Category Archives: B. Vedic Religion and the Sanskrit Language

Veda Vyasa, The Great Indian Sage

Vyasa was a central and admired figure of the Hindu Tradition. He was a famous Rsi in the longest epic (Rodrigues 177), The Mahabharata, and was also credited for the Epic (Rodrigues, 145).

Vyasa’s Birth and Family

According to the mythic sources, Vyasa was the son of Satyavati, the Daughter of a fisherman and Parashara who was a wandering sage. Satyavati used to row boats for passengers from one end of the shore to another. That was where Parashara and Satyavati met. Since Satyavati was the daughter of a fisherman, she smelled of fish hence Parashara gave her a boon that she would never smell like she had been around fishes ever again, she then gave birth to Krishna Dvaipayana on the shore of River Yamuna. At birth, he was given the name Krishna Dvaipayana (Ramesh 1-2). The name Krishna Dvaipayana came from his dark complexion meaning Krishna and Dvaipayana-came from the place he was born. He was born on the shore of Yamuna (which is a river in India) Dvipa (meaning island). He was married to the daughter of Rsi Jabali, named Vaachika. After marriage, he entered the stage of Grahasthashram and then fathered a son named Shuka.

Vyasa’s Achievements

According to legends, Veda Vyasa was the type of character that always had full loyalty and faith for the Vedas meaning he had Veda Niṣṭha. We know that he had full faith on the Vedas since at a very young age he had mastered Vedas as well as the Sastras, literature, mythology, history and other branches of knowledge. Another meaning of Nistha is steadiness, we see that he had steadiness in his life, he was always successful in what he wanted to do, we don’t see many obstacles coming in the way of his success in his lifetime. Later, then went on to Badarikashrama to perform ‘tapas’ meaning meditation. According to Vyasa, the Veda was not stabilized, since there was only one Veda, they weren’t separate at the time, it was hard for people to understand it due to which not many people would be able to read them. This caused the essence of the Veda to go down in society therefore the Veda was not stable. Vyasa wanted to restore Vedic Saahitya (literature) by doing the punar uddhar (revival) of the Vedas. To stabilize the Vedas, he decided to divide the Vedas into four sections. The Vedas were divided in such a way that all the hymns were grouped based on their requirements in the sacrificial rites. Each of the four Vedas were given to four different Rsis. Vyasa taught these four Vedas to his four disciples. Rg Veda was given to Paila Rsi, Atharva Veda was given to Sumanthu Rsi, Sama Veda was given to Jaimini Rsi and lastly Yajur Veda was given to Vaishampayana Rsi. As the Vedas were divided, the respective Rsis taught their part of the Vedas to their disciples who then passed down the knowledge to the society, and restoring the values and information of the Vedas among the society. It was easier to pass on the knowledge of the Vedas now since they were all divided (Sullivan 11-15). Two events took place after Vyasa had divided the Vedas. First was when he got the name Veda Vyasa; until then he was known as Krishna Dvaipayana. Second even was when Vyasa decided to write the Puranas. The Puranas were a way to spread the thoughts of the Vedas in the form of stories to the general people. Puranas contain stories about the Vedas for easier understanding, since the Vedas are too complex to understand by general people. There is a total of 18 Puranas, Vyasa did Sansodhana (research) and Adhyayana (study) in detail to achieve his goal. It takes such immense knowledge for a person to achieve so many achievements in life, like writing such great Epics that are still known till date. After writing the Puranas, he started writing the Brahma Sutra. The Brahma Sutra consists of four chapters, 16 Padas, and 555 Sutras. The Brahma Sutras are part of the Vedantas, which include Sankara’s Radical Non-dualism, Ramanujan’s Qualified Non-Dualism and Madhava’s dualism (Rodrigues 155-159).

It is said that Vyasa first composed the entire story of The Mahabharata in his head for years, after which he was encouraged by Lord Brahma that Vyasa should now write the story (Rodrigues 2016, 177). Vyasa asks Ganesha to aid him in writing the text, but Ganesha imposed a condition that he would do so only if Vyasa narrated the story without pause. Vyasa replied with a counter-condition, that Ganesha must understand the verse before he wrote it. Thus, Vyasa narrated the entire Mahabharata and all the Upanishads and the 18 Puranas, while Lord Ganesha wrote. At one point while writing, Ganesa ran out of ink, therefore he broke one of his tusk and continued writing The Mahabharata (Rodrigues 224). He had also composed the Great Bharata, which tells the story of Janamejaya’s, Pariksit’s son and Arjuna’s grandson. The book talked about Janamejaya’s ancestors, the descendants of King Bharata (Rodrigues 182).

