Category Archives: B. Vedic Religion and the Sanskrit Language

Agni (God of Fire)

Agni is said to be one of the closest connected gods with humans than any of the other deities in the Hindu tradition. The god Agni is identified with being the producer of fire and referred to as being Indra’s (god of thunder and lightning) brother (Macdonell 57). There are many different myths as to how Agni was born; some say that the deity was born three times, once from water, then air and last on Earth. A common myth is that Agni was made from the coupling of the god of the earth (Prthivi) and god of the heavens (Dyaus) and is said to be the son of Brahma. Agni was born fully-grown and was said to be ravenously hungry which led him to devour his parents (McLeish 1996). Agni is the intercessor between the deities and humankind, and is of the few gods in the Hindu tradition that has retained its power to this day (Chandra 9-10).

Agni is identified as one of the first deities to take human form. He is said to be a red man who has seven tongues with which he licks up the butter offered in sacrifices. He is also portrayed as having seven arms, three legs and two heads. Agni is almost always portrayed with a ram as his vehicle, and is occasionally shown riding in a chariot with fiery horses or goats (Jansen 64). His eyes and hair are both black, and on his head he often bears the horns of a bull. He is usually seen wearing a yellow waistcloth. He appears to be young man, which is due to his rebirth everyday through the friction of two sticks. Agni is immortal and lives amidst humankind, yet in heaven he is portrayed as the sun. Agni’s image of fire is a symbol of destruction, which explains why his attributes include an axe, torch and flaming spear, as well as prayer beads (Jansen 64).

Soma (the moon) is a deity who is regarded as a link between the human and the divine, just like Agni. Soma is identified with the moon, which is said to “contain the ambrosia of immortality” (Flood 46). Agni and Soma are said to be the most significant gods (devas) placed at the level of the Earth. They are connected in the sense that the moon is identified with Soma, as Soma is with Agni, and Agni is with the Sun. The public (srauta) rites are primarily focused on Agni and Soma in which vegetarian and non-vegetarian items are offered into multiple sacrificial fires. The (srauta) rites require the burning of three sacred fires. Items such as milk, animals, vegetable cakes and stalks of the soma plant are all offered into the fires (Flood 41-54).

Agni is addressed in approximately one third of the hymns in the Rg Veda. He was central in sacrificial ritual because it was the fire that transformed the offerings into something accessible to the gods (Fowler 98). Agni was a very important deity, and this was evident through the high degree to which he was worshipped. He is described as a divine sage and a swift messenger between the gods and humans, which is why he is still widely worshipped to this day. His worshippers are said to thrive and have a prolonged life (Wilkins 24). He announces hymns to immortals and brings them down from heaven above to sacrifice them. Without Agni, the deities do not experience any satisfaction. Agni is worshipped in many forms such as, a wise director, a protector of all ceremonies and a successful accomplisher (Wilkins 23).

Agni is portrayed in the Mahabharata as being drained of all his energy. Through devouring the Khandava forest he regains his strength. In that story, Indra attempts to stop Agni, but with the assistance of Krsna, Agni ends up consuming the forest (Wilkins 27). Agni is known by multiple names such as, Vahni which means “burnt sacrifice”, Jivalana as “He who burns”, and Dhumketu which is “He whose sign is smoke” (Wilkins 27). Agni is said to have formed heaven and earth and is spoken of as the son of both worlds. He is said to have created the sun and decorated heaven with stars.

The importance of fire in Hindu rituals remains today, as does the deity Agni. Among the directional guardians, Agni was in control of the southeast, which is where dawn breaks. Agni was born fully mature and was able to consume everything, pure and unpure.  (Andrews 8). Fire was widely worshipped because it represented heat and light and was believed to have come from the sun. Fire was a very important part in Hindu rituals because it allowed people a way to give sacrificial offerings to the gods. This is why Agni is still important in today’s society. Agni is known to forgive sin, and offers boons that usually have to do with offspring, prosperity and domestic welfare. Indra’s boons give power, glory and victory (Macdonell 98). All gods had equal power at one time, but after acquiring immortality through sacrifices, Agni, Indra and Surya became grander than the other gods (Jansen 63). The god of war, Skanda, later became the successor of Agni and Indra.

In the epic Ramayama, the king of demons abducted Rama’s wife Sita. After Rama wins a battle with the army of demons, he is able to take his wife home, but doubts her loyalty. He accuses her of being unfaithful while she was away from him and in response, Sita throws herself into a fire to prove herself loyal. Agni, god of fire, did not harm Sita in any way and placed her into Rama’s arms without injury. This led Rama to believe his wife’s words (Jansen 78). This reveals aspects of how Agni has the power to control outcomes such as Sita being harmed or not.

Agni takes part in blessings at occasions such as marriages and deaths, and he commands riches in earth and heaven. He is prayed to by individuals and worshipped as a forgiver of sins, and it is said that he surrounds other gods as the “circumference of a wheel does the spokes” (Wilkins 24). The god Siva has three eyes: the sun, the moon and fire. His third eye is the eye of inner vision and is often invoked at the time of meditation. The third eye also burns with desire (Kama) (Badlani 95).

Agni is also said to be the son of Angrias and grandson of Sandila who is one of the great sages. Agni is the eldest son of Brahma and his wife is Swaha. Through this marriage, he has three sons, Pavak, Suchi and Pavman, and forty-six grandsons for a total of forty-nine descendants (Chandra 10). Agni’s attendant, Matarisvan, is a minor messenger god (Chandra 220). Agni symbolizes a spark in nature through the image of two pieces of wood being rubbed together. This produces the fire in that Agni dwells. (Andrews 8).

Another story in the Mahabharata is one in which Bhrigu curses Agni. Bhrigu married a woman named Puloma who was promised to a demon. Through seeing her exquisiteness, Bhrigu decides to take her away without the knowledge of anyone. Agni assists the demon in finding the bride’s hideaway and claims her back. Bhrigu curses Agni because he helped the demon and says, “from this day you shall eat everything.” Agni did not understand why he was being cursed because he had been honest and accomplished his task of assisting the demon in finding the bride’s hideout. He refers to himself as the mouth of the gods and ancestors. Bhrigu alters his curse by changing it so that Agni purifies all that is passed through him (Wilkins 366). Agni is a Kravyad (flesh-eater), and is represented under an unsightly form. He is called upon to devour meaning he places his enemies into his mouth and engulfs them. He sharpens his tusks and eats his enemies (Wilkins 27).

Agni is the lord of knowledge and fire; he is the chief deity and he is the power of inner and outer illumination. He is the mouth of the gods and the wealth giver (Danielou 64). He is said to have two shapes: one being fearful and the other benevolent. He is called Rudra. Agni is known as a devourer and a god of many powers, one being fire. He is of great importance and is highly worshipped. He is one of the highest gods in the Hindu tradition.

 

References and Related Readings

Andrews, Tamra (2000) Dictionary of Nature Myths: Legends of the Earth, Sea and Sky. Santa Barbara: Oxford University Press.

Badlani, Hiro G (2008) Hinduism: Path of the Ancient Wisdom. New York: iUniverse Inc.

Chandra, Suresh (1998) Encyclopaedia of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. New Delhi: Sarup and Sons.

Danielou, Alain (1991) The Myths and Gods of India: The Classic Work on Hindu Polytheism from the Princeton Bollingen Series. Rochester: Inner Traditions International.

Findly, Ellison B. 2005. “Agni.” In Encyclopedia of Religion 2nd Edition, edited by Lindsay Jones, 178-179. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. Accessed February 3, 2016.

Flood, Gavin D (1996) An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fowler, Jeaneane D (1997) Hinduism: Beliefs and Practices. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press.

Jansen, Eva Rudy (1993) Gods, Manifestations and Their Meaning. Havelte: Binkey Kok Publications.

Leeming, David (2005) The Oxford Companion to World Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lochtefeld, James G (2002) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A-M. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group

Macdonell, Arthur Anthony (1898) Vedic Mythology. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

McLeish, Kenneth (1996) “Agni.” Bloomsbury Dictionary of Myth. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc: Accessed February 4, 2016.

Wilkins, W.J (2003) Hindu Gods and Goddesses. London: W. Thacker and Co.

 

Related Research Topics

 Deva

Fire

Siva

Indra

Srauta

Soma

Mahabharata

Sages

Rama

Surya

Deities

Ramayama 

 

Websites Related to the Topic

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agni

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/hmvp/hmvp09.htm

https://www.thebuddhagarden.com/agni.html

http://www.srichinmoylibrary.com/dcg-6

http://www.onlinepuja.org/gods/god_agni.php

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Agni#References

http://www.wisegeek.com/who-is-agni.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_deities

http://hinduism.about.com/od/godsgoddesses/a/Agni-The-Fire-God-Of-The-Hindus.htm

 

Article written by: Kimberly Sitter (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Vedangas

The word Vedangas in Sanskrit means “limbs of the Vedas” which is appropriate because it is a collection/genre that is an appendage of the Vedas. The origin of the Vedangas can date back to as early as 1200 BC but some speculate on an even earlier date of 1800 BC. The jyotisa collection for instance refers to the beginning of the Vedangas during a winter solstice, which may have occurred closer to 1800 instead or 1200 BC (Achar 173).  The Vedangas consist of six appendages: siksa, chandas, vyakarna, nirukta, jyotisa [oldest in Hindu history], and kalpa. The first four of the appendages are considered exegetical, meaning they are used as aids to help understand the Vedas. The last two appendages are regarded as ritual because they deal with rites and laws as well as the proper time and place to perform the appendages (Bhat 10).

Siksa

The first appendage of the Vedangas is siksa, which is the category related to correct pronunciation and accentuation. Siksa is proper pronunciation and in order to have proper phonics, there have to be rules. A major rule under this category pertains to the sound of syllables because being off pitch by even a slight degree would alter the result and therefore the effect of the word trying to be pronounced (Tiwari 1).  There are four main pratisakhya; which deals with the phoenics of the Sanskrit language. Pratisakhya also falls under siksa: Rgveda-Pratisakhya of Rgveda, Taittiriya-Pratisakhya of Krishna Yajurveda, Vajasaneyi Pratisakhya of Shukla Yajurveda, and Atharvaveda-Pratisakhya of Atharvaveda. These pratisakhya are responsible for determining the relationship between Samhita; the most ancient layer of text in the Vedas, consisting of mantras, hymns, prayers, litanies and benedictions, to Padapathas; which are recitation styles designed to complete and memorize a text,  and also vice versa. They are also important for the interpretation of the Vedas (Bhat 11).

Kalpa

The second appendage of the Vedangas is kalpa, which is the category related to Vedic rituals. If the Vedas were imagined as a person (Purusa), this section would be known as the arms. Rules referring to sacrifice, excluding things that are not directly connected to the ceremony are found in the Kalpa-sutras [contents directly connected to the Brahmanas and Aranyakas] (Tiwari 1). The Kalpa-sutras is broken down into three categories (1) the Srauta-sutras, (2) the Grhya-sutras, and (3) the Dharma-sutras. The Srauta-sutras consist of great sacrificial rites, where the most priests were employed. The Grhya-sutras consist of household rituals that do not need a priest’s assistance. The Dharma-sutras consist of customary law prevalent at the time (Bhat 13).

