The Indo-Europeans (‘light-skinned’ Aryans, 1750-1200 BCE)
Called Aryans– spoke language from which we derive Sanskrit, one of several Indo-European languages (Latin, German, English, Russian, Persian, and Greek)
Sanskrit “jnana” – cognate to English “knowledge”
‘ajnana’ to English ‘ignoranace”
Others ‘div’ to English ‘divine’; or Agni, the Fire God to English ‘ignite’
Migrated probably from Central Asia (Persia/Russian Steppes)
Introduced the horse to the Indian sub-continent
For whatever reason, settled down in Indus Valley and other places: Iran is a cognate of the Persian Aryan. (Ireland too)
Until recently, many historians portrayed them as conquering warriors, superior to the natives they subdued (no doubt a connotation Hitler used to indicate Germans as the ‘pure’ Aryan race, but his idea was hogwash). Aryans did see themselves as superior to those they conquered, especially in India, calling themselves ‘noble ones’.
Main Legacy: they composed many poems and manuals on rituals and philosophy (upshot: all was committed to memory), which would be, in part, compiled as the Vedas
The Vedic Religion (Summary)
Henotheistic (not just polytheistic) personification of nature:
The Vedic Hymns (samhitas) to the gods and goddesses (devas)
Indra (Storm God) Major god of Rig Veda, who slays demon (most important Vritra) all the while preserving life of humans and gods
Agni (The Fire God) a messenger between humans and the gods because offering placed in fire to be sent to the world of the gods.
Varuna (The ‘Dome’ Sky God of Truth) god
Soma (deified intoxicating plant sometimes identified with moon) The drink of Indra. Made and drank during many sacrifices.
Personification of abstract principles of order and justice Ritaor rta (Protector of Truth/Order)
Mitra (Promise Keeping God of Contracts)
Main form of worship (yajna, fire sacrifice): both in the household and temple
Often performed also to persuade gods (devas), who represent good and depicted as the “shining ones”, to triumph over all that is evil for human beings (asuras)
Build (usually 3) fires and an altar on which to offer food (vegetables, butter or Ghee, milk, grain, animals)
The food is cooked and smoke rises, offering sweet smells to please the god
Proper ritual and recitation of hymns offered to the gods by expert, or priests (Brahmins) on behalf of devotees and also to maintain the universe as the first sacrifice created the universe (Agni for protection; Indrato crush enemies, etc)
Ritual tied to prevalence of cosmic and earthly order (rita), which was overseen and upheld by Varuna. Just as the worlds were created by a fire sacrifice so too do the worlds need a fire sacrifice to sustain it.
Read Hymn to the Supreme Person, Rg Veda
This yajna was the offering of all. The Supreme Person (Purusha) self-immolated in the fire of his own creation to create all the worlds.
The cosmic person has a thousand heads/a thousand eyes and feet/It covers the earth on all sides/and extends ten finger-lengths beyond.
The cosmic person (purusha) is everything all that has been and will be…
13) From his mind came the moon/from his eye, the sun/Indra and
Agni from his mouth/the wind came from his breath
14) From his navel came space/from his head, the sky/from his feet,
earth/from his ears, the 4 directions/ thus the worlds were created.
Emergence of the Four Classes (varnas, lit. colors)
Think light-skinned (Aryans) vs dark-skinned (Dravidians)
Loose form of it emerged out of initial cosmic sacrifice of Purusa (v12) From his mouth came the priestly class/ from his arms, the rulers/ the producers came from his legs/ from his feet came the servant class
Indo-Europeans saw themselves as socially superior and considered the indigenous people they conquered as “socially inferior.”
(more about this later)
The Vedas (meaning ‘knowledge’) Dates: 1500 – 600 B.C.E.