What is The Mahabharata about?

The reason that The Mahabharata is a great epic is that it enlightens the 5 main aspects of human life, namely: psychology, sociology, economics, politics and philosophy. It also offers a vision on the four goals of life: Righteousness (Dharma), Wealth (Artha), Enjoyment (Kama) and Salvation (Moksa) (Ramesh 1). Vyasas way of representing these qualities to the society was through the characters of the Epic. The Mahabharata has characters such as Bhiṣma, Krṣṇa, Draupadi, The Paṇḍava and The Kaurava. Rsi Vyasa’s characters are said to be Padachyuta and Dhyeyachyuta. This means that none of them lost their focus from their goals. If we look at The Paṇḍava’s, their goal was to keep the kingdom of Hastinapura with the help of Dharma in place, whereas The Kaurava’s goal was to keep the kingdom of Hastinapura using Adharma. Even if all these characters were on opposite sides, they all stuck to their goals, no matter the situation and stayed focused on that goal. These characters teach us that we should stay focused to achieve our goal. They are the types of characters that even if death was headed their way, they stay focused and loyal to their beliefs. An example can be Abhimanyu (son of Arjuna). During the big Kuruketra war, there was a point that the Kauravas were planning an evil game to hurt the Paṇḍava’s, but despite no proper knowledge of how to escape the trap known as the ‘Chakra-Vyooha’ (Chaturvedi 5-6) which the Kauravas had set, he went into that trap and fought against all the evil until his last breath. He knew he was not coming out alive, before going in, but he still went in and fought for Dharma. All these characters make us feel like we can achieve something in life if we stay focused. They also show us the true meaning of Tyaga (sacrifice). The characters that were on the side of Dharma made many sacrifices to do the establishment of Dharma, no matter what the situation. These are the types of character that Vyasa gave us and through them we can learn many lessons in life. There is something to learn from every character despite them being evil or good and Dharmic (Righteous) or Adharmic (Non-Righteous), all characters were able to keep their goals through the Epic, this shows us their loyalty towards their goals and that they can go to any level to stay focused on their goals.

Vyasa’s involvement in Politics

In Ancient Indian Culture Legislation was in the hands of Rsi, and the execution was with the king. There are some examples from Vyasa’s life where we can see how he was related to politics.

One example was about the almost extinct Hastinapura kingdom. Satyavati (Vyasa’s mother) had two other sons Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Vichitravirya was married to Ambika (had a maid named Parishrama) and Ambalika. Vichitravirya dies leaving the kingdom of Hastinapura without a heir. This was when Vyasa was called by Satyavati because at that time, if anyone other than the Rsi wife had a child with a Rsi, it was considered big. Vyasa decided to surrogately father the heirs of Hastinapura (Rodrigues 177). Vyasa visits the three queens of Vichitravirya. Since he was a Rsi, he had a beard, long hair with a bun on top. He was there to grant the three queens a boon so they can have children, and the boon was dependent on how the queens react when they see Vyasa. When the first queen Ambika saw Vyasa, she closed her eyes, which meant that her son was going to be born blind who came to be known as Dhritarastra, father of the Kauravas. Then, when the second queen Ambalika saw Vyasa, she got sick meaning her son would stay unfit for life; her son was Pandu, father of the Pandavas (Rodrigues 177). Since the two queens were not able to give birth to kids that will be very suitable for the throne, due to their disabilities, he decided to give a boon to Ambika’s maid as well. When Parishrama (the maid of Ambika) saw Vyasa, she didn’t react in a bad way, she was herself and gave birth to a son, Vidura, who was normal and was brilliant. However, he would never be considered to rule the throne since he was the son of a maid. This was the political step taken by Vyasa to save a dynasty from becoming extinct (Ramesh 3). With no descendant, there will be no king therefore Satyavati called Vyasa, even though he was a Rsi. Vidura, despite being a maid’s son, was honest and was against injustice. Therefore, according to Vyasa’s ‘political move’, Vidura was one of the ministers in the kingdom so he can give honest advice to the king. This shows his involvement in politics and since the legislation was in the hand of Vyasa he was authorized to punish the king, if king made any mistakes.

