has entered into all beings. Now the senses and mind are
functioning in the response to events in the world, but the Self is not felt to
be identified whit the body and mind. It is universal, 'Brahman, in the highest
heaven'."(Lingat .1973p.141) To conclude, when one examines the philosophy
of Upanishads' and the way of knowledge some connection to reality (as it
perceived by those who just want to study the doctrine of the philosophy) could
be found. Logically such philosophy could fit into the mind and then find
support in experiences of its followers. Many yogis who follows the way of
knowledge seem to find inner peace and understanding of life. Transcendence
offered by the philosophy of Upanishads' seems to be real enough to follow the
path which leads to it. That is why the philosophy of the way of knowledge was
so widely accepted in the days of its emergence and later became a base for many
other philosophies of India.BibliographyRobert, Lingat. The Classic Low Of India. University of California Press
Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1973. Zimmer, Heinrich, Robert. Philosophies Of
India. New York: Pantheon Books, 1951. Chidester, David. Patterns Of
Transcendence. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1990.
Comton’s Interactive Encyclopedia. America On-line 1995
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