Saturday, October 31, 2020
Friday, October 30, 2020
Thursday, October 29, 2020
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Monday, October 26, 2020
Sunday, October 25, 2020
Saturday, October 24, 2020
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Once upon a time the gods won a great victory over the demons and they became arrogant. They boasted, “This victory is ours! This triumph is ours.” They failed to realize that the victory was won for them by the Brahman, with whose power the universe is created and in whom, at the end of the kalpa (aeon), it dissolves. The Brahman noticed the arrogance of the gods and appeared before them in the form of an Yaksha, but the gods failed to comprehend the identity of this wondrous entity.
They deputed Agni (the fire god) to ascertain the identity of the Yaksha. Agni proclaimed that he had the power to burn down the entire universe—the Yaksha asked him to burn a straw. Agni tried but he failed to set the straw ablaze. Then the gods deputed Vayu (the wind god) to ascertain the identity of the Yaksha. Vayu proclaimed that he had the power to blow away the universe. The Yaksha asked him to blow a straw. Vayu tried but he failed to move the straw.
After that Indra (the lord of the gods) was sent to investigate—the Yaksha presented before Indra a beautiful woman called Uma Haimavati. Indra asked her what this wondrous Yaksha was that had the power of hindering Agni from burning and Vayu from blowing. Uma Haimavati, who is the personification of wisdom, said, “This Yaksha is the Brahman. The gods are feeling pride over a victory that was won for them by the Brahman, so he has appeared as an Yaksha to teach the gods the lesson of humility.”
Since the gods derive their power from the One, the Brahman, they must not become arrogant. This story, which I have retold in my own words, occurs in the Book Three and Book Four of the Kena Upaniṣad and can be seen from two angles: first, it’s a moral injunction that the entities in positions of power must avoid arrogance; second, it’s an evidence of the monistic metaphysics of the Vedic thinkers.
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Monday, October 19, 2020
The presocratic philosopher Parmenides, who is often seen as the founder of western metaphysics, believed that all material things, and their changing forms and motions, are a reflection of the same eternal reality, the “Being.” He preached the monistic principle “all is one.” In his Physics, Aristotle rejects Parmanedian monism by noting that a thinker who denies the multiplicity of things, and all the changing forms and motions, is not engaging in natural philosophy. In the thirteenth century, Aquinas assumed that, with Aristotle’s assistance, he could appropriate the “all is one” Parmanedian God while avoiding the pitfalls of monism. In his Compendium of Theology, Aquinas writes: "If we gather together the various points established thus far, we perceive that all perfections in God are in reality one. We have shown above that God is simple. But where there is simplicity, there can be no distinction among the perfections that are present. Hence, if the perfections of all things are in God, they cannot be distinct in Him. Accordingly they are all one in Him.” (Translation by Cyril Vollert). But Aquinas was unable to bring Parmenides and Aristotle together and the duel between the two Ancient Greek philosophers continues.
The cosmos is eternal, limitless, and absolute, but this does not imply that man is insignificant. The significance of man lies in the fact that he is not only the ultimate interpretation of the cosmic forces but also their ultimate interpreter. The Supreme Principle of the universe, the One who creates the universe out of nothingness, by bringing space, time, and matter into existence, is closely related to man’s mind. This is a key teaching of the Vedas and the Upaniṣads—these ancient texts preach that man must endeavor to relate himself to the Supreme Principle (the One) of the universe.
Sunday, October 18, 2020
The Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad, which is clearly related to the Katha Upaniṣad, and is a part of the Black Yajurveda, is named after the Sage Śvetāśvatara whose name means “the one who possesses white horses” (which means, the one who has pure faculties). The philosophy of the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad is close to the Samkhya school—it talks of creation emanating from the dual principles of Purusa (the cosmic spirit) and the Prakrti (the cosmic material principle). Samkhya denies the existence of god but Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad subordinates the Purusa and Prakriti principles to a supreme god or the “One.” The text offers a view of the “One” in its Fourth Adhyaya (fourth book). Here’s the first verse of the fourth book (translation by Robert Ernest Hume, 1921):
1. The One who, himself without color,
by the manifold application of his power (sakti-yoga)
Distributes many colors in his hidden purpose, And into whom, its end and its beginning, the whole world
dissolves—He is God!
May He endow us with clear intellect!
In the next three verses of the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad’s fourth book, the One is pantheistically identified:
2. That surely is Agni (fire god). That is Adltya (sun god).
That is Vsyu (wind god), and That is the moon.
That surely is the pure. That is Brahma.
That is the waters. That is Prajapati (Lord of Creation).
3. Thou art woman. Thou art man.
Thou art the youth and the maiden too.
Thou as an old man totterest with a staff.
Being born, thou becomest facing in every direction.