Another story about his involvement in politics was that when the Paṇḍava’s had grown up, he sent them to Drupada’s kingdom, where the swayamwara of Draupadi was going on (Rodrigues 179). His intention was that the Pandavas should have a wife like Draupadi who would be a great strength for the Paṇḍavas. He always wanted a powerful woman like Draupadi behind the Paṇḍavas, because she was the type of person who could stand up against injustice, as well as she was the daughter of the Agni. Draupadi was said to be the daughter of Lord Agni, since she came out of the fire pit. After Arjuna had won Draupadi in the swayamwara, Vyasa’s wanted Draupadi to be the wife of all five Paṇḍava’s, not just Arjuna’s wife. At a time when The Mahabharata took place, people thought what a female could not have more than one husband. But once Vyasa made the decision that Draupadi will have five husbands, no one had the audacity to say anything against Vyasa. He also wanted to keep all the brothers together, and so his strategy to make Draupadi the wife of the Pandavas was so that there will be no rift between them in the future. This incident shows us that Vyasa was given great respect from the people of the villages that they did not say anything about what he had done. Their culture did not allow such a practice, but their trust in Vyasa was so deep that they did not utter a word against him. This incident also shows Vyasa’s vision in favor of Dharma and the Pandavas, because if Draupadi was married to Pandavas her father kingdom will support Pandavas in the final battle for Dharma. Thus, by sending the Pandavas to the swayamwara, he had already played his ‘political move’ for the betterment of the Hastinapura kingdom, and the fact that he made Draupadi the wife of all the Pandavas would bring positive changes to the society where women will be given respect, not just considered lower than men, which is the M-1B state (Rodrigues 90).

The third example can be seen when the Pandavas were in exile for thirteen years, and in disguise for one year (Rodrigues 180). This was when Vyasa goes to give them a visit in the forest. When Vyasa paid the Pandavas a visit, he was furious at them for just sitting around, and not preparing for the future war of The Mahabharata in advance. Vyasa already knew there was going to be a war and to prepare the Pandavas he sent Arjuna to do Tapa (tenacity). This was his ‘political move’, by sending Arjuna to sit in meditation for Lord Siva, and by doing the meditation Arjuna would be able to impress Lord Siva, so when Arjuna impressed Siva, Siva gave Arjuna some Celestial weapons that would be useful for the war (Rodrigues 180).

What is the importance Guru Purnima and why is it celebrated?

This day dedicated to the great Sage Vyasa. A Guru is someone who removes our ignorance. The meaning of Guru comes from ‘Gu’ meaning ignorance and ‘Ru’ meaning remover of ignorance. Guru (teacher) Purṇima (full moon day) is also known as Vyasa Purnima because on that day Vyasa was born as well as he started writing the Brahma Sutras. Vyasa is considered as the original Guru of the Hindus. This festival is a symbol of the Guru and Sisya (student) relationship. Gurus are considered a link between the individual and the immortal. This festival falls in the Hindu month of Ashad (July-August). This is the day for the disciples to pay respect to their Gurus, since Gurus are given great importance in Hinduism. On this day, the disciples or devotees provide seva (service) to their Gurus which grants the disciples their Guru’s grace for their spiritual progress. If the Guru has passed away, then their portrait is worshipped instead. We pick our Guru based on their Gyan (knowledge) and Shraddha (faith) not the age. The word Upanishad also means sitting down with a Guru to gain knowledge. A famous philosopher Adi Sankaracharya has said that “If a person, despite possessing a disease-free body, fame, wealth, and studied the Vedas and Scriptures, and even if he wrote many scriptures, but has not surrendered himself to a Guru, then he would have achieved nothing” (Tumuluru 17-20). A Guru is someone who guides his disciple on the path of self-realization and strengthens their faith. On this day, Bhajans (songs for festivals and special occasions) and performances are organized by ashrams (hermitage). Kabir (Indian poet) said that “If we put God and Guru side by side, we have to pray the Guru first because he is the one through who you can realize God” (Tumuluru 17-20).

The study of the text the Guru Gita (Tumuluru 17-20) is recommended on this day as well as meditation at the Guru’s feet by waking up at 4am to obtain God’s grace. After waking up to do the meditation the devotees place flowers by the Guru’s picture and light a lamp, some may even keep moun (silence).

This day is observed by Monks when they give offerings to the Guru, they also start a four-month seclusion period (a four-month rainy season period) known as the Chatur Masa where they stay at a selected spot and have discourses. This is also an important day for Farmers because it marks the start of rainy season. This festival is also celebrated by Buddhists because it is the day that the Buddha gave his first sermon.

The best way to worship a Guru is to follow their teachings and do their seva by helping the Guru achieving their mission, by spreading the message of their teachings.

