Philosophy 312: Oriental Philosophy
Summary of Some Periods in the History of Hinduism
Abstract: A selective list of persons,
works, and events are are drawn from Hinduism's four thousand year
I. The Vedic Period c 1500 — c. 500 BCE (The
complete decipherment of the Indus Valley script on steatite seals will
help determine previous influence on the beginnings of Hinduism.)
A. The Vedas are a collection of early hymns and sacred literature (approx. 3000-800 BC).
II. Pre-Epic Period--the Upanishads (800-500 BC, concluding part of the Vedas, more than one hundred treatises.
B. Four main Vedas where the essential meaning of ritual is identified with self and some personifications of natural forces occur. No known authors.
1. Rig Veda (royal knowledge)--music, humns (mantras) to the gods.
C. Henotheism: The god being worshiped is considered as the most real although there are over thirty other gods mentioned. (E.g., we see the major difficulties of life in terms of our own problems; yet we acknowledge there are other problems. Dieties are symabols of the forces of life, and there is some speculation that there is only one divine reality. Process, an Unidvided whole, is the fundamental reality beyond logic and language.
"Awareness of the delightful
2. Atharva Veda--magical chants, spells and incantations.
Wonder of the Creator
Will direct our thinking"
3. Yajur Veda--prose and verse sacrificial formulae.
4. Sama Veda--priests' chants.
A. The Upanishads clarified the inner meaning of the rituals of the Vedas. The earliest works predated Greek philosophy.
III. The Epic Period (500-200 BC) Approximately three centuries after the Upanishaps, the Vedas were often unavailable and when available they were difficult to understand. Hence, folklore began to develop.
B. These speculative and mystical scriptures are concerned with the question, "What is Brahman?" and the nature of the soul, or self.
1. The true nature of ultimate eternal reality is known via negativa.
2. Brahman is conceived as the power sustaining the cosmos; Brahman is thought of both personally and impersonally.
3. The most influential teaching is Brahman = Atman (Self). The central meaning: "That which makes great."
4. What am I? non-empirical self--the ultimate Self is known by direct apprehension.
5. tat twvam asi -- "Thou are That" refers to the characterization of Brahman.
6. Other metaphysical and ethical problems: reincarnation, anti-caste, universal suffrage, some yogic practices.
7. Brahman is the ultimate and universal reality of pure being and consciousness.
A. The Mahabharata: first epic, longest single poem in world literature, 18 books, emphasizes social duty and aseticism.
IV. The Medieval Renaissance (700-1200)--The belief in the underlying unity of the world, the Vedanta.
1. Cosmology present: a pulsating or cyclic universe with time measured in kalpa (4,500 million years).
B. Ramayana: second major epic is similar in parts to Aesop's Fables.
2. Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Lord): the best loved and most read section.
a. Development of theistic ideas with concepts of yoga (karma, jnana, bhakti).
b. Themes: duty v. grace; Trinity: Brahman, Vishnu (stability), and Siva (destruction); the ten avatars (incarantions of the savior).
1. The story of Rama and Sita--the relation and story of model persons.
2. Ethical and philosophical speculations include order for society and order for life.
A. Sankara: monistic interpretation of the Vedanta.
V. The Modern Period--the Hindu response to Christianity.
1. The world of experience caused by maya is social delusion and ignorance and cannot be thought of as being or nonbeing. (Maya cannot be a separate reality.) We are not body-identified consciousness.
B. Ramanuja: bhakti yoga with the analogy of the relation of God with the world.
2. Maya is the source of all misery and suffering.
3. We are Brahman who is united, infinite changeless being, consciousness, and bliss.
1. The soul and God should be distinguished.
C. Madhva: pluralist (the three metaphysical realities of matter, soul, and God).
2. "monkey school"--the young have to be taught to walk.
3. "the cat school"--the young have to be taken by the scruff of the neck.
A. Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) Unitarian sect against idolatry, child marriages, sati, and caste system. He sought interreligious cooperation.
B. Tagore (1861-1941) Roy's student sought to reconcile inner life with
active work and sought practical goals.
1. Tagore noted the spiritual emptiness of the West in his discussions.
C. Ramakrishna (186-1866): practiced all faiths internally and saw them leading to the same goal.
2. His fiction, essays, and philosophy were mentioned in his Nobel
Prize for poetry, 1913.
1. Although not particularly interested in the West, he taught
the authenticity of all religions.
D. Vivekananda (1863-1902) Ramakrishna's student who brought the message to the West in the Chicago World Parliment of Religions in 1893.
2. Religious visions and mystical trances of Christ and
E. Mahatma ("great soul") Gandhi (1869-1948)--political and spiritual leader of India's freedom.
1. Influenced by the Gita, John Ruskin, and Tolstoy.
2. Key ideas included nonviolent disobedience (including the
threat of fasting unto death as political pressure)
and ahimsa ( non-injury to living beings).