Vyakarana

The third appendage of the Vedangas is vyakaraṇa, which is the category related to Vedic grammar. Parts of this section have been lost over time because of pratisakhya, which also connects to grammar but has surpassed Vyakarana (Bhat 11). However, one major figure when Vyakarana is being discussed is Panini, primarily because he was one of the most, if not the most significant grammarian alive. His book the Astadhyayi is possibly the reason Panini surpassed all other grammarians of the period. Vyakarana is called the mouth of the Veda Purusha and is also seen as crucial for understanding the Vedas (Tiwari 1).

Nirukta

The fourth appendage of the Vedangas is nirukta, which is the category related to why certain words are used. This section is known as the ears of the Veda Purusa. Under this category, there has only been one text that is based on “etymology” that has survived known as the Nirukta of Yaska. In this text, it explains words found in the Vedas are explained and then assigned to one of three sections based on the type of word. The first category are words that were collected under main categories, the second category are more difficult words found, and the third category are words based on the three regions (earth, sky, and heaven) and the classification of deities (Tiwari 1). These three categories are known as the Naighantuka-kanda, Naigama-kanda, and the Daivata-kanda. The Vedangas put lots of emphasis towards this category for increase growth in the grammatical science in India (Bhat 12).

Chandas

The fifth appendage of the Vedangas is chandas, which is the category related to meter, which covers the sense of the Mantra. Even though there has been no exclusive Vedic meter that survived there is the Chandas-shastras (book by Pingala). This section is often referred to as the feet of the Veda Purusha. This is because the Vedas are known as the body, which relies on the chandas [feet]. The use of this appendage is so reading and reciting is done properly (Tiwari 1). The chandas discuss the number of syllables in texts and poems which is linked to meter. This category is connected to the Brahmanas, which created the syllable and verse, however research could not find a meter in it. There are also two different types of meters based on the Rg Veda and the Yajur Veda based on the recessions (Bhat 12).

Jyotisa

The sixth appendage of the Vedangas is jyotisa, which is the class related to the knowledge of astronomy. This section is the oldest text about astronomy in Hindu literature and dates back to around 1300 BC (Abhyankar 61). Since this category was supposedly created during a winter solstice when the sun and the moon were aligned, the date of 1820 BC has been proposed and is said that astronomy started shortly after (Achar 177). Jyotisa is known as the eye of the Veda Purusha. Jyotisa is not the teaching of astronomy, but the use of astronomy to fix the appropriate time [days and hours] for sacrifices (Tiwari 1). The most substantial sources of knowledge on astronomy can be found early in the Brahmanas. Jyotisa is especially useful because it can give positions of the moon and sun for solstices as well as other useful information (Bhat 13).

Significance

Since the Vedangas are appendages of the Vedas they can be seen as equally important in the studying and learning of the Hindu culture. Siksa provides the phonics of the Sanskrit, and without it speaking and understanding would be near impossible. Kalpa provides the proper steps towards performing rituals and when to do them. Vyakaraṇa is similar to the phonics but provides proper grammar for words that are used in the Vedas. Nirukta contains etymology (ie. meaning of usage). Chandas provide the meters in Vedic hymns to help proper reading. Jyotisa is the knowledge of astronomy to help with dating events in Hindu history and other useful information. The origins of the Vedangas can also be traced to the Brahmanas, which are a collection of ancient commentaries based on the Vedas. This connection can be made because the Brahmanas also have discussions on grammar, meter, etymology etc. (Bhat 10).

 

References and Further Readings

Abhyankar, K. D (1998) “Antiquity of the Vedic Calendar.” Bulletin of the Astronomical Society of India, Vol. 26, 61-66.

Achar, B.N (2000) “A Case For Revising The Date or Vedanga Jyotiṣa” Indian Journal of History of Science, Vol. 35, No. 1: 173-183.

Arnold, E.V (1905) Vedic metre in its historical development: Cambridge, UP.

Bhat, M. S (1987) Vedic Tantrism: A Study of R̥gvidhāna of Śaunaka with Text and Translation: Critically Edited in the Original Sanskrit with an Introductory Study and Translated with Critical and Exegetical Notes. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Brockington, J. L (1989) “Review of Literature in the Vedic Age.” The Brāhmaṇas, Āraṇyakas, Upaniṣads and Vedāṅga Sūtras. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 52(3), 569–570.

Tiwari, Sashi (2014) “The Vedangas – Vedic Heritage.” The Vedangas – Vedic Heritage. Delhi: Delhi University.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Pratisakhya

Kalpa-sutras

Chandas-shastras

Pingala

Nirukta of Yaksa

Ashtadhyayi

Brahmanas

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/concepts/vedangas.asp

http://www.hindupedia.com/en/Vedanga

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vedanga

http://www.thailandyoga.net/vedanga-the-limbs-of-the-vedas

 

Article written by: Ryan Loman (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Spiritual Healing Practices in Hinduism

In western culture, different forms of possession, mental illness, and spiritual disorders are often categorized as pathological and abnormal; these pathologies are usually treated with psychoanalysis, psychiatry and mass amounts of medication with less frequent attention paid to spiritual treatment. In the east, and more specifically, in the Hindu tradition, spiritual abnormalities and anomalies are oftentimes treated using various religious practices and spiritual healing techniques that date back to the time of the Vedas (Frawley 1997).

Many forms of spiritual healing exist in the Hindu tradition, from the time of the Vedas to Hinduism in its contemporary form, and this article will only scratch the surface. Historically, the Ayurveda—which is an ancient, five thousand year old Vedic system of medicine known as the “Science of Life” (Frawley 1997; Jones and Ryan 2007)—placed emphasis on the pure self (Atman) and true consciousness and its relation to the universe (Brahman). Essentially, the Ayurveda gave Hinduism a guide for medical and spiritual healing and enlightenment (Frawley 1997; Jones and Ryan 2007). Furthermore, exorcisms have always played a fundamental role in cleansing and ridding the soul of unwanted negative possession (Sax 2011; Crapanzano 1987), and gemstones, Soma, sacred ash, and healing amulets also serve a symbolic healing purpose with respect to protecting the soul from demonic and ghostly entities (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2009).

The Ayurveda is the oldest of traditional healing guides that Hinduism has to offer us. “Diet, herbs, water, minerals, and other treatments are [typically] used for cures” (Jones and Ryan 58) in this system of healing. Traditionally, yoga (which has presently become popularized in the west) was therapeutically used as a part of Ayurvedic practices to delve into the actualization of the true self (atman) and the nature of reality (Brahman). Spiritually speaking, the Ayurveda and the practice of yoga ultimately seek to liberate the soul (jiva) from the cycles of rebirth (samsara) and the tremendous constraining moral principle that is karma (Frawley 1997).

To understand spirituality and spiritual healing in Hinduism one must first understand the ultimate goal in Hindu philosophy, which is to free oneself from the cyclical nature of existence. This liberation is termed moksa—which is essentially the same ultimate goal in the practice of yoga, termed kaivalya. Techniques such as mantras and meditations used in yoga, which have been adopted from the Ayurveda, attempt to spiritually link the self and consciousness to the natural world that surrounds it (Frawley 1997). This broad look at the spiritual focus of Hindu philosophies to maintain the well being of the self is linked to the spiritual healing that accompanies anomalies in one’s spirit, such as spiritual possession.

Possession can be understood as an altered, unusual or extraordinary state of mind due to the controlling power of a spirit, god, goddess, or demon over an individual’s consciousness (Crapanzano 1987). Spirit possession can be distinguished into two broad categories: positive possession and negative possession (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2009; Sax 2011). Positive possession is when the individual is spiritually possessed by a deity, a god or a goddess (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2011). Negative possession, on the other hand, is when the individual is spiritually possessed by a devil, a demon or a ghost-like figure (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2011). When an individual’s spirit is possessed, the individual will display behaviours that are uncharacteristic of it; this is due to the fact that the body is possessed by some other entity—one that is no longer the normal self (Sax 2011). The possessed body may actually experience pain and various symptoms of disease and illness while under possession (Crapanzano 1987). In the Hindu tradition, spiritual healing (with regards to curing these aversive mental and physical symptoms) comes in many practices, objects and materials, including but not limited to: exorcisms, temples, healing amulets (tabiz), healing ash (vibhuti), gemstones, and Soma (Crapanzano 1987; Jones and Ryan 2007; Sax 2009; Sax 2011).

Healing, in the form of an exorcism, can be a one-on-one ritual (puja) between the patient and the exorcist, or it can be a pubic affair, involving the whole community (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2011). In William Sax’s chapter “A Himalayan Exorcism” in Studying Hinduism in Practice (Sax 2011) he outlines a specific instance of fieldwork in which he witnessed, and contributed to, a communal exorcism. Possession is an uncommon phenomenon in the west and in Europe, but in India, possession is a relatively frequent occurrence, and as such, exorcisms are often a site of public gathering (Sax 2011). Holistically, Sax describes his fieldwork as “psychologically demanding […] because the rituals were so exciting and dramatic: the drumming and singing, the ecstatic dancing of possessed people, the awesome appearance of fearsome deities, and the ghosts from the past, wailing and shrieking in a stuffy, crowded room” (Sax 154). In general, musical sounds, singing, and dancing are important ritual components in the process of exorcizing an unwanted spirit from a body (Crapanzano 1987). There are three important roles in the musical background of the Himalayan exorcism as studied by Sax: (1) the huraki, which is an unusual sounding drum that effectively invokes spiritual awakening; (2) the thakalyor, “who plays a metal platter with two wooden drumsticks” as a background beat (Sax 150); and (3) the bhamvar, who sings the final lines of each verse of the exorcism song—the bhamvar is known in English as “the bumblebee” (Sax 2011).

In the exorcism that Sax describes, multiple spirits uncontrollably possesses multiple people; these possessions are often observable via shrieks, screams, unconsciousness, odd bodily positioning and violence (Sax 2011).  This state of mind, this altered state of consciousness, can be best described as a trance; that is: “[t]he subject experiences a detachment from the structured frames of reference that support his usual interpretation and understanding of the world [around] him” (Crapanzano 8688). These altered states of consciousness are not only healable with drums, chants, songs and dancing, as is found in the practice of exorcism, but spirit possession can be cured via other spiritual methods as well.