Bibliography:

Chaturvedi, B.K. (2002) Abhimanyu. New Delhi: Diamond Pocket Books (P) Ltd.

Ramesh, Sri B.G. (2012) Vyasa: Volume 3. Karnataka: Sapna Book House (P) Ltd.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism—The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Sullivan, Bruce (1990) Krsna Dvaipayana Vyasa and the Mahabharata: A New Interpretation. Leiden: E.J.Brill.

Tumuluru, Kamal Kumar (2015) Hindu Prayers, Gods and Festivals. Haryana:Partridge Publishing India.

Related Research Topics for Veda Vyasa:

History and Family

Involvement in the Mahabharata

The types of characters he wrote about compared to Shakespeare

Guru Purnima

What kind of politics did Vyasa play throughout Mahabharata

His Achievements- Vedas, Puranas, and Brahma Sutras

Related Websites for the Topic:

http://hinduism.about.com/od/gurussaintsofthepast/fl/Maharshi-Veda-Vyasa.htm

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/Guru-Purnima-A-day-to-express-respect-gratitude/articleshow/14626193.cms

This article is written by: Aastha Patel (Spring 2017), and I am entirely responsible for the content.

Agastya

There is a multitude of miracles and myths associated with Agastya, a famous Vedic sage, beginning with his miraculous birth by two godly fathers, Mitra and Varuna (Dallapiccola). The Matsya Purana’s account of Agastya’s birth is as such: in a fight between Indra and Visnu, a celestial nymph named Urvasi (Mahadevan 25) was created from Visnu’s thigh and upon seeing her, Mitra and Varuna cast their semen into a water pot, from which Agastya and his brother, Vasistha, were born (Bolon 76). Agastya was described as dwarfish, about the size of a thumb and born “white in colour with four hands, a sacred thread, a vessel, and a garland” (Bolon 76). Over the span of his lifetime, Agastya is given many names, however, the one he is known by, around the time of his birth, is Kumbhayoni, or jar-born (Mahadevan 25). There is little proof of Agastya’s formal education in life, however, it is widely accepted that he knew a great deal about the Rg Veda, the sciences, and weaponry (Parmeshwaranand 4).

As Agastya grew older, he took on an ascetic lifestyle, becoming a hermit and wandering the forests (Parmeshwaranand 4). It was not until one day, in the forest, he came across his ancestors. After some conversation, they told Agastya they were waiting to go to heaven, but they were not allowed until Agastya had a son. Upon their urging, he became invested in finding a wife (Parmeshwaranand 4). The story goes that Agastya created a beautiful baby girl named Lopamudra and gave her to the King of Vidarbha. Once she was of marrying age, Agastya asked the king for her as his wife (Parmeshwaranand 4). The king was not sure he wanted to give her up; he had concerns about Agastya’s asceticism and what that would mean for his daughter, but Lopamudra went willingly (Parmeshwaranand 4). After they got married, a hymn in the Rg Veda depicts their ascetic married life and the desires of Lopamudra. She pleads with him to give up their asceticism and have a child (Patton 27). The hymn depicts some disagreement between the two, but eventually, Agastya yields and Lopamudra becomes pregnant and gives him a son, Drdhasyu, who supposedly chanted the Vedas immediately at birth (Parmeshwaranand 5). Agastya would later go on to participate in various activities that would become certain myths of the Rg Veda, (Parmeshwaranand 6) which will be discussed later.

While there are little physical depictions of Agastya in the Rg Veda, there are many statues that have survived from cults in Nepal that give a glimpse of what he is believed to have looked like. In one instance, depicted in bronze and only three and a half inches tall, Agastya is seated with crossed ankles and elevated knees. Water sprays out of the pot, in which he is seated, on either side – perhaps giving homage to his birth. He wears a short, pointed beard and the hair on his head is tied on the top in eight loops. Agastya is also depicted as having a vertical third eye on his forehead and in each of his four hands, a symbol is portrayed: a rosary in the upper right, a miniature staff in the upper left, the lower right making a teaching gesture and the lower left holding a water pot (Bolon 75). While this is only one depiction, a later myth tells of Agastya being unable to run away from a king and being whipped (Parmeshwaranand 6), corroborating his small stature. Alternatively, other myths tell the famous story of Agastya ingesting the ocean (Abhyankar 2174), perhaps proving his size was greater.