Sanskrit root vid of Vedas is related to English ‘wit’ (wisdom)
Ritual texts meant to be recited at temples and home liturgies (fire sacrifices)
The Brahmins were the custodians of the Vedas, (revealed to rishis)
Words have fixed order that is “revealed” by “seeing” them within structure of the universe
4 Vedic collections, each divided into 4 sections
RgVeda (1028 hymns to gods; spoken aloud at fire sacrifice)
Together these are called sruti ‘That which is heard’ (revealed texts) as opposed to smriti ‘that which has been remembered’ (written after & around 500BCE)
Sama Veda (songs or chants performed by music special at sacrifice)
Yajur Veda (ritual manual on how to perform fire sacrifice)
AtharvaVeda (considered non-Aryan, not related to fire sacrifice but to rituals of chants alleviating illnesses and assuring good fortune)
The 4 sections of Vedas
Samhitas (hymnic compositions)
Brahmanas (ritual commentaries and treatises, appeared c. 800 BCE)
Aranyakas meaning ‘compositions of the forest’ (philosophical and last part of Brahmanas that require special guidance from guru because of its focus on ascetic living in the forest)
Upanishads (philosophical works, 800-300BCE)
Derived from upa (near), ni (down) and s(h)ad (to sit) ‘sitting down near’
Each Veda has one or more corresponding Upanishads (for example)
Rg Veda to Aitreya Upanishad
Sama Veda to Chandogya Upanishad (most famous)
Yajur Veda to Taittiriya Upanishad
Atharva Veda to Mandukya Upanishad (later)
Smrititexts: Consists in the ancient stories (puranas), the codes of law and ethics (dharmasastras or Laws of Manu, 100 CE) and the epics (Itihasas), which includes the Mahabharata and Ramayana.
Our book combines epics with the stories (Itihasa-purana)
The Upanishads (composed between c. 700-600 B.C.E.)
Sacrificial worldview of early Vedic period gave way to philosophical inquiry and discussion in the Aranyakas and Upanishads.
Composed during the wake of Buddhism (Gautama Buddha) & Jainism (Mahavira)
Didn’t completely reject the early hymns and sacrificial rituals but reformulated them.
Rituals were now allegorical and the symbolic structures analyzed
A kind of internalized sacrifice
Usually conversations between teacher/student, husband/wife, fellow philosophers
“May he protect us; may he be pleased with us. May he work with vigour; may our study illumine us both. May there be no discord between us. Om. Let there be peace, peace, peace (Taittiriya Upanishad II.1.1)
Involves Ethics: after years of learning Vedas, a departing student get advice from guru
“Speak the truth. Practice virtue. Do not neglect to study every day. Do not neglect truth, virtue, studying or teaching…Be one to whom you mother is a god, your father is a god, your teacher is a god, a guest is like a god…Give with faith…give liberally, give with modesty…give with sympathy…This is the command…This is the secret of the Veda (TU I.11.1-6)
The teachers of the Upanishads were called Gurus
Famous gurus: Yajnavalkya and Uddalaka
First mention of karma and samsara
Karma (“action”) In the Upanisads it come to mean the moral system of rewards and punishments (cause/effect) attached to actions. (not yet combined with caste system)
Just as science views the world as a
Notion of karma implies samsara, continuing rebirths, from which liberation is possible (moksha).
Moksha is possible through transformative “higher” knowledge (awareness), which is more than book knowledge. It begins by asking and answering the question: “What is it that being known, all else becomes known?”
Ancient Greece: “Why is there something rather than nothing?
Higher/lower knowledge: lower is conceptual, while higher is beyond conception (attained enlightenment) and ritual/practical knowledge of fire sacrifice.
Atman and Brahman/ Monism or Dualism?
Add from lecture notes …don’t forget
Pantheism and monism
Pantheism – literally “all” and “god”, that all things are in some sense divine
Monism – literally “single,” or “nonduality”
Not to be confused with animism (soul in everything), generally within polytheistic traditions.
Concept of Brahman understood through the Rig-Veda (brahma = hymn, prayer, sacred knowledge) to Aranyaka Upanishad (Brahman = Soul) to Chandogya Upanishads (Soul = a mode of Brahman) to the late Mandukya Upanishad (Brahman = absolute nondualiy) and finally to the Vedanta (“end of Vedas) by Sankara (788-820 CE) – Brahman = absolute nonduality which implies the idea that the world is an illusion). There is only one Reality and that is Brahman.
Brahman = Atman - to become aware of this indescribable reality is called sat chit ananda or “being-awareness-bliss”