Essentially, the goal of spiritual healing in Hindu philosophy seeks to protect the soul from demonic spiritual powers; the influence of this negative spiritual energy can be, and should be, warded off. Negative spiritual possession can be counteracted by the use of Soma, which is an intoxicating, mind-altering, hallucinogenic drink that is perceived as divine and therefore connects the spirit of the ingesting person to higher understanding and consciousness (Crapanzano 1987). Negative influences on the mind and spirit in general have been understood as celestially caused; the inauspiciousness that is associated with the universe at certain times is counteracted by the wearing of specific gemstones that repel negative spirits from interacting with the body (Sax 2009). Along the same lines as the wearing of gemstones, the protection from evil spirits is also sought in other objects such as sacred healing ash (vibhuti/bhasman/bhabhut), and healing amulets (tabiz). Vibhuti is ash derived from the cremation of humans or from the excretion of a sacred animal in the Hindu tradition—the cow (Sax 2009). The sacred ash is not only seen as protection from evil spirits but also as rejuvenation and revitalization of the material and spiritual aspects of one’s life (Sax 2009). Rituals that invoke the use of vibhuti essentially serve as a purification of the mind and the spirit. Tabiz, on the other hand are lockets in which sacred Vedic or other Hindu textual verses are held, they are usually made of copper, brass or iron, similar to the ta’wiz in the Islamic tradition (Sax 2009; Dwyer 2003). Interestingly, the sacred healing ash (vibhuti) to which I made reference above is oftentimes placed inside the amulet for the same spiritual protection purposes (Dwyer 2003). Most importantly, the amulets serve as a force that diverts evil, malevolent and harmful spiritual entities (Sax 2009). Tabiz and vibhuti are both ritual symbols that are commonly used in exorcisms (Sax 2009; Dwyer 2003). As we discussed earlier, exorcisms can take place privately, but they are just as likely to be performed publically—sometimes at a shrine (Crapanzano 1987).

There are many shrines in India that are dedicated solely to the curing of the spirit and the mind. A famous symbolic site that is renowned for spiritual healing in the Hindu tradition is the Balaji Mandir—this temple is located in Rajasthan, a north Indian state near the village of Mehandipur (Sax 2009). The shrine is dedicated to the Hindu god Hanuman, who is a mythical destroyer of demons and Pretraj, who is the “King of Ghosts” (Sax 2009; Dwyer 2003). Demonic and ghostly possession, trances and exorcisms are all commonplace at the Balaji temple—the temple is notorious for the healing of mental illness (Sax 2009). Daily, thousands of pilgrims, devotees and spiritually suffering persons visit the shrine in the hopes of having their soul cured from any negative spiritual possession (Sax 2009).

Contemporarily, exorcisms, gemstones, intoxicating substances and yoga still play important spiritual healing roles not only in India but in the west as well. Mindfulness, spiritual awareness and yoga are implicated in contemporary western conceptions of spiritual well being (Srivastava and Barmola 2013). The present psychological healing that Hindu rituals have on positive thinking and spirituality worldwide shows that spiritual healing should not be underestimated as a powerful tool in curing mental illness (Srivastava and Barmola 2013). The most vital aspect to understanding our own consciousness is to understand how the spirit can be healed and refurbished with guidance from the spiritual healing practices of the Hindu tradition.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Crapanzano, Vincent (1987) “Spirit Possession: An Overview” in Encyclopedia of Religion. Jones, Lindsay (ed.). United States: Thomas Gale. pp. 8688-8694.

Dwyer, Graham (2003) The Divine and the Demonic: Supernatural Affliction and Its Treatment in North India. London: Routledge.

Frawley, David (1997) Ayurveda and the Mind: The Healing of Consciousness. Wisconsin: Lotus Press.

Jones, Constance A. and James D. Ryan (2007) “Ayurveda” in Encyclopedia of Hinduism. J. Gordon Melton (ed.). New York: Facts on File Publishing. pp. 58.

Sax, William (2009) “Healers” in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Jacobsen, Knut, A. (ed.)  Leiden: Brill.

Sax, William (2011) “A Himalayan Exorcism” in Studying Hinduism in Practice. Hillary P. Rodrigues (ed.). New York: Routledge. pp. 146-157.

Srivastava, Kailash Chandra and K. C. Barmola (2013) “Rituals in Hinduism as related to spirituality.” Indian Journal of Positive Psychology 4.1:87-95.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Exorcism

Karma

Tabiz

Vibhuti

Gemstones

Astrology

Ayurveda

Soma

Spiritualism

Pretaraj (King of Ghosts)

Siddha

Spirituality

Possession

Inauspiciousness

Mehandipur Balaji Temple

Hanuman

Yoga

Consciousness

Spiritual Healing

Moksa

Oracles

Yama

Jagar

Huraki drum

Bhamvar

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/brill-s-encyclopedia-of-hinduism/healers-BEHCOM_9000000034?s.num=1&s.f.s2_parent=s.f.book.brill-s-encyclopedia-of-hinduism&s.q=healing

http://www.mahavidya.ca/?s=healing

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mehandipur_Balaji_Temple

http://www.vanamaliashram.org/Balaji_Menhendipur.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soma

https://www.youtube.com/user/babaramdev

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ta%27wiz

https://www.makemytrip.com/blog/thats-strange-mehandipur-balaji-temple-ghosts

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3012952/pdf/IJPsy-23-247.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanuman

 

Article written by: Tanner Layton (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Kubera: God of Wealth

Kubera holds a variety of titles within Hinduism, most notably being the god of wealth and riches. He is also regarded as the god of fertility, a tutelary household spirit, the protector of sailors and god of the dead (Coulter and Turner 283). In the Satapatha Brahmana, he is the lord of thieves and criminals (Sutherland 63), and these are but a few different titles he possesses. Despite having various titles and responsibilities, he is often associated with having a lesser role in Hindu mythology in relation to other deities (Wilkins 388). However, this does not mean that Kubera does not have a rich history and importance within the mythological realm of the Hindu tradition. One of the main reasons that Kubera is not regarded as being a prominent deity is due, in part, to the lack of images and monuments dedicated to him. When he is depicted in images, which mostly come from the Himalayan regions, Kubera has a large potbelly and he holds a mongoose that vomits jewels when he squeezes it (Buswell). Another way he is depicted is as the guardian of the north and is portrayed as a dwarfish figure with a large paunch, holding a money bag or a pomegranate. He is also sometimes depicted riding on a man (Britannica), which makes him unique in relation to other gods, who usually are mounted on animals. Kubera is a lokapala or “world guardian” (Sutherland 65), deities who are usually illustrated as being mounted on animals such as elephants, whereas Kubera is described as being a naravahana or “one whose mount is a man”(Sutherland 67). Although Kubera is regarded as a god in Hindu mythology, he is also often depicted as a demon. The classification of Kubera being a demon, therefore, cause some discrepancies in his physical appearance, with some illustrations of him depicting a more hideous, monster-type of figure. In these portrayals, Kubera is described as being a pot-bellied, three-legged, one-eyed dwarf with eight snaggle-teeth (McLeish). He is also often illustrated as having ugly, black skin, again with a potbelly and is heavily jeweled, sits cross-legged and holds a purse (Coulter and Turner 283). Despite these more unsightly physical attributes associated with the demonic side of Kubera, many depictions of him offer a gentler, appealing visual of the god, illustrating him with gold coloured skin and studded with gems (McLeish), a visual representation of his role as the lord of wealth and prosperity.

Kubera’s lineage can be a bit confusing, as different sources and literature state different familial lines. In the Artharvaveda, Kubera is said to be the son of Vaisravana. In the Mahabharata, he is son of Vaisravana and Idavida, and brother of Visravas; this is further complicated by the Puranas, which states that Kubera was born to Visravas and Ilibila (Williams 190). He also has a half brother named Ravana, who is the notable demon in the Ramayana (Williams 190). Kubera also has a wife, named Hariti (Werner 51) and a daughter named Minaksi, who becomes one of Siva’s wives (Werner 73). He also had a son, named Nalakubera (Williams 219). In addition to his family, Kubera had a few close companions. Kubera is usually accompanied by two friends named Yaksa and Yaksi (Coulter and Turner 283). He is also associated socially with Charvi, Danava and Rambha (Coulter and Turner 282). According to most accounts, Kubera is said to reside in a palace in the country of Sri Lanka. However, Kubera does not live there permanently, as he is driven out of his palace and the country by his power hungry half-brother Ravana (Britannica). The relationship that Kubera and Ravana have with one another does not prove to be very hospitable and cooperative, as they are often depicted in feuds with each other. This hostile relationship ultimately causes Kubera to relocate to a residence on Mount Kailasa, which is also home to other deities, such as Siva (Britannica).

Kubera is most notably known as being the lord of riches and wealth, which includes the resources and elements that are contained within the earth (Williams 190-191). As the ruling god of wealth and riches, Kubera is responsible for possessing and distributing the wealth, as well as guarding the earth’s treasures (Kinsley 226). He is granted the power to move the earth’s riches from one place to another, and he often brought gems and precious metals near the surface during the rule of righteous kings and hid them during times of wickedness (Williams 190-191).  Kubera exercises this power over the elements when he sides with Rama in the war between Rama and Ravana, Kubera’s half-brother. Kubera decides to align himself with Rama, rather than be loyal to his brother, because Ravana dethrones and exiles Kubera from his palace in Sri Lanka (McLeish). Ravana does this in order to try and win himself a queen and kidnaps Rama’s wife, Sita, causing there to be a war between the two men (McLeish). Rama wages war on Ravana for the actions taken against Sita, and by the end of the feud, Rama is victorious (McLeish). Kubera, who remained loyal to Rama throughout the feud, is granted the responsibility of being the shepherd of all the precious stones in the world, as a reward for his assistance in the war against Ravana (McLeish). Kubera was, therefore, allowed to dictate over these stones and control their movements (McLeish), which meant he could determine who had access to them.

Among other roles and responsibilities that Kubera was attributed to was being the leader of the yaksas, creatures who dwell in the woods and forests and promote the growth of plants (Kinsley 226). It is understandable that Kubera would be well acquainted with the yaksas as they both have roles associated with prosperity, with the yaksas encouraging the growth of plans and Kubera being a symbol of richness. The yaksas are depicted as being sharp and cunning, with a benevolent earthly temperament, which Kubera is depicted as embodying (Sutherland 64). Kubera exudes this temperament most notably through his physical appearance, which includes a potbelly, a common Asian motif for good luck and more importantly, abundance (Sutherland 64). However, the yaksas also articulate a notion of ethical ambivalence, suggesting that they also possess a more corrupt, evil side (Sutherland 63). This can be associated with Kubera’s more unethical approaches that cause him to not only be classified as a god, but as a demon as well.

Within Hindu mythology, Kubera is depicted as being a rather unforgiving god. In one particular myth in the Padma Purana, Kubera is portrayed as being a devotionalist, who had an abundantly beautiful garden that contained flowers that are utilized in daily temple worship (Williams 153). Kubera had a hired gardener named Hemamali, who tended to the flowers everyday. One day, Hemamali took a trip to Manasasaras, the lake of the gods, and forgot that it was his duty to get the flowers to Kubera for worship. Kubera waited all day at the temple for Hemamali, but he did not show up, which caused Kubera to become very angry. Hemamali was summoned to Kubera’s palace, where he was punished for his absence by being cursed as a leper. To make things even worse, Hemamali was expelled from Kubera’s heaven, Alakapuri (Williams 153). This story illustrates some of Kubera’s less desirable personality traits, as he can be viewed as being an unforgiving and strict ruler. This can further demonstrate how he was often categorized as being a demon throughout different stories in Hindu mythology, as he could be a menacing and merciless god. However, Kubera has a benevolent and softer side to him as well that is revealed through his more noble actions. Through his protective guardianship and distribution of the earth’s secret resources, he is seen as a paternal, manipulatable figure (Sutherland 65). He is also regarded with holding the title of lokapalas, meaning he is a world guardian, as well as being a dikpalas, a guardian of the directions (Sutherland 65).