Throughout his life, Agastya has also been the subject of many Hindu myths and important stories that helped to develop the land in which he lived. Agastya was once known by the name “Mover-of-Mountains” (Danielou 322) after “forcing the Vindhya Mountains to prostrate themselves before him” (Dallapiccola). This act itself is miraculous, but it also gives Agastya credit for connecting the civilizations in the north and south of the mountain range. In a Puranic story, it is said that the Vindhya Mountains were competing with the Himalayans to see who could grow the tallest. The Vindhyas began to block out the sun for villages below and Agastya was called in to help. He told the mountains to lie down until he returned from his journey south. However, he never returned and the mountains stayed down and allowed those people in the north and south an easy passage between (Abhyankar 2174). Not only does this story have a great cultural significance, joining the people on both sides of the mountain, but it also gives way to the story of Agastya’s star, also known as Canopus. The star is considered the brightest in the southern Indian sky (Dallapiccola). Since it is believed that Agastya was the first to see it when he moved the mountains down and was the first to cross them from the north to the south, it is associated with him (Abhyankar 2174).

Agastya is also subject to a myth that involves him drinking the ocean, either as another way across the vast distance (Abhyankar 2174) or to aid Brahmin hermits (Mahadevan 26). As the story goes, he swallowed all of the ocean’s water to expose the Kaleyas, in order that the Devas could remove them easily. The Kaleyas were supposedly killing the hermits and needed to be stopped (Mahadevan 26). Finally, perhaps one of the most famous myths surrounding Agastya is his assistance to Rama in the legendary epic, the Ramayana. In the story, Agastya gives the hero Rama a divine weapon, the “arrow of Brahma” (McLeish), to save Sita, Laksmana, and himself (McLeish) from the demons of the forest in which he was exiled (Danielou 323). Agastya is described as a “friend, advisor and protector of Rama” (Dallapiccola) in this story, making him recognizable even to this day by those that know the story. Given Agastya’s alleged extensive knowledge of weaponry (Parmeshwaranand 4), the myth seems all the more plausible.

Agastya is also known for his hymns in the Rg Veda. The author of about 25 hymns in the first mandala (Abhyankar 2174), Agastya “became a kind of heavenly historian, writing the gods’ stories down and passing them to mortals in the form of the [Rg Veda]” (McLeish). Not only was Agastya an author of many of these hymns, but he also was the subject of a select few, being referred to by name approximately eight times throughout, along with members of his family who are referred to as the Manas (Mahadevan 25). Agastya’s ability to connect the northerners and southerners (Mahadevan 25) is also depicted in the hymns, validating his journey from the north to the south, regardless of the possible fictional liberties taken with the Mountain Mover myth.

Centuries after the life of Agastya, he is still revered and worshiped by Hindus around the world. Because of his affinity for grammar, medicine and other sciences, Agastya “represents the power of teaching” (Danielou 322), and is worshiped for success in such fields. According to a passage in the Matsya Purana, there are, like in the instances of other rsis, many rites that must be done in order to properly worship Agastya. The ritual, repeated for seven days, must start early in the morning, at the rising of Canopus, after the devotee has bathed and dressed in white. While wearing a garland of white flowers, the worshipper must fill a pot with five gems and adorn it with cloth and flowers. Another pot filled with clarified butter must be placed on top of the first pot, and finally, a golden statue with four heads and many arms must be made and placed at the top of both pots. Both pots should be donated to a Brahmin after it has been filled with seven grains, and while the worshipper faces the south, the gold figure should also be given away (Bolon 76). The worship takes into account the number seven, a holy number in Hinduism, as well as the practices of purification before a worship ritual, underlying the connection between the cults of Agastya in Nepal and the significance of Agastya in Hinduism as a whole.

Agastya’s presence also had a lasting impact on societies outside of Hinduism, influencing both the Tamil and Nepalese traditions. Specifically in Tamil, Agastya made an extremely important impression. He is regarded as being crucial in the establishment of the language and literature in Tamil (Dallapiccola), and many Tamil people “believe that Agastya still dwells on the sacred mountain Agastya Malai” (Dallapiccola) in South India. He is so vital in Tamil language and literature that he is venerated as the “father of Tamil” and has his name included in the titles of many works in the Tamil Saivite hymns (Thompson 762). Within these hymns, there is a section specially entitled the Agastya Selection, which includes many of the Tamils most recognizable hymns (Thompson 763). In the myths that describe Agastya’s interactions with the people of the south, there are comments praising him for giving “the gift of the Cauvery river and Tamil language to the people” (Abhyankar 2174). Not only was Agastya’s connection of the north and south important, but him giving the Tamil people their language is also a crucial detail. Because of this advancement, Agastya was “given a very different role by the Tamil tradition,” and labelled “Tamil muni… [or] Tamil sage” (Mahadevan 27). As a Tamil scholar, Agastya was so well known and highly regarded “that for centuries [,] many works on astrology and medicine written by others were fathered on him” (Mahadevan 27). The Tamil even created a cult worshipping Agastya (Danielou 323), and it has spread from South India to Southeast Asian countries (Mahadevan 27).