4. Thou art the dark-blue bird and the green [parrot] with red eyes.
Thou hast the lightning as thy child. Thou art the seasons and
Having no beginning, thou dost abide with immanence,
Wherefrom all beings are born.
The thinkers of Ancient Greece believed that the Gods are envious of human prosperity and happiness, and that they interfere to ruin the life of all those who lust for great riches and perfect happiness. Commenting on the fate of Croesus, Herodotus writes in his Histories: ‘‘presumably because God was angry with him for supposing himself to be the happiest of men.’’ Only the Gods can be perfectly prosperous and happy. The chorus in, Aeschylus’s play Agamemnon warns:
In fame unmeasured, praise too high,
Lies danger: God’s sharp lightnings fly
To stagger mountains.
Saturday, October 17, 2020
In the study of ancient history and philosophy, the need for accurate chronology cannot be denied, but in the case of ancient Hindu texts there is an inordinate amount of emphasis on chronology. For many present day Hindus chronology has become a way of glorifying their ancient heritage. Too often you encounter people who (without furnishing any evidence) boast about some texts being from the tenth or even fifteenth century BC. They are convinced that their culture is great because it is ancient. To my mind, the aspect of being ancient is not critical. The critical questions are: What are the key learnings from these ancient texts? What was the culture in which these texts came into being? What kind of people composed these texts? What is the relevance of these texts in our modern times?
Friday, October 16, 2020
The importance of pronouncing words in the right way and using grammatically correct language is emphasized in several verses of the Rigveda. The Vedic sages insist that while reciting the hymns if correct language is not used and if the words are not correctly pronounced then the gods are not appeased. The hymn 26 of Mandala 7, which is attributed to Vasiṣṭha Maitravaruni, opens with a verse which notes that Indra is pleased with sacred formulations or correct chanting of hymns. Here’s a translation of the verse 7.26.1 (The Rigveda, by Stephanie W. Jamison and Joel P. Brereton, OUP, 2014):
“Soma, unpressed, does not exhilarate Indra, nor do pressings unaccompanied by sacred formulations (exhilarate) the bounteous one.
For him I beget a hymn that he will enjoy, a newer manly one, so that he will listen to us.”
Thursday, October 15, 2020
The Ancient Greeks could not conceive of the perfectibility of man because they were taught by Homer and Hesiod that even the Gods are not perfect. Zeus would have sounded like a hypocrite if he exhorted the mortals to perfect themselves since the Gods have all the imperfections which bedevil the mortals. The pre-socratic philosopher Xonophanes laments, “Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the Gods everything that is a shame and a reproach amongst men, stealing and committing adultery and deceiving each other.” The situation in Ancient Hindu literature is similar. The Hindu Gods often conduct themselves in the fashion of the imperfect humans. The notion of man being perfected by reason, atheism, and science was born in eighteenth century France during the Age of Enlightenment.
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Most scholars place the Rigveda between the twelfth and ninth centuries BC. Since the text mentions several metals except iron, the inference might be drawn that the Rigveda was composed before the dawn of the Iron Age. It could be a Bronze Age text. The manufacturing of iron began in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, the geographical area of the Rigveda, between the twelfth and tenth centuries BC. The work on the Rigveda could have started earlier than the twelfth century BC, perhaps between the fourteenth and tenth centuries BC, or even in the second half of the second millennium BC. The rich tradition of Vedic gods, rituals, mythologies, cosmological queries, and the linguistic and poetic conventions on which the Rigveda has been developed would have to predate the text by a number of centuries and could even have originated in the third millennium BC. On astronomical grounds, which assume that the ancient Hindus had the ability to chart the sun’s course, some scholars (noted by Arthur Anthony Macdonell in his 1917 book A Vedic Reader for Students) have placed the oldest Rigveda hymns as far back as the sixth millennium BC.
Monday, October 12, 2020
The Rigveda makes references to the theories of creation of the world in several hymns from Mandala 2 to Mandala 9. In Mandala 10, for the first time, we find hymns dedicated to cosmology. The hymn 129 of Mandala 10 is a cosmological hymn, but it is a strange cosmological hymn because it states that the Gods came after the universe got created, which means that even the Gods don’t know when and how the universe was created. The hymn begins with a mention of the nonexistence where there is the ultimate source of creation, the “One,” which assumes a cosmic egg like form in the verse 3, and in the verse 4, the “primal semen,” the origin of all beings gets concretized.
Here’s a translation of the hymn 129 of Mandala 10 (The Rigveda, translated by Stephanie W. Jamison and Joel P. Brereton, OUP, 2014):
1. The nonexistent did not exist, nor did the existent exist at that time. There existed neither the airy space nor heaven beyond.
What moved back and forth? From where and in whose protection? Did water exist, a deep depth?
2. Death did not exist nor deathlessness then. There existed no sign of night nor of day.
That One breathed without wind by its independent will. There existed nothing else beyond that.