It is quite apparent that the Hindu god of wealth possesses many different traits and abilities. Kubera can be described as being a noble god, who possesses and distributes wealth and riches, protecting it from the less desirable, corrupt peoples of the world. However, he is regarded as having a more temperamental side showcasing a strict and menacing personality, which sometimes causes him to be depicted as a demon. Because of these dichotomies, it is difficult to fully comprehend what Kubera looked like physically, as he is depicted in many different forms. It is also unclear as to what his familial lineage looks like completely. Despite these discrepancies, it is clear that Kubera was an important god in Hindu mythology.

 

References

Buswell, Robert E. Jr., and Donald S. Jr. Lopez (eds.) (2013) “Kubera”. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Coulter, Charles Russell, and Patricia Turner (2000) Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Jefferson: McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers.

Kinsley, David (1998) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

McLeish, Kenneth (1996) “Kubera”. In Myth: Myths and Legends of the World Explored. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Sutherland, Gail Hinich (1991) The Disguises of the Demon: The Development of the Yaksa in Hinduism and Buddhism. New York: State University of New York Press.

Wilkins, W.J. (2009) Hindu Mythology. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.

Williams, George M. (2008) Handbook of Hindu Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press.

____(2016) “Kubera”. Encyclopaedia Britannica: Britannica Academic. Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc.

Werner, Karel (2005) Popular Dictionary of Hinduism. Taylor and Francis E-Library.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Yaksas

Lokapalas

Ravana

Rama

Padma Purana

Mount Kailasa

Satapatha Brahmana

Artharvaveda

Mahabharata

Puranas

Dikpalas

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kubera

http://www.drikpanchang.com/hindu-gods/kubera/lord-kubera.html

http://www.srilakshmikuberatemple.org/history.html

http://hinduism.about.com/od/godsgoddesses/fl/Kuber-The-Lord -of-Riches.htm

http://www.pantheon.org/articles/k/kubera.html

http://www.india-forums.com/forum_posts.asp?TID=3420754

http://www.english-for-students.com/Feast-of-Kubera.html

 

Article written by: Kara Johnston (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content

 

Nirguna and Saguna Brahman

The concept of Absolute Reality, or Brahman, is a central concept in Hinduism. The idea of Brahman is that once an individual understands Brahman, they will be considered a Self-realized being, or “liberated while alive” (Rodrigues 96). Most Hindu’s spend their lives trying to attain this liberation. There are two qualities or gunas of Brahman which are typically discussed by Hindu philosophers: Nirguna, meaning without qualities, and Saguna, meaning with qualities. Nirguna and Saguna “are used to describe the brahman or the ultimate reality, referring to its transcendent as well as immanent character, and as such, involve neither negation nor exclusion of each other” (“Nirguna and Saguna” Brill Online); however, there are different interpretations on whether Brahman is intrinsically Nirguna or Saguna. Two key individuals who strive to explain these notions are the Hindu philosophers Sankara, and Ramanuja.

In Hinduism, the concept of Brahman and Atman (Self) go hand in hand. Brahman “seems to be to stand for some ultimate wholeness, which can integrate all existence” (“Brahman” Brill Online); however, there are two different ways to view Brahman. One way to describe Brahman would be that it is the source of all things, and that all things will eventually go back to this source. Another way to describe Brahman is as “a principle of experience, as that which is the essence of the seeker’s being, that onto which the self of the seeker can be mapped” (“Brahman” Brill Online). The Upanisads are texts which somewhat ambiguously describe Brahman; Brahman is sometimes the cause, sometimes the creator and there are both personal and impersonal explanations of Brahman. As a result, it is important to understand all concepts of Brahman to fully grasp its true nature.

Another important concept of Brahman is Atman (the individual self) and the relationship between the two. Some individuals consider Brahman and Atman to be one and the same, whereas others “regard it as distinct from the self” (“Brahman and God” BBC Religions). The Upanisad texts further describe Brahman as a kind of creator as well as supporter of all things in the universe (“Brahman” Brill Online). Once an individual understands the connection between Brahman and the Self (Atman), the individual then experiences moksa. Moksa is the “liberation from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth” (Rodrigues 555). Haridas Chaudhuri describes the realization of the true nature of Brahman as “infinite being-consciousness-joy” (Chaudhuri 48). There are no words to accurately describe Brahman, but the sacred utterance Aum is said to be both a symbol of Brahman, and a manifestation of Brahman in sound (Rodrigues 181). Although there are hundreds of gods that individuals worship in Hinduism, Brahman encompasses everything.

One figure that is pivotal in exploring the notion of Brahman, and its qualities or lack thereof, is Sankara. Born in Kerala around the 8th century, Sankara was a leader of one of four mathas groups, the Sankaracaryas. Sankara is considered one of the most important Hindu philosophers, known especially for his interpretations of the Upanisads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahma Sutra. He created the Advaita Vedanta (radical non-dualism) philosophy, which claims, like other aspects of Hinduism, that the only thing in existence is Brahman. The difference however, is that the concept of Brahman in Advaita Vedanta is that Brahman is not made up of parts, therefore Atman is Brahman, and Brahman is Atman: not two different attributes like other schools of thought maintain. Atman couldn’t be a quality/attribute of Brahman, because Brahman is not made up of separate parts. This notion suggests that Brahman is Nirguna, “beyond, or without attributes” (Rodrigues 507). A part of Sankara’s philosophy describes Nirguna Brahman as being an “unqualified reality, [and] is the origin of the world of experience” (Carr 425), and can also be described as silence; this is a state of Brahman in which the individual is at peace, and still. There is not anything that needs to be changed. The difficulty with assigning Brahman as Nirguna is that even trying to describe Brahman is saying that Brahman has qualities that can be described, and therefore one is describing a Saguna Brahman. The qualities, or gunas, that appear to make up Brahman are attributed to maya, the creative side of Brahman. Maya is “the creative power through which Brahman, like a great magician, conjures up the world of seeming multiplicity and separate selves” (Rodrigues 374). An illustration that Sankara uses to explain this philosophy is the analogy of a rope and a snake. Walking along, one might think that they see a snake in their path. By seeing this snake, many emotions can overcome the individual, but “once the illusion is penetrated, the illusory snake vanishes, revealing the substrate upon which it was superimposed” (Rodrigues 374); therefore, maya is superimposed on Brahman. Since Brahman is everything, maya deludes everything one sees until moksa, or liberation, is attained. At this point, the individual becomes one with Brahman, and the individual is not fooled by maya any longer. Until this occurs, “the world…even including Isvara (the Lord), is not ultimately true or real, but that ultimate reality belongs only to the infinite, eternal, unchanging, pure bliss consciousness that is Brahman…all that we see with our senses, even our private thoughts, Advaita claims, are not ultimately real” (Betty 216).

The second aspect of Brahman is the concept of Saguna Brahman. Although it is an equal part of understanding Brahman, it is drastically different from Nirguna Brahman. Saguna Brahman is “Ultimate Reality assigned with attributes” (Rodrigues 508). Chaudhuri describes Saguna Brahman as “the Supreme Spirit conceived as the universal principle endowed with such cosmic functions as creation, maintenance, and dissolution” (47). As stated above, Chaudhuri describes Brahman as being a concept of creative joy, and in that case, Saguna Brahman would be the “supreme artist of the world” (50). Sankara takes his views on how maya is superimposed onto Brahman, and says that since maya is superimposed onto everything, the things one sees through maya have qualities, and therefore those qualities mean that Brahman is Saguna. Sankara also explains that the understanding of the world that one sees through maya is called Isvara (The Lord). The three qualities of Saguna Brahman that are most prevalent are sat, cit, and ananda. Sat is the being or existence of Brahman, cit is the consciousness Brahman, and ananda is bliss. These qualities of Brahman are viewed through maya’s illusions and once these qualities are stripped away, Sankara’s theory is that one is left with the pure essence of Brahman, which is Nirguna, or without attributes. Anantanand Rambachan explains this complex relationship by simply stating that “Isvara is related to the world and defined through that relationship, whereas nirguna brahman is brahman-in-itself and beyond all definitions” (Rambachan 14).

Another important Hindu philosopher is Ramanuja. Ramanuja was born in the 11th or 12th century in Chennai. Before he created his own philosophy, he studied Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta philosophy. Ramanuja would go on to join the Sri-Vaisnava tradition, which focused on the influences of the Alvars, who were very influenced by bhakti which is defined as “devotional worship through action” (Rodrigues 543). His own philosophy, however, is called Visistadvaita (qualified non-dualism). Ramanuja’s philosophy is similar to Sankara’s philosophy of Advaita Vedanta in that they both believe that Brahman is the Ultimate Reality, and that Brahman encompasses everything. Unlike Sankara, Ramanuja also believes that it has gunas, or qualities, and therefore is Saguna. He believes this upon the understanding that one can’t talk about, or try to understand a Nirguna Brahman – even attempting to discuss Nirguna Brahman is giving it qualities, and is therefore Saguna. The Visistadvaita tradition “rejects all talk of maya, or illusion” (Betty 217). Followers of the tradition believe that everything in the universe, and everything one sees within is Brahman itself. Brahman is part of everything in the universe, but is also a distinct being apart from the universe. Ramanuja assigns the name Isvara (The Lord) to his idea of Saguna Brahman. In the Sri-Vaisnava tradition, Atman is not equal, or the same as Brahman, it is a “[mode] or [aspect] of Brahman, wholly dependent upon the Lord” (Rodrigues 377). When a being is liberated through moksa, the individual is able to connect with Isvara. In this stage, the individual is no longer hindered or distracted by maya, which stated above, is the power of illusion. Unlike Sankara’s philosophy, Ramanuja believes that it is the power of the Lord, not the individual that liberates an individual; however, the Lord cannot liberate a being, the liberating is done through the “descent of his grace, the goddess Sri” (Rodrigues 377).

The concept of Brahman is so important in Hinduism that it is not difficult to imagine the different forms of opinions surrounding the two notions of Nirguna and Saguna Brahman. Two important Hindu philosophers, Sankara and Ramanuja, both had different opinions and philosophies on these two notions. Sankara believed that Brahman is Nirguna, or having no qualities or attributes, and that everything one sees is not Brahman, but maya, or the power of illusion. Ramanuja believes that Brahman is Saguna, or with qualities, due to the fact that even trying to describe the notion of a Nirguna Brahman is assigning attributes, making Brahman Saguna. There are many other philosophers who attempt to explain the two different notions of Brahman, but Sankara and Ramanuja’s philosophies are the primary philosophies.

 

 

 References

 

Betty, Stafford (2010) “Dvaita, Advaita, and Visistadvaita: Contrasting Views of Moksa.” Asian Philosophy, Vol. 20, No. 2: 215-224.