In the spread across the globe, Agastya is also associated with cults in Nepal. Artefacts such as images and inscriptions of Agastya can be found there, providing evidence of the extended range of his worship (Bolon 75). Agastya’s association with Siva not only helped him bring language to the Tamil people – it is said “Agastya received the Tamil language from Siva… and gave it to the world” (Mahadevan 27) – but also helped validate Agastya’s presence in Nepal. The image of Siva and Agastya also seem to be related: “Agastya is identified with Siva as his devotee and therefore partakes of some of his nature and attributes” (Bolon 88). Images of Agastya in Nepal are similar in appearance to those of Siva, showing their connection as well as Agastya’s significance within Nepalese society in relation to the god Siva. There is also a connection between the two in terms of the importance of the pot imagery; Agastya gets his from his miraculous birth in a pot, being known in images from Nepal as “Kumbharsi Agastya, the rsi of the pot,” and Siva, in some instances being called “Kumbhesvara Siva, Siva Lord of the pot” (Bolon 88).

The life of Agastya, beginning with his miraculous birth, depicts a full life of asceticism, marriage, and fatherhood (Parmeshwaranand 4); myths of moving mountains (Danielou 322) and drinking oceans (Mahadevan 26); writing the histories of the gods (McLeish); and being hailed as the father of a society and its language (Thompson 762). Agastya was a vital figure, not only in the Hindu tradition but other ideologies and civilization developments as well, shaping both the Tamil culture (Abhyankar 2174) and Nepalese worship of him (Bolon 88). As such, he remains an important figure in many of these traditions to this day.

Bibliography and Further Recommended Reading

Abhyankar, K.D. (2005) “Folklore and Astronomy: Agastya a sage and a star.” Current Science 89:2174-2176. Accessed January 31, 2017. Retrieved from www.currentscience.ac.in.

Bolon, Carol Radcliffe (1991) “Images of Agastya in Nepal.” Artibus Asiae 51:75-89. Accessed February 2, 2017. doi: 10.2307/3249677.

Cush, Denise, Catherine Robinson, and Michael York (2008) “Agastya.” In Encyclopedia of Hinduism, 16. London: Routledge.

Dallapiccola, Anna. L. (2002) “Agastya.” In Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Danielou, Alain (1985) “The Mover-of-Mountains (Agastya).” In The Myths and Gods of India, 322-323. Rochester: Inner Traditions International.

Mahadevan, Iravatham (1986) “Agastya Legend and the Indus Civilization.” Journal of Tamil Studies 30:24-37. Accessed January 31, 2017. Retrieved from www.ulakaththamizh.org.

McLeish, Kenneth (1996) “Agastya.” In Bloomsbury Dictionary of Myth. London: Bloomsbury.

Parmeshwaranand, Swami (2001) “Agastya.” In Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Puranas, 3-12. New Delhi: Sarup and Sons.

Patton, Laurie L. (1996) “The Fate of the Female Rsi: Lopamudra and Agastya.” In Myth and Mythmaking: Continuous Evolution in Indian Tradition. Edited by Julia Leslie, 27-30. Florence: Routledge.

Thompson, M. S. H. (1928) “The Agastya Selection of Tamil Saivite Hymns.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 4:761-768. Accessed January 31, 2017. doi:10.1017/S0041977X00123675.

Williams, George M. (2003) “Agastya, Agasti.” In Handbook of Hindu Mythology, 47-48. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Related Topics for Further Investigation:

Agastya Malai

Arrow of Brahma

Asceticism

Canopus

Drdhasyu

Kaleyas

King of Vidarbha

Kumbharsi Agastya

Kumbhesvara Siva

Lakshmana

Lopamudra

Mitra

Nepalese cults

Rama

Ramayana

Ritual worship

Rsis

Sita

Siva

Tamil

The Matsya Purana

Urvasi

Varuna

Vasistha

Vindhya Mountains

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic:

http://devdutt.com/articles/indian-mythology/the-sage-who-went-south.html

http://www.agasthyakalari.org/html/sage-agasthya.htm

http://www.apamnapat.com/entities/Agastya.html

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/concepts/agasthya.asp

http://www.indianscriptures.com/gurus/rushi-men/sage-agastya-1

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

https://www.shortstories.co.in/agastya/

Article written by: Ryley Gelinas (Spring 2017), who is solely responsible for its content.

