Hinduism

Hinduism 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 Rigvedas 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.

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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 peoples 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 …