Carr, Brian (1999) “Sankara and the principle of material causation.” Religious Studies, Vol. 35,    No. 4: 425-439.

Chakravarthi, Ram-Prasad “Brahman.” Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Online: http://0    referenceworks.brillonline.com.darius.uleth.ca/entries/brill-s-encyclopedia-of          hinduism/brahman-COM_2050070.

Chaudhuri, Haridas (1954) “The Concept of Brahman in Hindu Philosophy.” Philosophy East      and West, Vol. 4, No. 1: 47-66.

Flood, Gavin (2009) “Brahman and God.” BBC Religions. Online: http://www.bbc.co.uk   /religion/religions/hinduism/concepts/concepts_1.shtml#section_6

Purushottam, Agrawal (2013) “Nirguna and Saguna.” Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Online:       http://0-referenceworks.brillonline.com.darius.uleth.ca/entries/brill-s-encyclopedia-of          hinduism/nirguna-and-saguna-COM_2050210.

Rambachan, Anantanand (2001) “Hierarchies in the Nature of God? Questioning The “Saguna      Nirguna” Distinction in Advaita Vedanta.” Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies, Vol. 14,       No. 7: 1-7.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism -The eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Schomer, Karine, McLeod, W.H. (1987) “The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India.”

Shrivastava, S. N. L (1958) “Samkara on God, Religion, and Morality.” Philosophy East and         West, Vol. 7, No. 3: 91-106.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Advaita Vedanta

Ajnana

Atman

Avaidya

Bhakti

Isvara

Maya

Moksa

Ramanuja

Sankara

The Upanisads

Visistadvaita

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/bhakti

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_difference_between_Nirguna_and_Saguna_Brahman_in_Hinduism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahman

 

Article written by: Alex Williams (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Concept of Brahman

The concept of Brahman is said to be one of the foundational features of the Hindu philosophical understanding of existence (Chaudhuri 47). The root of the word Brahman is the Sanskrit brh, which translates as “to grow, increase, expand, swell” (Bernard 123). The word “Brahman” itself translates into “the Great, the Supreme” (Chaudhuri 47). The essence of Brahman is said to be in everything, despite the apparent disparity between the perfection of Brahman and the deficiencies and variances of the material (Bernard 125). In Advaita Vedanta, though Brahman pervades all of material existence, it is not correct to describe Brahman as manifest reality, because manifest reality does not in turn pervade Brahman (Chaudhuri 53). Brahman is not only the source of everything in the universe (Prabhupada 204), but also upholds the creation (Singh 261). In the Upanisads, Brahman is described as “truth and knowledge besides infinity” (Singh 63). Though Brahman is considered to be responsible for the creation, maintenance and destruction of existence, it is not considered a god or goddess to be worshipped, but instead is a concept to be meditated upon in an individual’s quest for understanding the nature of reality (Bernard 163-164).

Though transcendental matters are generally beyond the scope of human understanding(Bernard 118), Brahman can be understood as a logical necessity (Chaudhuri 60). The Vedanta indicates that Brahman, as a logical necessity, is the underlying principle which is attained from a careful examination of knowledge brought about by experience (Chadhauri 60). The Chandogya Upanisad claims that nothing that exists can have been brought about by something non-existent, and, by extension, the denial of Brahman is the denial of the self, an obvious contradiction (Singh 260).

While Brahman is an indivisible whole (Chaudhuri 61), it has two conditions. These conditions are Sat and Asat, which translate into “being” and “non-being” respectively (Bernard 124). To describe Brahman as Asat is to refer to the state of the universe during the period of Pralaya, which refers to the period between manifestations of the cosmos (Bernard 124). When referring to Brahman as Sat, one refers to Brahman as the most fundamental aspect of existence, upon which existence is contingent (Bernard 124). While Brahman defies attributive definitions, if one were to attempt to describe it rationally, one would be inclined to define it as pure being/consciousness/joy, or sat-cit-ananda (Chaudhuri 48). Brahman is pure being in the sense that it is beyond life and death (Chaudhuri 48). As pure consciousness, Brahman is all-knowing, though not in the Western sense of knowing all facts, but rather, Brahman is the source of consciousness and knowledge, or that which makes consciousness possible (Chaudhuri 49). When referred to as pure joy, Brahman is not the bringer of joy, but rather is exempt from subjugation to both pain and pleasure (Chaudhuri 49). However, one would be remiss to think of these terms, Sat and Asat, as defining Brahman. Indeed, “to call it a ‘being’ is to call it a definite ‘being,’ which it is not, and to call it ‘non-being’ is to deny it, which is not true” (Seksena 19-20). Yajnavalkya indicates in the Brhadaranyakopanisad that Brahman can only be described negatively, as “neti, neti – not this, not this” (Isayeva 116).

Brahman is the embodiment of all fundamental polarities, but these polarities are inseparable aspects of the same Ultimate Reality. For instance, Brahman is said to constitute both the masculine and feminine archetypes (Chaudhuri 50). Brahman is thought to exist in two inextricable forms or modes (Chaudhuri 47), which again represent a polarity. One of these modes is devoid of qualities and is hence known as Nirguna. The other, with qualities, is known as Saguna (Bernard 125). Nirguna Brahman is “the great Silence” which defies logic and attributive description (Chaudhuri 48). In some descriptions, Nirguna Brahman is the greater of the two because it is eternally singular and of the same character (Isayeva 114). Saguna Brahman is the agent that “performs” the creation, maintenance and destruction of existence. Indeed, Saguna Brahman can be described as the great universal artist, who creates not for any purpose other than lila; “the self-expansive urge of delight, the outflow of creative joy, the spirit of playful self-expression” (Chaudhuri 49-50). While it is counterintuitive to regard these polarities as part of the same indivisible whole, it is essential to keep in mind that Brahman is infinite and can therefore exist in several forms at the same time (Chaudhuri 51).

The earliest Hindu inquiries into the nature of the universe were outgoing, that is to say, concerned with the material world and not directly with consciousness (Seksena 13-14). In this regard, the Rgvedic period is characterized by the realization that all plants, animals and materials are part of a singular all-encompassing cosmic whole (Seksena 13-14). The Rgveda itself contains little metaphysical inquiry apart from the establishment of the notion of an inherent and universal reality which is the fundamental principle of the cosmos. This concept would act as a seed for later Upanisadic inquiries. Indeed, the Rgvedic hymn of creation indicates only that the universe manifests itself out of a compulsion towards possibility (Seksena 17-18). A second stage of Hindu inquiry followed, in which the concept of Rta, or a cosmic “principle of law,” was established. This period made no special distinction between the essence of man and that of the other animals, though there were indications that the role of man with regards to Rta was knowledge (Seksena 15-16).

The Upanisads are credited with making a vital contribution to Hindu philosophy, characterized by two declarations. First, that the Ultimate Reality is a timeless consciousness made of undiluted intelligence and bliss and, second, that said ultimate reality is the same as the self, or Atman (Seksena 21-22). The Vedantasutra was composed between 500 BCE and 200 CE and is credited to Badarayana, though there is some speculation that this is a pseudonym for Vyasa (Bernard 116). The Vedanta views the world, which it deems to have been masterfully created, to have necessarily been constructed by an intelligent agent who directs the the intricate forces that govern the cosmos. This intelligent agent is Brahman, the fundamental principle of reality which can never be exceeded by the mind (Bernard 120). Brahman is differentiated from Purusa of Sankhya in the sense that Purusa lacks both power and influence, and could therefore not be the primal cause of the universe. Nor could it be Sankhya’s Prakrti, “for then it would be an effect; and and effect cannot affect itself” (Bernard 120-121). Both Purusa and Prakrti are understood in Vedanta to be alternate forms of a single reality (Tiwari 66). Vedanta is differentiated from Vaisesika on the grounds that the latter claims Adrsta, “unseen, invisible, unknown,” is the initial cause of existence, while the Vedantist argues that the initial cause of the universe cannot reside in the soul, as Adrsta does, because the souls are said to be dormant during Pralaya (Bernard 122). In this regard, the notion of Brahman is the exceptional contribution to Hindu philosophy made by Vedanta (Bernard 123).

Liberation, or moksa, is the realization of Brahman, an instantaneous awareness of the fundamental oneness of the universe (Chaudhuri 55). Indeed, the realization that Brahman and Atman are identical (Tiwari 206) offers the only path to liberation from samsara (Isayeva 114-115). Atman is not to be confused with the ego but is rather a localized aspect of Brahman, while at the same time Atman is wholly Brahman (Chaudhuri 51-52). Atman could be described as “the universal principle of subjective existence” while Brahman could be described as “the universal principle of objective existence” (Chaudhuri 52). Knowledge of Brahman can never be attained through any form of inquiry or examination, but instead can only be achieved directly through intuition (Bernard 118). However, while knowledge of Atman can never be taught directly, one can be set upon the correct path to this realization by carefully studying sruti in order to avoiding straying too far from the mental condition that is necessary for liberation (Isayeva 120). The reason Atman cannot be grasped is that consciousness can never be made its own object in exactly the same way as an physical object cannot collide with itself (Isayeva 126-127).

Atman, or the Self, is identical to the cosmic and universal (Seksena 24-25). It is helpful to think of individuals as unique microcosms of a single undivided reality (Chaudhuri 53). Some heterodox Hindu philosophical schools, including the materialist Lokayata, considered the physical body to be identical with Atman, while the orthodox schools, such as Advaita, refer to the body as nothing more than a temporary veil imposed on the unchanging Atman (Isayeva 107-108). According to Sankara, Atman is the pure consciousness that resides at the root of all souls, which is identical to Brahman (Isayeva 114).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Bernard, Theos (1947) Hindu Philosophy. Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press.

Chaudhuri, Haridas (1954) “The Concept of Brahman in Hindu Philosophy” Philosophy East       and West. Vol.4, No.1 (April), 47-66.

Isayeva, Natalia (1993) Shankara and Indian Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York             Press.

Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (1972) Bhagavad-Gītā As It Is. New York: Macmillan    Publishing Co., Inc.

Seksena, S.K. (1971) Nature of Consciousness in Hindu Philosophy. Dehli: Motilal Banarsidass.

Singh, Satya Prakash (2004) History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization.      ed. D.P. Chattopadhyaya, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publisher Pvt. Ltd..

Tiwari, Satya Prakash (2009) An Insight in Hindu Philosophy – Life and Beyond. New Delhi:        Readworthy Publications (P) Ltd..

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Adrsta

Advaita

Atman

Guna

Maya

Moksa

Prakrti

Pramana

Purusa

Samsara

Sankhya

Upanisads

Vedas

Vedanta

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://hinduism.about.com/od/basics/a/brahman.htm

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/brahmanmain.asp

 

[Article written by Jason Schultchen (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.]