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

 

Bhartrhari

Bhartrhari (pronounced: BHUHR-tur-HUH-ree) was a famous Indian grammarian, philosopher, and poet. Many regard him as a linguistic philosopher (Bronkhorst 479).  He should not to be confused with the Ujjain ruler Bhartrhari, mentioned in many Indian folk stories, although there has been debate that the two men are linked in some way. The grammarian’s work is very well known, and many grammarians have often referred to his work when discussing a linguistic phenomenon (Murti 9). His most influential writings are the Vakyapadiya and the Satakatraya. The Satakatraya is a book based on his three collections of poems on political passion, renunciation, and wisdom (Coward 1976:12), while the Vakyapadiya is a Sanskrit treatise on semantics and the philosophy of language (Wright 388).

The tomb of Bhartrhari, who is here reputed to be the brother of an ancient king of Ujjain (Chunar Fort, Uttar Pradesh, India)
The tomb of Bhartrhari, who is here reputed to be the brother of an ancient king of Ujjain (Chunar Fort, Uttar Pradesh, India)

The “Personal” Life of Bhartrhari

There are very few records that contain information on the grammarian’s personal life, and his writings tend to avoid the subject as well. However, although exact dates are still unknown, it has been determined that Bhartrhari was alive during the 6th century CE. This was confirmed based on references made by Chinese traveller Yijing (635-713CE), who mentioned Bhartrhari in his travelogues (Murti 9). According to his notes, Bhartrhari was indecisive on choosing a life in the world of pleasure or the isolated life of a monk (Miller 766).

Due to the lack of information provided for his personal life, many narratives have been created to fill in the missing gaps of Bhartrhari’s private life. For example, in a drama written by Harihara, Bhartrhari is portrayed as a disciple of Goraksanatha from whom he learned yoga and renounced the world (Murti 9).

Famous Writings

The Satakatraya

Also referred to as Satakatrayam, this poetic ensemble is split into three parts (centuries): the Srngarasataka, the Nitisataka and the Vairagyasataka. In English, these subjects are: Passionate Encounters, Man in the World of Villains and Kings, and Refuge in the Forest (Teele 348). In the Srngarasataka you will find both bitter and affectionate stanzas dedicated to women. The ones that show fondness are similar to romantic poetry based on their soppy, compassionate qualities (More 9).  However, while these writings may be beautiful, they are not written to an individual woman, but to every woman. The stanzas treat women as “a symbol of sensual pleasure to be flattered or reviled” (More 10). The stanzas within the Nitisataka are designed to teach knowledge of men as individuals and instil sayings of worldly prudence (Tawney xii). This worldly wisdom occasionally contains sarcastic pitches at fools, pedants, flatterers, and babblers, sometimes to the point of highest morality (More 13). While the first two parts of the Satakatraya seem to agree with their English translations, the Vairagyastaka seems to have some different views. According to More, it seems to give the impression that Bhartrhari put his heart and soul into it, proven by the songs of true wisdom and finding peace, along with songs about the happiness of his new life (More 13). However, Tawney states that the Vairagyasataka contains poems about the king of Ujjain who was disgusted with his wife’s faithlessness (Tawney xiii). He also mentions that ‘vairagya’ translates to “disgust with the world,” indicating that both authors might be thinking of two different men that go by the name Bhartrhari.

The Vakyapadiya

The Vakyapadiya is thought to be Bhartrhari’s magnum opus (Aklujkar 547), and is based on his questioning of why something that exists comes into being and how something that does not exist comes into being (Bronkhorst 479). For him, language is the manifestation of Brahman, and it constitutes the world (Collins 230). His work of art is split into three kandas, respectively called Brahma-kanda (Agama-kanda), Vakya-kanda, and Prakirna-kanda, all of which are composed in karikas (Murti 11). The first two chapters discuss metaphysical ideas concerning the concept of sabdabrahman and the structure and meaning of sentences, while the third deals with issues relating to words (Coward 1976:31).  According to Bhartrhari, the sentence is indivisible and is the unit of expression, which is why the focus of first two kandas is on the vakya sentence (Murti 11). The real structure of language is formed from the words and sentences in our speech and written records (Murti 22), and from this, Bhartrhari notes that knowledge and the proper use of words reveals spiritual dharma, which leads to an understanding of pratyaya (Coward 1976:32). According to the Vakyapadiya, there are eight subjects within grammar that must be dealt with. These subjects are: sentences and words, word and sentence meanings, fitness or compatibility, spiritual merit, stems/suffixes (etc.), meanings of stems/suffixes (etc.), causality, and knowledge of the meaning of the correct words (Murti 23). These are each discussed in their respective chapters of the Vakyapadiya.