3. Darkness existed, hidden by darkness, in the beginning. All this was a signless ocean.
What existed as a thing coming into being, concealed by emptiness—that One was born by the power of heat.
4. Then, in the beginning, from thought there evolved desire, which existed as the primal semen.
Searching in their hearts through inspired thought, poets found the connection of the existent in the nonexistent.
5. Their cord was stretched across: Did something exist below it? Did something exist above?
There existed placers of semen and there existed greatnesses. There was independent will below, offering above.
6. Who really knows? Who shall here proclaim it?—from where was it born, from where this creation?
The gods are on this side of the creation of this (world). So then who does know from where it came to be?
7. This creation—from where it came to be, if it was produced or if not— he who is the overseer of this (world) in the furthest heaven, he surely knows. Or if he does not know...?
Vedic theology does not commence with stories on creation as Western theology does. The Rigveda explores the cosmological issues in its final book (the Mandala 10).
Sunday, October 11, 2020
The a priori assumption can be made that the Vedic devas (gods) predate the Vedas. Since the Rigveda is dated between twelfth and ninth centuries BC, the conception of devas must have originated a few centuries before the twelfth century BC—if the first Vedic sages didn’t have a priori knowledge of the devas, they could not have created the hymns on the divine attributes and actions of the devas.
The word “devas” relates to beings who are connected to swargloka (heaven). They exist to counter the influence of the demons for whom the Vedas use words like “Dasyus” and “Raksases”. In some instances, the word used is “adeva,” or the opposite of deva. In the Rigveda, Vrtra, the demon who had stolen the waters of the world, and was ultimately killed by Indra, the deva who is the lord of the heaven, is called adeva. In the Brahmanas, Puranas, and Ithihasas, the term “asura” is used for the demons. The Vedic mythology often makes it difficult to draw a line between the devas and demons because there are several entities which possess divine as well as demonic attributes.
The Rigveda notes that the devas are thirty-three in number—they are called the Trayastrinshata (Three plus thirty). The Brahmanas give a breakdown of the thirty-three devas—eight are Vasus (material gods); twelve are Adityas (personified gods); eleven are Rudras (consisting of abstract entities, atman, and the incarnations of Shiva); two are the divine twins, the Ashvins. The Yujurveda and Atharvaveda have hymns which talk about the thirty-three devas.
Here are three verses from the Rigveda in which it's suggested that there are thirty-three devas (translations by Ralph T. H. Griffith, 1896):
Mandala 1, hymn 45, verse 2
“Agni, the Gods who understand give ear unto the worshipper:
Lord of Red Steeds, who lovest song, bring thou those Three-and-Thirty Gods.”
Mandala 8, hymn 28, verse 1:
“The Thirty Gods and Three besides, whose seat hath been the sacred grass,
From time of old have found and gained.”
Mandala 1, hymn 139, verse 11:
“O ye eleven gods whose home is heaven, O ye eleven who make earth your dwelling,
Ye who with might, eleven, live in waters, accept this sacrifice, O gods, with pleasure.”
One deva is not subordinate to another—the lack of hierarchy is established in the assertions made by Indira and Varuna that they are obeyed by all the devas. However, there are hymns in which it is indicated that Varuna and Surya are subject to Indra, while Indra and the Asvins are subject to Vishnu, and even a relatively unimportant entity like Savitur is able to claim that his munificence cannot be resisted by Indira, Mitra, Varuna, Aryaman, and Rudra. Since the Rigveda sees all the devas as a manifestation of the omnipotent and omnipresent Paramatman, or the great soul and living principle, that is the undivided, timeless, and motionless author of the universe, there is no question of one deva being subordinate to another deva—all are equal, all are parts of the same Paramatman.
If the devas of the Rigveda are classified on the basis of hymns dedicated to them, then we might conclude that Indra, who has two hundred and fifty hymns, or a quarter of the collection in the text, dedicated to him, is the most important. After Indra comes Agni who has two hundred dedicated hymns, Soma has one hundred twenty-three, the Asvins have fifty-six, and Varuna has forty-six. The supreme deva Vishnu has five dedicated hymns, while the powerful Rudra has three, and the devi (female god) of learning Saraswati has three.
Thursday, October 8, 2020
Classical Hinduism is known as Sanatana Dharma which means Eternal and Ancient Law, or the Law that was given to mankind by the devas (the incarnated gods) in the primordial times. The foundation of Sanatana Dharma is forged from Śruti (that which is heard), and its structure is forged from Smṛti (that which is remembered).