The Concept of Brahman

The concept of Brahman is said to be one of the foundational features of the Hindu philosophical understanding of existence (Chaudhuri 47). The root of the word Brahman is the Sanskrit brh, which translates as “to grow, increase, expand, swell” (Bernard 123). The word “Brahman” itself translates into “the Great, the Supreme” (Chaudhuri 47). The essence of Brahman is said to be in everything, despite the apparent disparity between the perfection of Brahman and the deficiencies and variances of the material (Bernard 125). In Advaita Vedanta, though Brahman pervades all of material existence, it is not correct to describe Brahman as manifest reality, because manifest reality does not in turn pervade Brahman (Chaudhuri 53). Brahman is not only the source of everything in the universe (Prabhupada 204), but also upholds the creation (Singh 261). In the Upanisads, Brahman is described as “truth and knowledge besides infinity” (Singh 63). Though Brahman is considered to be responsible for the creation, maintenance and destruction of existence, it is not considered a god or goddess to be worshipped, but instead is a concept to be meditated upon in an individual’s quest for understanding the nature of reality (Bernard 163-164).

Though transcendental matters are generally beyond the scope of human understanding(Bernard 118), Brahman can be understood as a logical necessity (Chaudhuri 60). The Vedanta indicates that Brahman, as a logical necessity, is the underlying principle which is attained from a careful examination of knowledge brought about by experience (Chadhauri 60). The Chandogya Upanisad claims that nothing that exists can have been brought about by something non-existent, and, by extension, the denial of Brahman is the denial of the self, an obvious contradiction (Singh 260).

While Brahman is an indivisible whole (Chaudhuri 61), it has two conditions. These conditions are Sat and Asat, which translate into “being” and “non-being” respectively (Bernard 124). To describe Brahman as Asat is to refer to the state of the universe during the period of Pralaya, which refers to the period between manifestations of the cosmos (Bernard 124). When referring to Brahman as Sat, one refers to Brahman as the most fundamental aspect of existence, upon which existence is contingent (Bernard 124). While Brahman defies attributive definitions, if one were to attempt to describe it rationally, one would be inclined to define it as pure being/consciousness/joy, or sat-cit-ananda (Chaudhuri 48). Brahman is pure being in the sense that it is beyond life and death (Chaudhuri 48). As pure consciousness, Brahman is all-knowing, though not in the Western sense of knowing all facts, but rather, Brahman is the source of consciousness and knowledge, or that which makes consciousness possible (Chaudhuri 49). When referred to as pure joy, Brahman is not the bringer of joy, but rather is exempt from subjugation to both pain and pleasure (Chaudhuri 49). However, one would be remiss to think of these terms, Sat and Asat, as defining Brahman. Indeed, “to call it a ‘being’ is to call it a definite ‘being,’ which it is not, and to call it ‘non-being’ is to deny it, which is not true” (Seksena 19-20). Yajnavalkya indicates in the Brhadaranyakopanisad that Brahman can only be described negatively, as “neti, neti – not this, not this” (Isayeva 116).

Brahman is the embodiment of all fundamental polarities, but these polarities are inseparable aspects of the same Ultimate Reality. For instance, Brahman is said to constitute both the masculine and feminine archetypes (Chaudhuri 50). Brahman is thought to exist in two inextricable forms or modes (Chaudhuri 47), which again represent a polarity. One of these modes is devoid of qualities and is hence known as Nirguna. The other, with qualities, is known as Saguna (Bernard 125). Nirguna Brahman is “the great Silence” which defies logic and attributive description (Chaudhuri 48). In some descriptions, Nirguna Brahman is the greater of the two because it is eternally singular and of the same character (Isayeva 114). Saguna Brahman is the agent that “performs” the creation, maintenance and destruction of existence. Indeed, Saguna Brahman can be described as the great universal artist, who creates not for any purpose other than lila; “the self-expansive urge of delight, the outflow of creative joy, the spirit of playful self-expression” (Chaudhuri 49-50). While it is counterintuitive to regard these polarities as part of the same indivisible whole, it is essential to keep in mind that Brahman is infinite and can therefore exist in several forms at the same time (Chaudhuri 51).

The earliest Hindu inquiries into the nature of the universe were outgoing, that is to say, concerned with the material world and not directly with consciousness (Seksena 13-14). In this regard, the Rgvedic period is characterized by the realization that all plants, animals and materials are part of a singular all-encompassing cosmic whole (Seksena 13-14). The Rgveda itself contains little metaphysical inquiry apart from the establishment of the notion of an inherent and universal reality which is the fundamental principle of the cosmos. This concept would act as a seed for later Upanisadic inquiries. Indeed, the Rgvedic hymn of creation indicates only that the universe manifests itself out of a compulsion towards possibility (Seksena 17-18). A second stage of Hindu inquiry followed, in which the concept of Rta, or a cosmic “principle of law,” was established. This period made no special distinction between the essence of man and that of the other animals, though there were indications that the role of man with regards to Rta was knowledge (Seksena 15-16).

The Upanisads are credited with making a vital contribution to Hindu philosophy, characterized by two declarations. First, that the Ultimate Reality is a timeless consciousness made of undiluted intelligence and bliss and, second, that said ultimate reality is the same as the self, or Atman (Seksena 21-22). The Vedantasutra was composed between 500 BCE and 200 CE and is credited to Badarayana, though there is some speculation that this is a pseudonym for Vyasa (Bernard 116). The Vedanta views the world, which it deems to have been masterfully created, to have necessarily been constructed by an intelligent agent who directs the the intricate forces that govern the cosmos. This intelligent agent is Brahman, the fundamental principle of reality which can never be exceeded by the mind (Bernard 120). Brahman is differentiated from Purusa of Sankhya in the sense that Purusa lacks both power and influence, and could therefore not be the primal cause of the universe. Nor could it be Sankhya’s Prakrti, “for then it would be an effect; and and effect cannot affect itself” (Bernard 120-121). Both Purusa and Prakrti are understood in Vedanta to be alternate forms of a single reality (Tiwari 66). Vedanta is differentiated from Vaisesika on the grounds that the latter claims Adrsta, “unseen, invisible, unknown,” is the initial cause of existence, while the Vedantist argues that the initial cause of the universe cannot reside in the soul, as Adrsta does, because the souls are said to be dormant during Pralaya (Bernard 122). In this regard, the notion of Brahman is the exceptional contribution to Hindu philosophy made by Vedanta (Bernard 123).

Liberation, or moksa, is the realization of Brahman, an instantaneous awareness of the fundamental oneness of the universe (Chaudhuri 55). Indeed, the realization that Brahman and Atman are identical (Tiwari 206) offers the only path to liberation from samsara (Isayeva 114-115). Atman is not to be confused with the ego but is rather a localized aspect of Brahman, while at the same time Atman is wholly Brahman (Chaudhuri 51-52). Atman could be described as “the universal principle of subjective existence” while Brahman could be described as “the universal principle of objective existence” (Chaudhuri 52). Knowledge of Brahman can never be attained through any form of inquiry or examination, but instead can only be achieved directly through intuition (Bernard 118). However, while knowledge of Atman can never be taught directly, one can be set upon the correct path to this realization by carefully studying sruti in order to avoiding straying too far from the mental condition that is necessary for liberation (Isayeva 120). The reason Atman cannot be grasped is that consciousness can never be made its own object in exactly the same way as an physical object cannot collide with itself (Isayeva 126-127).

Atman, or the Self, is identical to the cosmic and universal (Seksena 24-25). It is helpful to think of individuals as unique microcosms of a single undivided reality (Chaudhuri 53). Some heterodox Hindu philosophical schools, including the materialist Lokayata, considered the physical body to be identical with Atman, while the orthodox schools, such as Advaita, refer to the body as nothing more than a temporary veil imposed on the unchanging Atman (Isayeva 107-108). According to Sankara, Atman is the pure consciousness that resides at the root of all souls, which is identical to Brahman (Isayeva 114).

 

 

 

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Bernard, Theos (1947) Hindu Philosophy. Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press.

Chaudhuri, Haridas (1954) “The Concept of Brahman in Hindu Philosophy” Philosophy East       and West. Vol.4, No.1 (April), 47-66.

Isayeva, Natalia (1993) Shankara and Indian Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York             Press.

Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (1972) Bhagavad-Gītā As It Is. New York: Macmillan    Publishing Co., Inc.

Seksena, S.K. (1971) Nature of Consciousness in Hindu Philosophy. Dehli: Motilal Banarsidass.

Singh, Satya Prakash (2004) History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization.      ed. D.P. Chattopadhyaya, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publisher Pvt. Ltd..

Tiwari, Satya Prakash (2009) An Insight in Hindu Philosophy – Life and Beyond. New Delhi:        Readworthy Publications (P) Ltd..

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Adrsta

Advaita

Atman

Guna

Maya

Moksa

Prakrti

Pramana

Purusa

Samsara

Sankhya

Upanisads

Vedas

Vedanta

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://hinduism.about.com/od/basics/a/brahman.htm

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/brahmanmain.asp

 

[Article written by Jason Schultchen (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.]

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad is the primary book of the Upanishads, a collection of Hindu philosophical texts. It is one of the oldest Upanishads and its name translates into “the Great Forest Book” (Sastri 29). Written entirely in prose form, this text is one of the more philosophical books of the Upanishads and largely comments on the nature of reality and the basic identity of atman.

The history and dates of the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad is still a somewhat debated topic. Through analyzing the linguistics used in the text, philologist Max Muller speculated that the text was written between 1000-800 BCE (Muller 333). Other estimates have been given around the same time period but due to the antiquity of the text it is difficult to confidently date the text.

The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad largely follows the sage Yajnavalkya and his wife Maitreyi. Yajnavalka is sage who is portrayed to be an important advisor in the court of Janaka. Through the stories of the Brhadaranyaka, Yajnavalkya comments on many philosophical issues including consciousness and perception, creation and self, and the laws of karma. The main virtues that occur in the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad are self-restraint, giving, and compassion, or self-restraint, self-sacrifice, and merciful-benevolence (Sastri 16).

Some evidence suggests that the text was written in a ring composition, where themes are discussed in a cyclical fashion (Hock 279). Ring composition is commonly found in narratives that have a history of being orally passed through generation (Hock 279).

There is one story that is particularly interesting because it is told twice in the Brhadaranyaka with one version differing only slightly from the other. This story follows a conversation between Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi on the nature of knowledge. In one version Yajnavalkya uses the word “vijnyanam,” meaning “knowing apart,” and later in the same version uses the phrase “nothing but discerning knowledge,” to describe vijnyanam (Wood 7-9). In the other version of the story, Yajnavalkya uses the term “prajnyanam,” meaning “knowing before,” and “nothing but underlying knowledge,” (Wood 7-9). In both versions of the story Maitreyi is confused by Yajnavalkya’s comments and in response to her confusion Yajnavalkya begins a discussion on dual and non-dual ideas of knowledge. Duality of knowledge can be thought of as knowledge gained through perception and non-duality can be thought of in Cartesian terms; the only knowledge one can be certain of is the knowledge of self (Wood 6-8). With this, Yajnavalkya ends the conversation with Maitreyi and leaves her, along with the reader, wondering about the nature of knowledge, consciousness, and perception (Wood 6-8). The two versions of this story in the text offer evidence of ring composition structure perhaps, in this particular case, to portray a different concept to the reader (Hock 282). In the first telling of the story, Yajnavalkya responds to Maitreyi’s question of whether having wealth would make her immortal with a blunt “neti,” or “no.” This is different from the second telling where he answers her question with “neti neti,” (Hock 282). This respond is a clear allusion to the advaita refrain (Hock 282).