Sphota Theory

An important theory discussed in the Vakyapadiya is the Sphota Theory. Meaning “to burst forth,” this concept further analyzes word meanings and how the words’ knowledge is shown and communicated in everyday experience (Coward 1980:11). Modelled off the pranava, Bhartrhari states that the sphota is the cause of the actual word, while dhvani conveys the meaning (Coward 1976:36). Consider a person saying a word to you. Before they speak, the word exists as a unity (sphota). When they tell you the word, a series of different sounds are produced, which gives the impression of differentiation. At first you only hear the different sounds, but eventually you distinguish the utterance as a unity, the same sphota that the person talking to you began with, therefore indicating that the meaning has been transmitted (Coward 1976:36). Put even more simply, when you hear the word “baboon,” you initially hear the different sounds for the letters/syllables, before they are recognized as one word (baboon) that contains meaning (ex. animal). In this sense, the word-meaning (artha) and word-sound (dhvani) are what constitute the sphota (Coward 1980:12).

Under this theory, it is written that, aside from perception, means of knowledge will either reveal an object, or conceal it entirely (Coward 1976:37).  The Vakyapadiya as a whole functions on two levels, pratibha (sometimes pasyanti vak), an instinctive understanding of what something is and how to use it (Ho 404) and vaikharu vak, the uttered sounds that group together to form a sentence, book or poem (Coward 14). There is also a middle section, termed madhyama vak, the level of thought. At this level, the sphota is fragmented into a sequence of thoughts, words, and phrases that still have to reach the level of uttered sounds (Coward 15).

Bibliography

Aklujkar, Ashok (1969) “Two Textual Studies of Bhartrhari.” Journal of the American Oriental Society. Vol. 89, No. 3:547-563. Michigan: American Oriental Society.

Bronkhorst, Johannes (2001) “The Peacock’s Egg: Bhartrhari on Language and Reality.” Philosophy East and West. Vol. 51, No. 4:474-491. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Collins, Randall (2009) The Sociology of Philosophies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Coward, Harold (1976) Bhartrhari. Boston: Twanye Publishers

Coward, Harold (1980) The Sphota Theory of Language: A Philosophical Analysis. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Miller, Barbara (1978) Review of Harold Coward’s Bhartrhari. The Journal of Asian Studies. Vol. 37, No. 4:766-767.

More, Paul (1898) A Century of Indian Epigrams: Chiefly from the Sanskrit of Bhartrhari. New York City: Harper.

Murti, Mulakaluri (1997) Bhartrhari, the Grammarian. New Delhi: Sahitya Akad.

Tawney, Charles (1877) Two Centuries of Bhartrihari. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink, and CO.

Teele, Roy (1968) “Review of Far Eastern Chronicle.” Poetry. Vol. 112, No. 5:347-352. Chicago: Poetry Foundation.

Wright, J.C. (1980) Bhartrhari’s Vakyapadiya by Wilhelm Rau: Bhartrhari: The Vakyapadiya of Bhartrhari, Kanda II. London: Cambridge University Press.

Other Sources of Interest

Kennedy, J.M (1913) The Satakas or, Wise sayings of Bhartrihari. London: T.W Laurie

Todeschini, Alberto (2010) “Bhartrhari’s view of the pramanas in the Vakyapadiya.” Asian Philosophy: An International Journal of the Philosophical Traditions of the East. Vol. 20, No. 1:97-109

Related Websites of Interest

http://www.blackcatpoems.com/b/bhartrhari.html

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/64051/Bhartrihari

http://www.cgjungpage.org/learn/articles/literature/916-tracking-the-hermits-soul-a-jungian-reading-of-bhartriharis-satakatraya

Bhartrihari

http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095503660

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhart%E1%B9%9Bhari

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spho%E1%B9%ADa

Related Terms of Interest

Anangasena

artha

Brahman

dhvani

Goraksanatha

kanda

karikas

pramanas

pranava

pratyaya

Sabdabrahman

yoga

vaikharu vak

Vikranaditya

Yijing

Article written by: Sydney Haney (March 2015), 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.]