The Śruti consists of the four Vedas (the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda) which the ancient sages received directly from the devas. The Vedic teachings were not written down for several millennia and were preserved through an oral tradition. The teacher would sing the Vedic hymns to his pupils who, when they became teachers, would in turn sing the hymns to their own pupils—thus the Vedic teachings were passed in a pristine form from generation to generation. The Vedas have four parts: the Samhitas (mantras and benedictions); the Aranyakas (explanation of the rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices); the Brahmanas (commentaries on rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices); the Upanishads (discussion of meditation, philosophy, and spirituality).
The Smṛti (that which is remembered) consists of the sacred texts which are composed by the ancient sages: this tradition consists of Manusmriti, Yājñavalkyasmriti, Sankha Likhita Smriti, Parashara Smriti, the Dharmasūtras and Dharmaśāstras, the eighteen Mahapuranas (Major Puranas) and eighteen Upapuranas (Minor Puranas), the ancient epics (the Mahabharata and the Ramayana), the Arthasaśāstras, and several other texts. Yājñavalkya, the sage who flourished between seventh and eighth centuries B.C., gives the name of twenty Smṛti texts, several of which are no longer extant.
In some classifications, a third category is added to the structure of Sanatana Dharma—it is called Itihasa (history). The two epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, are part of the Itihasa category. There is also the category of Tantra, which means the science of doing practical things. Much of ancient Tantra is no longer extant. The ancient sages felt that people in ancient times were not ready for such knowledge and they stopped teaching the Tantric arts.
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
The Rigveda does not oppose Dionysian proclivities—it contains several hymns, which import the Gods for the good things in life: health, wealth, long life, prestige, and progeny. Their Dionysian concerns are most pronounced in the descriptions of the making and drinking of “Soma juice,” the elixir of the gods. The Soma plant is viewed as a God that has descended from heaven and made the mountain called Mount Mujavant his earthly abode.
The hymns in Rigveda’s Mandala 9.74 and 10.94 provide an insight into the ritual of extraction and distillation of Soma juice from Soma plants. The Gods crave for Soma juice because it carries assurances of immortality (Mandala 8.48 and 9.113). When the Gods drink Soma juice, they become boastful. Here’s an excerpt from Mandala 10.119, which describes the gargantuan claims made by a God (probably Indra or Agni) after drinking Soma juice (translation by Ralph T.H. Griffith, 1896):
1. This, even this was my resolve, to win a cow, to win a steed: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?
2. Like violent gusts of wind the draughts that I have drunk have lifted me: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?
3. The draughts I drank have borne me up, as fleet-foot horses draw a car: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?
4. The hymn hath reached me, like a cow who lows to meet her darling calf: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?
5. As a wright bends a chariot-seat so round my heart I bend the hymn: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?
6. Not as a mote within the eye count the Five Tribes of men with me: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?
7. The heavens and earth themselves have not grown equal to one half of me: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?
8. I in my grandeur have surpassed the heavens and all this spacious earth: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?
9. Aha! this spacious earth will I deposit either here or there: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?
10. In one short moment will I smite the earth in fury here or there: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?
11. One of my flanks is in the sky; I let the other trail below: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?
12. 1, greatest of the Mighty Ones, am lifted to the firmament: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?
13. I seek the worshipper's abode; oblation-bearer to the Gods: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?
Monday, October 5, 2020
Three thousand years ago, the composers of the Rigveda imagined the morning sun as a child born from the union of sky, the father, and earth, the mother. The hundred-sixtieth hymn in the Rigveda’s first mandala depicts the sky and earth as the two divinities who are the sun’s parents. The sky is the abode of eternity, where the sun resides, while the earth is the abode of mortality, where humans and other creatures reside. This hymn is credited to Rishi Dīrghatamas, who belongs to the Angirasa clan, one of the oldest Rishi families in the Vedic tradition, and known for his enigmatic and paradoxical apothegms in the Rigveda. Here’s Ralph T.H. Griffith’s 1896 translation of the mandala 1.160:
1. These, Heaven and Earth, bestow prosperity on all, sustainers of the region, Holy Ones and wise,
Two Bowls of noble kind: between these Goddesses the God, the fulgent Sun, travels by fixed decree [laws of nature].
2. Widely-capacious Pair, mighty, that never fail, the Father and the Mother keep all creatures safe:
The two world-halves, the spirited, the beautiful, because the Father hath clothed them in goodly forms.
3. Son of these Parents, he the Priest with power to cleanse, Sage, sanctifies the worlds with his surpassing power.
Thereto for his bright milk he milked through all the days the party-colored Cow and the prolific Bull.
4. Among the skillful Gods most skilled is he, who made the two world-halves which bring prosperity to all;
Who with great wisdom measured both the regions out, and stablished them with pillars that shall ne'er decay.
5. Extolled in song, O Heaven and Earth, bestow on us, ye mighty Pair, great glory and high lordly sway,
Whereby we may extend ourselves ever over the folk; and send us strength that shall deserve the praise of men.