The advaita refrain is a passage that is found in multiple places in the Brhadaranyaka (Hock 280). The passage describes the nature of atman using negative definitive approach (Hock 280).

“This atman is “not (this), not (this)”; not comprehensible, for it is not comprehended; not destructible, for it is not destroyed; not attached, not fettered, (for) it is not (being) attached, it does not suffer” (Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 3.9.26, Hock 280)

Another story involving Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi that is of interest is one concerning the absolute nature of the self. This conversation between Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi addresses the difference between true happiness and happiness that arises from the acquisition of material possessions. In this story, Yajnavalkya tells Maitreyi that he has decided to leave the householder stage of life and move onto the next stage, a stage of renunciation. He announces that he is going to divide his possessions between Mairtreyi and his other wife Katayani. In response to this, Maitreyi asks Yajnavalkya if she will be able to gain happiness from the acquisition of the property and, further, if it is possible to gain true happiness from the satisfaction and comforts that accompany material possessions. The story portrays Yajnavalkya as being very pleased with Maitreyi for asking such a question. He tells her that one cannot attain true happiness through the comfort and satisfaction through material possessions or anything that gives any comfort, including psychological or social comfort (Sastri 348-357).

Here, the conversation shifts to properties of material possessions. Yajnavalkya explains to Maitreyi that the laws of time give material possessions a temporal aspect and that things with temporal aspects cannot bring true happiness. Things that are exempt from temporal properties are what is needed to attain true happiness, and things of this nature are known a eternal or immortal (Sastri 348-357).

Another main concept discussed in the Brhadaranyaka is the nature of creation. The text describes creation as coming from one absolute self that existed before creation on its own (Wood 35). This portion of the text has many psychological and metaphysical aspects. The text asserts that in the beginning there was nothing and this is likened to darkness and light, with darkness being characterized by a lack of sensory perception and light being characterized by perception being possible. A metaphysical question that arises from this is how did something (the universe) come to be if in the beginning there was nothing? It is illogical to believe that something came from nothing, and the text addresses this through saying nothing is fully created but only transformed into something different (Sastri 308-315). The text also says that each person’s true self is the same as complete reality and because of this it is possible to understand reality through understanding the inner self, the emphasis here is on creation from self (Wood 26).

Another large part of the Brhadaranyaka is spent on the laws of karma. The text describes how the laws of karma predict one’s rebirth. The text describes karma as

“…after death we go to the next world, bearing in mind the subtle impressions of our deeds; and after reaping there harvest of such deeds, return again to this work of action. Thus, whoever has desire continues subject to rebirth.” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.1-2)

Through this passage, the Brhadaranyaka sums up karma to say that rebirth is a product of one’s actions and desires in life, and rebirth will continue as such. Another passage describes the cessation of the rebirth cycle if one desire has been calmed (Brahamaprana 4). The latter part of this passage may be interpreted to mean that rebirth will cease if one has attained the highest form of realization, brahman. After attaining brahman, the text implies that the cycle of karma will stop.

This view is carried over into the description of death as well. Death is described as a state where one has no perception of the senses and one is detached from the physical body of life (Brahamaprana 6). The text articulates that all souls that have passed will momentarily stay in a state of light. Those who have attained realization will stay in this state, while those souls who did not attain realization will pass through karmic retribution until a future rebirth occurs (Brahamaprana 6-7).

 

References and Further Recommended Readings

Sastri, S.K. (1950) The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad with commentary by Sankaracarya. Advaida Ashrama: Mayavati Almora, Himalayas.

 

Singh, U. (2008) A history of ancient to medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th century. Delhi: Pearson Longman.

 

Wood, A. E. (1996) Interpreting the Upanisads. East Anglia: Full Circle Publishing.

 

Radhakrishan, S. (1953) The Principal Upanishads. New York: Harper.

 

Brahmaprana, P (2001) “Vedanta: Death and Art of Dying.” Cross Currents, Fall 2001: 337-345.

 

Hock, H.H. (2002) “The Yajnavalkya cycle in the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad” Journal of American Oriental Society 122(2), 279-286.

 

Relate Topics for Further Investigation


atman

brahman

Max Muller

Chandogya Upanishad

Janaka

Prajapati

Katayani

“The Honey Doctrine”

advaita

Madhyamdina

Kanva

Vidagha Sakalya

 

 

 

Related Websites

 

http://www.swami-krishnananda.org/disc/disc_112.html

http://krishnabhakt.blogspot.ca/2010/12/brihadaranyaka-upanishad-path-to.html

http://www.hindulinks.org/Scriptures/Upanishads/index.html

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/sbe01/index.htm

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/sbe15/index.htm

http://www.dlshq.org/saints/yajnavalkya.htm

 

Article written by: Brinn Lemke (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

 

 

 

The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad

Brinn Lemke – 001095647

Rels 2100

Apr. 15/’13

The Satapatha Brahmana

The Brahmanas are part of Hindu Vedic religion, which emerged after the Samhitas. Mainly, they describe details of Vedic ritual, including sacrificial rites (yajna), philosophical, and mythological background. More specifically, the Brahmanas dealt with proper performance of rituals, especially for the priestly class (Brahmins) (Rodrigues 59). It is insinuated that yajna was performed to give the gods their powers and to provide sustenance. One such Brahmana, The Satapatha Brahmana, has become famous in modern Vedic literature with the help of the translation by Julius Eggeling in the Sacred Books of the East (Vol. XII, XXVI, XLI, XLIII, XLIV. 1963).

The Satapatha Brahmana was composed around 300 BCE. It prescribes many rituals, as it is sometimes translated as The Brahamana of a Hundred Paths. In its fourteen kandas, the Satapatha Brahmana details many simple sacrificial rites but also goes into great detail of the most famous rituals in Hinduism; new and full-moon sacrifices, asvamedha (horse sacrifice) and rajasuya (consecration of a king), and agnicaya. Although the majority of the Satapatha Brahmana (SB) details Brahminic rituals, it also elaborates on ancient creation mythology such as the Flood of Manu.

Yajna are some of the most important rituals in the practice of Hinduism. As translated by J. Gonda (1) from the SB, “by reciting definite texts in a continuous, uninterrupted way one makes the days and nights of a year revolve in a continuous, uninterrupted way” (SB. 1, 3, 5, 16) “man, in being born, is born as a debt to death; in that he sacrifices he redeems himself from death” (SB. 3, 6, 2, 16).

There are many inclusions of fire sacrifices to the Hindu Fire God, Agni, in most of the kandas. This implies an importance placed on Agni in early Vedic religion to help maintain the order of the universe. Agnicayana or Building of the Sacred Fire Altar, is described in detail in the sixth, seventh and eighth kandas. Agnicayana is possibly one of the oldest surviving human rituals, as it is still performed today within Hinduism. This twelve-day ritual is premised upon attaining vitality, offspring or immortality. Before beginning the elaborate ritual, seventeen priests work for months to ensure the proper required preparations are completed (Rodrigues 64). Particular attention is paid to the detail of the layers of the bricks to construct the fire altar (vedi) (Eggeling vol. XLIII:1-147).  Historically, over the twelve days of ritual animal and soma sacrifices are made to the god Vayu (wind) and Agni (fire), purification rites for the patron are performed, construction of the fire altar, oblations of water and ghee, and many more animal and Soma sacrifices are made (Rodrigues 66) [see summary of agnicayana in greater detail in Rodrigues 64-67, or full translation in Eggeling, vol. XLI:143-419 and vol. XLIII:1-405].

Ancient social order of the Vedic peoples is studied in reference to the asvamedha and rajasuya. The asvamedha (horse sacrifice) [no longer performed because of its elaborate nature] was regarded as an important kingship ritual. A king, aspiring to achieve emperor status and attain offspring, would set free a stallion to wander about the land for one year accompanied by the king’s army. As the horse wandered upon another king’s land, the ruler would have to choose whether to relinquish his land or keep the horse and thus, initiate war. In this way, a king would acquire enough land to become an emperor. At the end of the one-year period of wandering, the horse [as a representative of the king] would be sacrificed. During the sacrificial rite, before the horse was killed, a ritual with the king’s chief queen would take place. The queen would simulate copulation with the horse under a large blanket as a representation of her relationship with the king. Rice would be cooked to represent the king’s virility, which later was to be consumed by the king’s wives. A dog was also sacrificed during this ritual to represent the killing of the king’s enemies. This ritual was very expensive and performed only by the wealthiest kings. Furthermore, the performance of one hundred asvamedhas in a single lifetime would grant the ruler the throne of Indra, ruler of the gods (Rodrigues 64) [see further summary in Rodrigues 62-64, full translation in Eggeling, vol. XLIV:274-440, and an example in the Ramayana epic].

Another form of societal ritual outlined in the Satapatha Brahmana is the rajusaya, or Inauguration of a King (Eggeling vol. XLI:42-129). A king who sought to become emperor would embark on a journey to conquer a kingdom, much like the horse representative of the king did in the asvamedha. Upon his return, the general would invite the conquered kings to join in a sacrificial ceremony. Since this was a riskier way to obtain a kingdom, it was more rare than the asvamedha [see further example explanation of the rajusaya ritual in the Mahabharata epic].

Included in parts of the agnicayana, asvamedha and rajusaya rituals, the sacred plant, Soma, also appears in numerous other rituals throughout the Satapatha Brahmana. Soma was first described in the RgVeda in little detail and further elaborated on in many other Vedic literatures, including the SB. Unfortunately, the Vedic peoples left little evidence of what soma actually was (Staal 747). Scholars regard Soma as a hallucinogenic, even though the true nature of the plant has not been verified (Rodrigues 67). Nevertheless, more than one hundred Vedic texts refer to the use of Soma (Rodrigues 67). Soma rituals prescribed throughout the SB, are mainly associated with fire sacrifices to the god Agni and Indra, who were believe to frequently drink the Soma extract (Rodrigues 67). A Soma feast is also described scrupulously in the third and fourth kandas (Eggeling vol. XXVI:226-3910)

Another important historic ritual, the new and full moon rituals, was performed twice a month, every month. The rituals were prescribed to retain the natural order of the universe. During the full moon (purnima), Hindus would observe a daylong fasting period while worshiping the god Visnu. During the new moon (amavasya) ritual, Hindus would again fast for a day in which they often worship ancestors. Clarified butter, fruit and animal sacrifices were made, as prescribed by the Satapatha Brahmana (Eggeling vol. XII:1-262, vol. XLIV:1-131). This was thought to be a central ritual, which preceded many other sacrificial rituals outlined in the Brahmanas (Eggeling vol. XLIV:1-131).

Along with rituals, the Satapatha Brahmana details creation myths, such as the Flood of Manu (Eggeling vol. XII:216-230). The Flood of Manu has recently been compared with the Noah’s Ark story in the Bible. While Manu was bathing, a fish asked to be moved into a bowl, as he was too small for the sea and the other fish would eat him. The fish promised to tell Manu how to save the world if he carried out the fish’s requests. The fish grew and grew, always requesting a bigger vessel. He quickly grew too big for any vessel and requested to be placed into the River Ganga. The fish then proceeded to instruct Manu to build a ship to hold animals when the great flood came. Manu did as he was told by the fish and saved the animals. The fish is thought to be a manifestation of Pajrapati [creator God] (Sehgal 401-402). In the interest of brevity, many points of the Flood of Manu have been excluded for this article (for short summary see Sehgal 401-402 and full translation Eggeling vol. XII:216-230).

Some rituals outlined in the Satapatha Brahmana are still maintained today, but many have been left in the past. Some rituals go into particular detail regarding animal sacrifice, which would only be prescribed for certain animals. Modern-day Hindus however, rarely use animal and blood sacrifices, instead using clarified butter, fruit and rice to feed the gods (Rodrigues 61). Modern interpretations have been made in regards to the Vedas in order to fit with current social norms.

 

 

References and Further Recommended Readings

Eggeling, Julius (trans.) (1963) Satapatha Brahmana: Sacred Books of the East, vols. XII, XXVI, XLI, XLIII, XLIV. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1882-1900.

Gonda, J. (1905) Mantra Interpretation in the Satapatha Brahmana. Leiden: Brill.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: The eBook. Journal Buddhist Ethics Online Books,Ltd.

Seghal, Sumil (1999) Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Sarup & Sons.

Staal, Fritz (2001) “How a Psychoactive Substance Becomes a Ritual: The Case of Soma.” Social Research, Vol. 68 No. 3: 745-778

Stutley, Margaret (1969)The Aśvamedha or Indian Horse Sacrifice.” Folklore, Vol. 80 No. 4: 253-261

 

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Agni

Asvamedha

Indra

Laws of Manu

Mahabharata

Ramayana

RgVeda

Soma

Visnu

Vedas

 

Noteworthy websites

http://cw.routledge.com/

http://www.sacred-texts.com/

http://www.indianetzone.com/

http://www.mahavidya.ca

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shatapatha_Brahmana

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manu_(Hinduism

 

Article written by Alyssa Wadman (April 2013) who is solely responsible for the content.

The Brahmanas

The Brahmanas are a section in the Vedas and were said to be mostly written in 1400-1200 BC (Haug 47). The Brahamanas mostly consist of the proper way to conduct ritual practices of the priestly class. Hindus believe that if they practice these rituals it will grant them pride of acting rightly because performance of rituals was equal to acting rightly (Satheye 435). Each particular Veda has a Brahamana (Haug 6), but some of the teachings in each may be a little different, but still represent the same general idea. Each Brahmana was not just one part of itself, but each Brahmana was broken into more precise parts explaining different ideas and rituals.

The first Brahmana that will be looked at is Aitareya Brahmana, which is appended to the Rg Veda. At the time these hymns were written the caste system was not absolute and was subject to change because it was possible for the lower classes to become Brahmins (Satheye 436). At the time Hindus also relied on ritual practices in order to survive and they also had to be correctly done otherwise they were not legitimate (Satheye 440). The Aitareya Brahmana shows what Hindus are supposed to do through their life and the details associated with these rituals. For instance, Brahmin priests were evaluated on how correctly they would perform rituals (Satheye 435). They were made to believe that what they do in their life, good or bad, could affect their descendents, so behavior along with ritual practice was taken very seriously (Satheye 439). The Aitareya Brahmana also discusses the meaning of mantra and the application of mantra to the Hindus (Haug 3). Hindus believe that there are connections between the origins of their existence and the sacrificial rituals they perform and the Aitareya Brahmanas help explain the meaning of this (Haug 3). The many gods’ that they recognize now were not very consistent in the Aitareya Brahmana, which means there wasn’t much knowledge about these gods except for the ones that are known about now (Satheye 439). Finally, the Aitareya Brahmana is “inspired by ideals of safety, self-preservation, and rare preservation” (Satheye 440) and goes into detail of what this is all about.

The next Brahmanas are attached to the Vedic hymn collection called the Sama Veda, which also talks about the rules of certain rituals and practices. The one section of these Brahmanas that will be discussed is the Jaiminiya Brahmana. The second Brahmana of the Sama Veda is called the Chandogya Brahmana. One of the things explained is what type of person is allowed to participate in rituals and which people are not (Bodewitz 151). The sacred plant soma, which is a hallucinogenic used in some rituals, is also only to be consumed by certain individuals during rituals (Bodewitz 151). As mentioned in the Aitareya Brahmana, the Jaiminiya Brahmana also reinforces the fact that there is a certain way that rituals should be performed (Bodewitz 151). Lastly, the Jaiminiya Brahmana has very close similarities with that of another Brahmana called the Catayana Brahmana (Oertel 15). The reason that these two Brahmanas are similar is due to the stories that are told in them.

The second Brahmana which is part of the Sama Veda is one of the more popular. The Chandogya Brahmana is described as being quite long and a very important text (Lincoln 128). Where and when it was written are hard to tell, but scholars say it most likely comes from Northern India (Lincoln 128). The Chandogya Brahmana was a lot like other Vedic texts as it referred to other texts or most of it was made up of previous texts maybe just written in different context (Lincoln 128). One of the reasons that it was written was to explain the significance and the meaning of the four asramas (Olivelle 205). The four asramas refer to the four stages in a Hindu’s life: the student stage, the householder stage, the forest dweller stage and finally the renouncer stage. Although there is some speculation from certain scholars whether or not this is actually what the Chandogya Brahmana consists of; there is a lot of disagreement (Olivelle 206). Those that believe this is true have studied that the Hindus believe the first three stages only get you merit where as if you are able to get to the renouncer stage you will able to achieve immortality (Olivelle 205). Some of the other rituals and ideas mentioned are that of sacrificial practices and even about the “understanding of the cosmos, the self and nature of being” (Lincoln 128).

The Yajur Veda contains two Brahmanas, the Shatapatha Brahmana and Taittirya Brahmana. The Shatapatha Brahmana explains how the Vedic hymns are used in certain areas of Brahmanical rituals (Muir 31). The Shatapatha Brahmana is the only one that gives any detail on the ritual of human sacrifices (Dumont 177). The concept of certain gods or deities also comes up and how they came into being and certain myths believed about these divine beings. The god Visnu is mentioned in previous Vedic hymns, but in this particular Brahmana Visnu is perceived a little different and even portrayed in new legends that were not heard of before (Muir 32). Visnu is a also portrayed as a tortoise instead of Prajapati who was usually depicted as a tortoise in earlier mythology (Muir 40). There is also the myth of all the gods creating Prajapati (Muir 38), but then their sort of confusion with the creation of Agni (the fire god) by Prajapati (Muir 40). Another myth known in the Shataptha Brahmana is about the gods being able to achieve immortality (Muir 41), but even though they were all immortal there was still an inequality that developed among the gods (Muir 44).

The Taittiriya Brahamana is second Brahmana that is part of the Yajur Veda and has some contrasting rituals and explanations of these rituals. The Shatapatha Brahmana mentioned human sacrifices, but in the Taittiriya Brahmana these human sacrifices were symbolic and that were allowed to go as soon as the fire was about to consume them (Dumont 177). The interesting thing was that they even had a list of the names that were to be used in these human sacrifices (Dumont 178-182). Although both of these texts talk about human sacrifice as an important ritual there is no evidence of actual human sacrifice (Dumont 178). Another ritual discussed in the Taittiriya Brahmana is the full moon sacrifices (Dumont 585), which require following certain procedures in order for it to be done correctly. One of these procedures would be the “ritual cleaning, heating and brushing of sacrificial spoons” (Dumont 585).

The final Brahmana that will be explained is the Gopatha Brahmana, which belongs to fourth Veda; the Atharvaveda. This Brahmana itself is split into two separate parts: the Uttara-Brahmana and the Purva-Brahmana. The Uttara-Brahmana has about 123 different sections, but 79 of these sections take ideas from other texts or they are very closely linked (Bloomfield 4-5). The Purva-Brahmana is all about “mystics, theosophical treatment of the sutra and other forms of soma sacrifice” (Bloomfield 7). Three different soma sacrifices are discussed in the Brahmana (Bloomfield 11). Since the two parts discuss different topics, scholars suggest that the Gopatha Brahmana are written by two different people (Bloomfield 8). The Gopatha Brahmana is also said to not have much originality because it was written so late in history (Bloomfield 10).

In conclusion, the Brahmanas discussed are not necessarily the most popular, but scholars had done the most research on these Brahmanas and their relation to Hindu spiritual life. Even though some of the sources provided in these Brahmanas are taken from other texts they are still considered some of the most prestigious and respected texts not only by Hindus, but by scholars as well. Another misconception is that these would be the only Brahmanas surviving, but there are many more surviving that are appended to each Veda, but are not as well known. The Brahmanas are very complex so this research would only be the scratching of the surface of the Brahmanas, but gives the basic details of what they are all about.

 

 

References and Further Recommended Reading

 

Bloomfield, Maurice. (1898) “The Position of the Gopatha-Brahmana in Vedic Literature.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 19, 1-11.

Bodewitz, H.W. (1977) “Notes on the Jaiminiya Brahmana.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 2, 150-157.

Dumont, Paul-Emile. (1959) “The Full-Moon and New-Moon Sacrifices in the Taittiriya-Brahmana (Second Part): The Third Prapathaka of the Third Kanta of the Taittiriya-Brahmana with Translation.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 103 (April), 584-608.

Dumont, Paul-Emile. (1963) “The Human Sacrifice in the Taittiriya-Brahmana: The Fourth Prapathaka of the Third Kanda of the Taittiriya-Brahmana with Translation.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 107 (April), 177-182.

Haug, Martin. (1863) The Aitareya Brahmanam of the Rigveda. Bombay: Government Central Control Book Depot.

Lincoln, Bruce. (2006) “How to Read a Religious Text: Reflections on Some Passages of the Chandogya Upanisad.” History of Religions, 46 (November), 127-139.

Muir, J. (1863) “Legends Chiefly from the Satapatha Brahmana.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 20, 31-48.

Oertel, Hanns. (1897) “Contributions from the Jaiminiya Brahmana to the History of the Brahmana Literature.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 18, 15-48.

Olivelle, Patrick. (1996) “Dharmaskandhah and Brahmasamsthah: A Study of Chandogya Upanisad.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 116 (April-June), 205-219.

Sathaye, S.G. (1969) “The Aitareya Brahmana and the Republic.” Philosophy of East and West, 19 (October), 435-441.

 

Related Topics for Further Identification

Shatapatha Brahmana

Gopatha Brahmana

Taittiriya Brahmana

Jaiminiya Brahmana

Chandogya Brahmana

Aitareya Brahmana

Upanisads

Mantras

 

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/77126/Brahmana

http://indianscriptures.50webs.com/partveda.htm

http://uwacadweb.uwyo.edu/religionet/er/hinduism/htexts.htm

http://www.indohistory.com/brahmanas.html

 

Article written by Tyler Scholten (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.